Web Of Sequels: In 2021, film-makers discovered the formula to keep audience engaged despite Covid

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NEVER HAVE I EVER (L to R) MAITREYI RAMAKRISHNAN as DEVI VISHWAKUMAR and POORNA JAGANNATHAN as NALINI VISHWAKUMAR in episode 207 of NEVER HAVE I EVER. Photo: COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021, provided by Rajiv Vijayakar

The Web scenario in 2021 has highlighted an interesting aspect indeed: sequels (termed “Seasons” on OTT) have proved the best bets!

The year has seen web series (including shows with separate stories, or anthologies) of assorted hues and caliber like Maharani, Sabka Sai, Tabbar, Grahan, Sandwiched Forever, Gullak 2, Bombay Begums, Ajeeb Dastaans, Aisa Waisa Pyaar, Tandav and Call My Agent Bollywood.

Of these, only the first five are of significance, and if I must vote, the first two are the cream of this lot: Maharani speaks of how a politician uses his wife (Huma Qureshi, brilliant) as a political tool and she not only rises to the occasion but to his chagrin, starts cleaning up the system. Sabka Sai narrates the story of Shirdi Sai Baba, the all-encompassing and unifying force, and included lesser-known stories about the saint from Maharashtra, essayed here with uncanny brilliance by Raj Arjun, the despotic head of the family from Aamir Khan’s Secret Superstar.

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In this otherwise dry year despite an avalanche of web series across all genres, the OTT scenario has now begun traversing along the same lines as Hindi movies—sequels have become increasingly endemic.

In cinema, sequels do not always come off best, and also can be categorized into true sequels (where the storyline continues, as in Koi…Mil Gaya, Krrish and Krrish 3) and sequels-in-spirit, also called “franchises” where a fresh story and even fresh characters may be used, best shown by the progressively successful Golmaal or Singham franchises.

Of late, optimistic filmmakers leave a door open for a sequel, should a film work, but in the over-the-top scenario, the last episode is always designed for a follow-up, and the end is termed a “cliffhanger”, where some threads are left incomplete for a season to follow.

“Season”al  Reign

And so this year, it was the next seasons of existing sagas that ruled the qualitative roost. Two more (Aarya 2 and Your Honor 2) have just opened to high expectations.

Here is a look at six of the finest series in 2021, and needless to add, most are crime sagas. In alphabetical order, they are:

Criminal Justice 2: Behind Closed Doors (Disney+Hotstar)

Arjun Mukherjee and Rohan Sippy directed this co-production of Applause Entertainment and BBC Studios India. A wonderful amalgam of drama, social message, humor and courtroom thrills and twists, the show not only exposed the grimy and dark truths faced by under-trials in jails but also spotlighted excesses committed by “normal” husbands. The poser was: At what point did such actions become punishable? Pankaj Tripathi as the eccentric counsel and Kirti Kulhari as the accused wife led the phenomenal performances.

Inside Edge 3 (Amazon)

The only Season 3 in this list, the match-fixing, betrayals and family intrigue continued with the backdrop being India’s greatest addiction apart from movies—cricket. The Kanishk Varma-directed series had brilliant performances (Vivek Anand Oberoi, Aamir Bashir, Richa Chadha, Sapna Pabbi and more) and superb dialogues (the 10-episode series was penned by a bevy of writers). After all, it had a tough act to maintain: the first season had won an Emmy nomination!

Mayanagri—City Of Dreams 2 (Disney+Hotstar)

Mayanagari—City of Dreams—Priya Bapat. Photo: Provided by Rajiv Vijayakar

Again an Applause Entertainment production (with Kukunoor Movies), the series was created and helmed by Nagesh Kukunoor, an engineering graduate from USA. The acclaimed (in India) filmmaker, who had perfectly captured the ethos of his hometown Hyderabad in his first film, Hyderabad Blues, and of Rajasthan in Dor, depicted Maharashtrian culture authentically in this political series. Sterling essays by Priya Bapat, Sachin, Siddharth Chandekar and Atul Kulkarni was the icing on this cake. The series compelled me to watch its Season 1 that I had missed—what could be a better testimony to its caliber?

Never Have I Ever 2 (Netflix)

The homegrown US coming-of-age series, created by Mindy Kaling, continued in a funnier, naughtier mode than Season 1 as it highlighted more of sophomore Devi Vishwakumar’s follies, foibles and misadventures in high school. Add an incisive look at her Indian and American family, friends and more, and we had a blast enjoying this peep into Indian identity crisis in America. This highly entertaining story had a stunner of a performance by Maithreyi Ramakrishnan.

Special Ops 1.5—The Himmat Story (Disney+Hotstar)

Special Ops 1.5—Kay Kay Menon- Photo: Provided by Rajiv Vijayakar

The masterly creation of Neeraj Pandey, Hindi cinema’s espionage specialist, was actually a kind of “prequel” to his 2020 ace, Special Ops, and showed why and how Himmat Singh, the crack Indian RAW operative, was shaped because of his personal and professional experiences. Kay Kay Menon (as Himmat Singh), Parmeet Sethi, Vinay Pathak and Kali Prasad Mukherjee were all exceptional, as was the script by Neeraj Pandey, Deepak Kingrani and Benazir Ali Fida.

The Family Man 2 (Amazon)

The Family Man S2—Samantha Akkineni. Photo: Provided by Rajiv Vijayakar

Raj & DK, who had made a career in software engineering in USA, and have since made acclaimed movies like Shor in the City and Go Goa Gone, have latched on to a winner with this series. But while the first season was merely decent, this one was extraordinary, as were the performances, especially from Samantha as the terrorist.

 

 

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