This is #CriticalMargin, where Ishita Sengupta gets contemplative over new Hindi films and shows.
THE new season of Ram Madhvani’s Aarya, the eight episode series which dropped in two parts, is a special kind of bad. It is the kind of bad that is lazy, indolent and sluggish in approach. It is the kind of bad that relies too much on reputation to make an effort and leans too much on legacy to take risks. In fact, the latest iteration, which is being speculated as the last, unfolds in such a premeditated manner that it almost drifts its way to the finishing line.
Needless to say it is a pity. Back in 2020 when the first season had dropped, Aarya was one of the handful of Hindi shows on streaming that not just made a case for longform storytelling but also underlined its potential. Centred on the premise of a woman taking charge of her life and her children after the sudden death of her husband, while getting embroiled in her family’s drug business, Aarya had characters whose arcs were craftily sketched out, subplots that were artfully planted and more crucially, a plot that had the space to breathe.
Four years later and in its third season, Aarya has become an event-driven outing. In all the episodes, each scene is imbued with a sense of urgency. But they all seem witless after a while for how repetitive the intent is — everything in the new season is curated to push the protagonist to a corner till she cannot be pushed anymore. Her kids turn against her, so do her friends. Her enemies multiply as her control over her surrounding reality (expertly portrayed by Sushmita Sen) falters. This time around, the proceedings unravel with a one-note stringency that stands in stark contrast to the moral ambivalence that made the franchise stand out.
But even the emotional monotony is done poorly. One scene follows another — included in a rush and written in haste. Sample this: Aarya’s daughter rages at her, which is quickly followed by her youngest son, who lurks at the margins throughout, suddenly having an unearned breakdown. And while all of this is going on, her oldest son spends all his waking minutes accusing her for not doing enough as he lost the woman he loved. These events happen one after the other, often amplified by an accident or the presence of a child support officer, and successive deaths.
Standing on the other end is officer Khan (the reliable Vikas Kumar). Across the seasons, his relationship with the protagonist has evolved as her own relationship with law altered. But in the third season, he is reduced to a dull law-enforcing officer who sneaks out moments to say just one line: “Iss bar tum nahi bachogi Aarya” (You will not be able to escape this time, Aarya).
The unsophisticated narrative is further evidenced by the indiscriminate and frankly annoying use of a poem as a voiceover. If the larger theme of the new season is sacrifice then we are reminded of it at least 50 times (if anything, this is an understatement). Throughout the runtime, Aarya’s daughter spends her time reciting one poem which broadly, loudly and bluntly reiterates that what we are looking at is a sacrificial tale. The repetition speaks volumes of the unsurety of the makers to convey the point they wanted to.
Written by Amit Raj, Khusboo Raj and Anu Singh Choudhary, season three of Aarya opens with a whimper and concludes with a thud. The stakes keep increasing (there are the dreaded Russians who want a drug consignment which Aarya is yet to find, there is another local trader who wants Aarya dead) but the closing minutes fall apart like a pack of cards. It is tragic because it feels unfitting of a show that laboured for two seasons to set a standard of uncompromising storytelling.
The only saving grace is a dignified Sen who keeps trying to elevate bad writing with her performance. The actor takes her time to say a line, nods her head before uttering a word. Her portrayal alone lends tranquillity to a series that feels stacked to exhaustion. And then there is Sikandar Kher as Aarya’s loyal henchman Daulat whose silent and short-lived presence reminds us of what the show used to be and what it has become in its unbecoming.