Due to the outbreak of Coronavirus, people across the world were confined to their homes for nearly 8 eight months. Amid this, we saw a sudden rise in demand for OTT platforms that entertained all. The digital boom witnessed the arrival of some of the finest shows made in India with unexplored talents.
Be it the financial thriller Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story or nail-biting crime shows like Paatal Lok and Asur, we got a range of great series to enjoy seated at home. Now, before we bid adieu to 2020, let’s look back at the best 20 shows of the year that received love from the critics and audience alike.
The Forgotten Army- January
Kabir Khan, in his first web show titled The Forgotten Army, told the tale of soldiers who fought gritty battles against the British Army in the freedom struggle. However, their story got lost in history and hence they were called The Forgotten Army. Taking the onus of telling a riveting tale starring Sunny Kaushal and Sharvari, Kabir weaved magic.
Having incorporated several subplots like the romance between the lead pair, the team managed dual timelines in the first five episodes brilliantly. A must-watch!
Jamtara - January
Jamtara was indeed Netflix’s big surprise. Directed by National Award-winning director Soumendra Padhi, the series highlighted the nexus between politics, police and crime. Termed as a true crime story, Jamtara was a family drama in disguise where politics, rivalry and differing ideologies among blood relations took the centre stage.
Jamtara starred Sparsh Shrivastava, Anshumaan Pushkar, Monika Panwar, Aksha Pardasany and Amit Sial in central roles. Constructed to have a second season, Jamtara, the name of a small district in Jharkhand, the show surprised all with its content.
Taj Mahal 1989 - February
Agra’s Taj Mahal is synonymous with true love. Along the same lines, Pushpendra Nath Misra helmed a series titled Taj Mahal 1989. Set in Lucknow, 1989, the show followed the lives of different pairs. The first one was of two Lucknow University professors named Akhtar and Sarita. The second story was of a philosophy gold-medalist turned tailor Sudhakar Mishra and his partner Mumtaz. Then came a love triangle between Rashmi, Dharam and Angad.
Just like the classic love letter that feels fresh in the era of tinder, Taj Mahal 1989 explored the different shades of love over the ages as it matures. Starring Neeraj Kabi, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Danish Husain, Sheeba Chadha, Anshul Chauhan, Paras Priyadarshan and Anud Singh Dhaka, the series was fresh and much-needed.
Asur - March
Hailed as the spine-chilling version of CID on the web, Asur captivated the audience with its no-nonsense narrative. Directed by Oni Sen, Asur orbitted around Nikhil, an NRI forensic genius and Dhananjay, a forensic scientist. Nikhil quit his job and returned to India after he received coordinates for corpses from an unknown number. He joined hands with Dhananjay to unearth the mystery. Not your regular cat-and-mouse chase, Asur’s serial killer has a penchant for religious fanaticism.
Packing elements like mythology, psychology, karma, redemption, revenge, good and evil, Asur was like a wholesome entertainment meal. Director Oni peppered a richly detailed script with great background music, jaw-dropping cinematography and production design. Asur featured Arshad Warsi, Barun Sobti, Anupria Goenka, Sharib Hashmi and Ridhi Dogra.
Special Ops - March
Neeraj Pandey made his web directorial debut with an espionage thriller titled Special OPS. Starring Kay Kay Menon, Karan Tacker, Muzzamil Ibrahim, Meher Vij, Vipul Gupta, Saiyami Kher, Sana Khan, Divya Dutta, Vinay Pathak, Sajjad Delafrooz, Gautami Kapoor, Revati Pillai, Sana Khan, Sharad Kelkar, Parmeet Sethi and K.P Mukherjee, the series was taut and engaging.
Special Ops is about Himmat Singh, a senior official at RAW. He headed on a mission to trace down the bomb blast at the Parliament and hunt down terrorists. He was joined by his five-person army including Dubai- based Farooq Ali, his close-aide Delhi Police cop Abbas Sheikh, Tehran-origin Ruhani Syed, Istanbul resident Bala, sniper Avinash and Juhi Kashyap.
Pushpavalli 2- March
One of the best and engaging series on the web is Sumukhi Suresh’s Pushpavalli 2. Starring Naveen Richard and Manish Anand in important roles, the series is perfect despite imperfections.
After being rejected by Nikhil in the first season, Pushpavalli returned with a new mission to seek revenge from him. From playing mind games to lying, manipulating everyone without paying attention to the consequences, Pushpavalli, a young girl, wasn’t all things sweet.
Panchayat - April
One of the lightest web series on OTT, Panchayat was a clutter breaker in all aspects. Starring Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta, Raghbir Yadav, Faisal Malik, Chandan Roy and Biswapati Sarkar, the easy-breezy village drama was an irresistible watch. The makers of Panchayat put together a simple yet well-told story that shed light on the fact that things don’t take place as per the plan and one must start loving the situation they are in.
Panchayat’s central focus was on the character of Abhishek who was transferred to a village named Phulera. Disgusted with the lack of basic facilities and the naivety of the localities, Abhishek, the sachiv of Phulera, sternly wanted to return to his happening city life. As things refused to go as per Abhishek’s plan, his ideology underwent a drastic change.
Four More Shots Please 2 - April
Kirti Kulhari, Bani J, Maanvi Gagroo and Sayani Gupta returned with a bang as Anjana, Umang, Siddhi and Damini in Four More Shots Please season 2. Tracing the obstacles in their love and professional lives, the series attempted at empowering women. Stating the fact that flaws are beautiful, Four More Shots Please 2 was one of the breezier shows of 2020 that laid its foundation on good actresses, engaging narrative and production value.
Directed by Nupur Asthana, Four More Shots Please 2 showcased a same-sex love relationship, professional troubles faced by independent women, chasing your dreams and owning your flaws without any guilt.
Hasmukh saw a major change in the way people look at Vir Das. The ace comedian left everyone surprised with the darkness of his character in the web series.
Hasmukh, an ambitious young man from Saharanpur, wanted to prove that he can be a good comedian too. However, he was a great writer but a below-average comedian who lacked comic timing. In a quest to prove his worth, he ended up murdering. He believed that he could be great on the stage if he killed someone. The brutality and intense narrative made Hasmukh an engaging and promising watch.
Paatal Lok - May
Paatal Lok can be rightfully called one of India’s best-made crime thrillers. Knockout performances by Jaideep Ahlawat, Abhishek Banerjee, Neeraj Kabi, Ishwak Singh, Swastika Mukherjee, Gul Panag, Vipin Sharma, Rajesh Sharma, Ankur Vikal and Niharika Lyra Dutta, the Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy directed neo-noir show took us on a journey to Swarg Lok, Dharti Lok and Paatal Lok in 9 episodes.
Showcasing how crimes are categorised according to caste system and social class system, Paatal Lok was about a cop named Hathiram Chaudhary and his subordinate Imran Ansari. They are assigned a high-profile case to investigate wherein the 4 assassins are caught before they kill their target, a new channel honcho Sanjeev Mehra. What followed next left all enthralled.
Aarya - June
Though Aarya gained attention for being Sushmita Sen’s debut web show, the Ram Madhvani directorial had all the elements of a blockbuster series. It has romance, thrill, emotions, drama and powerful characters. In and as Aarya, Sushmita played the role of a doting mother and wife who fights back for her family’s well-being. After the untimely death of her businessman husband, she took charge of his opium business. The transition that Aarya made hit home and was applauded by not just critics but the audience too.
Based on the Dutch show Penoza, Ram, who directed the award-winning film Neerja, skillfully narrated an edge-of-the-seat thriller with all his heart. Apart from Sushmita, Aarya starred Chandrachur Singh, Namit Das, Sikander Kher, Manish Chaudhary, Vikas Kumar, Viren Vazirani, Virti Vaghani, Alexx O'Nell and Pratyaksh Panwar.
Undekhi - June
Making us think how corrupt our system is and why the underprivileged are denied justice, Undekhi had people on the edge-of-their-seats. Undekhi orbitted around the murder of a policeman in Sunderbans. A Bengali DSP, Barun Ghosh, was trusted with the case and he started hunting for two tribal girls who were the primary suspects. However, one of the girls was shot dead by the head of the influential Atwal family during a stag party. The incident was recorded on the camera.
Bringing new twists in every episode very smoothly, director Ashish R Shukla made use of talents like Harsh Chhaya and Dibyendu Bhattacharya brilliantly. The series boasted of solid performances and a tight script.
Breathe Into The Shadows- July
Abhishek Bachchan made his web debut this year when he completed 2 decades in Bollywood. He slipped into the role of Avinash Sabharwal, a psychiatrist whose daughter Sia is kidnapped by an anonymous man. Desperate to find his daughter, Avinash agreed to the kidnapper’s condition and murdered many. In his search, he was joined by a cop named Kabir Sawant, played by Amit Sadh.
The 12-episode series on Amazon Prime Video was hailed for its taut narrative and excellent acting by Abhishek and Amit. Breathe: Into The Shadows was directed by Mayank Sharma and also featured Nithya Menen, Saiyami Kher, Hrishekesh Joshi and Shrikant Verma.
Bandish Bandits - August
Painting a rich world of music, actor-director Anand Tiwari gave the audience a light-hearted romantic series titled Bandish Bandits. Featuring Naseeruddin Shah, Atul Kulkarni, Ritwik Bhowmik, Shreya Chaudhry, Rajesh Tailang, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Sheeba Chaddha, Amit Mistry, Tridha Choudhary, Rahul Kumar, Meghna Malik and Rituraj Singh, the musical drama was much-loved. Though not a flawless one, Bandish Bandits had certain weak points and plus points too. The show highlighted how commercialisation has killed the art of classical music.
It revolved around Pandit Radhemohan Rathod and his grandson Radhe Singh Rathod. The former was a stern Gharana head who refused to compromise his principles and rules. The ageing Panditji was on a hunt for his successor aka the next Sangeet Samrat. Radhe was the potential candidate. However, due to financial problems, Radhe had to take the commercial route with Tamanna Sharma, a pop singer. Shankar-Ehsan-Loy took us into the serene world of classical music with phenomenal songs and background score. The ragas and sur fill up the gaps that were left in the story.
Flesh - August
Flesh addressed the horror and pain of human trafficking. Featuring Swara Bhasker, Akshay Oberoi, Vidya Malvade, Yudhishtir Urs and Mahima Makwana, the show was about a young girl named Zoya, who was abducted to be sold with other girls. ACP Radha Nautiyal of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit was in charge of the case and as she began her investigation, a web of immorality, brutality and corruption was exposed that revealed deeply buried secrets. The series then focused on a long face-off between Radha and the man behind human trafficking, Taj.
Apart from a solid cast, the taut narrative kept the momentum going. Directed by Danish Aslam, Flesh is one of the best series of 2020.
The Gone Game - August
The emotional trauma that the family of a COVID patient goes through when they succumb to the novel virus is unparalleled. But what happens to them when the hospital denies admitting such a person? This set the premise of The Gone Game, a miniseries shot during the lockdown. Starring Sanjay Kapoor, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Arjun Mathur, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Indraneil Sengupta, Rukhsar Rehman, Lubna Salim and Dibyendu Bhattacharya, the show was an interesting experiment that was executed beautifully.
Directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, The Gone Game was about the Gujral family. Sahil Gujral, played by Arjun, returned from a tour right before the lockdown and had quarantined himself. One night, his health deteriorated and his wife Suhani, played by Shriya, advised him to head to the hospital. That was her last interaction with her husband who passed away overnight. However, his sister Amara aka Shweta was told by the hospital that no such patient was admitted nor passed away. What followed next unravelled a web of lies.
Masaba Masaba - August
Ace fashion designer Masaba Gupta chose a series co-starring her mother Neena Gupta to make her acting debut with. A fictionalised version of their own lives, Masaba Masaba was light, easy-breezy and a quick interesting watch.
The show dropped the wall between the reel and real. It traced the journey of Masaba as she faced rumours of separating from her husband, finding stability in life and her relationship with her work and mother. In the parallel universe, we had Neena asking for work in films. Their struggles, flaws and perspective to look at situations made us all root for them in Sonam Nair’s 6-episode series.
Aashram - August
Bobby Deol’s popular show Aashram received mixed reviews from the critics but not the audience. One of the most-watched shows, Aashram became the talk of the town.
The Prakash Jha directorial showed Bobby transforming into a conman from a godman effortlessly. It was about a self-proclaimed spiritual leader Kashipurwale Baba Nirala, whose devotees snowballed every day at an unnatural pace. While devotees believed him blindly, his ulterior intentions were nothing but lethal. Exploiting people for wealth and murdering young girls, the aashram had dark secrets hidden. Apart from Bobby, the show included Aaditi Pohankar, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Darshan Kumaar, Anupriya Goenka, Adhyayan Suman, Tridha Choudhury, Vikram Kochhar, Tushar Pandey, Sachin Shroff, Anuritta K Jha and Rajeev Siddhartha.
Mirzapur 2 - October
Guddu Pandit returned to Mirzapur to avenge the death of his younger brother Bablu and pregnant wife Sweety. With a walking stick in his hand, an injured Guddu nursed a heartache as he waged war against the Tripathis-Kaleen and Munna. Sweety’s sister Golu joined in his mission. On the other hand, the Tripathis’ wrath loomed over Mirzapur. They built alliances to become stronger.
High on bloodshed, murders, malice, cheating and politics, Mirzapur 2 was a stellar show thanks to Pankaj Tripathi, Ali Fazal, Divyenndu, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Rasika Dugal, Harshita Shekhar Gaur, Anjum Sharma, Vijay Varma, Shaji Chaudhary, Isha Talwar, Meghna Malik, Lilliput and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Like the previous season, Mirzapur 2 was a fresh welcome and was enjoyed by all.
Scam 1992 - October
“Risk Hai Toh Ishq Hai.” This dialogue from one of 2020’s best series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story has become a mantra for all those filmmakers who are passionate about cinema like Hansal Mehta and would be open to taking a risk like him. The major potential risk would have been the audience not accepting a thriller with finance as its theme, but the team proved it wrong. Scam 1992 became one of the most loved shows this year and introduced us to talents like Pratik Gandhi and Shreya Dhanwanthary.
As the title itself suggests, the show revolved around Bombay Stock Market’s Big Bull aka Harshad Mehta. Set in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the IMDb’s Top 10 Indian Web Show traced the life of Harshad to took the stock market to dizzying heights which eventually led to his catastrophic fall.
Written by Karan Vyas and Vaibhav Vishal deftly, Scam 1992 wasn’t heavy on jargon and caught attention with its relevant dialogues that stayed back for long. The series also starred Sharib Hashmi, Satish Kaushik, Nikhil Dwivedi, Ananth Mahadevan and Rajat Kapoor.