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Rewind 2018: The year digital entertainment became a serious player in India


As digital platforms took the battle to the blockbusters, the audience proved to be the winners with a wide choice in entertainment. Here is a look at 10 of the best series/originals produced by digital platforms this year.

Shriram Iyengar

"You [cinema] had better pull up your socks and work harder or people are not going to watch you," said Ranveer Singh when speaking about the growing influence of the digital medium at the Actors' Roundtable with Rajeev Masand on CNN-News18.

The year 2018 has been a fantastic one for the digital medium with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video launching key focus originals in the Indian market. The two American giants are now competing with home-grown platforms like TVF, Alt Balaji, Zee5 and Eros Now, bringing newly crafted and original series targeting a young, and growing, Indian audience.

While TVF and Alt Balaji have been exploring the space for a while, it was with Netflix's Sacred Games that the scope and reach of the medium suddenly became apparent and showed that digital is here to stay.

Since then, Vicky Kaushal, Radhika Apte, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mahie Gill, Karan Johar, Manisha Koirala and Pankaj Tripathi have all emerged as stars of the new medium.

As the year winds down, we take a look at 10 fantastic originals on the digital platform that caught our eye. 

Sacred Games

The one that started it all. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap, then still with Phantom Films, directed this series that opened up the goldmine that is India’s online digital market.

While there were several series that had begun to bring in a growing audience in India, it was Sacred Games that broke the mould with the scope and scale of production and the story.

One of Netflix's early collaborations with Indian producers, the series had several high-profile names from the film industry like Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, generating enough curiousity even among the commercial theatrical audience. It also helped that the raw and intense storyline was built on a captivating tale by Vikram Chandra. 

Whether it was the sharp dialogues or the iconic memes on Khan’s Sartaj Singh and Siddiqui’s Ganesh Gaitonde, Indian audiences relished the fare. Safe to say, the Indian digital platform has not been the same since.

Yeh Meri Family

The rise of the digital medium has coincided with the adulthood of the 1990s generation. Whether it is cinema, television, advertisements or series, the influence of that decade remains strongest.

In TVF’s Yeh Meri Family, it acquired endearing and memorable shape. From posters of Andre Agassi to the presence of an air cooler and Rooh Afza while the radio sputters highlights of Sachin Tendulkar’s famous ‘Desert Storm’ in Sharjah, the series was a drive down nostalgia lane for 1990s kids.

The story was worth it as well. Told through the eyes of 13-year-old Harshu, the episodes were structured like India’s own version of The Wonder Years (1988). Creator-director Sameer Saxena also used the production values to good effect with actor-director Akarsh Khurana delivering with aplomb as the dad while Mona Singh played the under-appreciated mother. These performances, and the touches of nostalgia, garnished with one-liners, made this series one of the year's best.

Mirzapur

If Netflix came up with the urban noir of Sacred Games, Amazon Prime countered with the very rustic and risque Mirzapur. Led by the inimitable Pankaj Tripathi, the series unravelled the tale of a power struggle in India's Hindi heartland. 

The series was powered by an outstanding performance by Divyendu Sharma, who portrayed the neurotic, power-hungry son seeking to take charge of his father’s criminal empire, countered by two upcoming rebels, played by Ali Fazal and Vikrant Massey, who want to break up the existing hierarchy. 

The series was gripping, filled with meme-worthy punchlines, and enough violence to please Anurag Kashyap. The only thing going against it, perhaps, was a sense of familiarity that set in owing to the milieu of the story. There is a faint hangover of the Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012) style, which, perhaps, also stemmed from Tripathi's presence. Regardless, there was enough meat in the story to keep you involved. 

Created by Karan Anshuman and Gurmmeet Singh, the series was a game changer, even if not to the extent of its Netflix counterpart.

Breathe

R Madhavan might have made his mark in cine-goers' memory as the chocolate-boy lover from Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (2001), but he has carved his face into the grizzled mug which now offers him a chance to play the serial-killer father. Madhavan brought a certain gravitas and pain to the role which would otherwise have been a stereotype.

Released in January, Breathe was only the second Indian original series from Amazon Prime, and it set the tone for the changing digi-verse that followed. While the series itself had mixed response, mainly owing to its faltering storyline, it remains worth watching. 

Whether it was Madhavan’s pathos and anger or Amit Sadh’s obsessive policeman or the ever current issue of the business of organ transplants, Breathe tapped into the market of an inquisitive audience waiting for new content on the digital platform.

Home

There is something deeply personal and turbulent about owning a home in Mumbai. Alt Balaji’s Home was a re-telling of the controversial fight of the Campa Cola society residents which began in 2010 with a show-cause notice from the municipal corporation. Directed by Habib Faisal (who also directed the endearing Do Dooni Chaar, 2014), the series had a relatable storyline which made an impact. With a powerful cast comprising Supriya Pilgaonkar, Annu Kapoor, Parikshit Sahni, Himani Shivpuri, Amol Parashar and Chetna Pandey, the series had enough meat to keep you going. 

Where it dawdled a bit was in the complexities involved in the plot. Understandably focused on the characters and their evolution as the problem intensifies, the story, over time, began to lag in pace. The inclusion of too many characters that headed to a dead end also worked against it. 

Yet, the story, the writing, and the acting made this one series worth watching. Particularly if you wanted a story that reminded you of the perils of owning a home in this city. 

Lust Stories

This was a big one for Netflix. Four major directors of Hindi cinema, an anthology with edgy stories. Bringing together once again the Bombay Talkies (2010) directors Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Bannerjee, Karan Johar, and Zoya Akhtar was a branding coup for Netflix. With Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP backing it, it was among the first major Indian originals created for the digital market.

The film itself was a wonderful anthology of relationships that drive the characters in each segment. The sensitive cinematic takes on the complexities of relationships and the clash between class and conservative ideology came across wonderfully. With brilliant performances by Manisha Koirala, Sanjay Kapoor, Bhumi Pednekar, Kiara Advani and Vicky Kaushal, the film hit the sweet spot with the online audience. 

In addition to proving the reach and potential of the digital audience, the film opened up the possibility of collaborations between commercial film studios and Netflix, including a major deal with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. 

Love Per Square Foot

One of the early Netflix offerings was this wonderful original film, Love Per Square Foot. Featuring the year’s major breakthrough star Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar, the film was a sweet tale about, again, the dream of owning a home in Mumbai. 

Colourful, entertaining and comic, Love Per Square Foot was a sweet and savoury film that brought a mix of the content-savvy style that has made its impact on the big screen as well. In addition to Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar’s adorable chemistry, the film had the underrated Supriya Pathak and Gajraj Rao, who finally made it to the front pages with Badhaai Ho later in the year.

Little Things 2

Another theme that repeated itself through several digital series was the confused and complicated realities of relationships in the current generation. In Little Things 2, Mithila Palkar and Dhruv Sehgal followed the thread of their relationship from the first season. Set over the span of a few weeks in the couple’s lives, the series captured the little things that drove them apart, as well as those that brought them together. 

Well scripted, engrossing, and enacted by Palkar and Sehgal, the series has become quite popular with young adults who relate to the struggles of being in a relationship while maintaining stressful jobs and responsibilities. But it is really the articulation of relationships, their flaws, joys, and celebrations that makes it one to follow. 

Ghoul

One thing 2018 revealed was a hunger among Indian audiences for horror. With the Ramsays relegated to nostalgia and the Bhatts being outdone by Hollywood releases, the gap was filled by several films like the sleeper hit Tumbbad. Netflix’s Ghoul ranked among these productions. 

Dark, dystopian, and engrossing, Ghoul used the symbols and images of trapped souls and zombies to talk about the tyranny of the state and its growing oppression. With Radhika Apte (Netflix’s mascot) taking on the lead and Manav Kaul adding to the prowess, Patrick Graham’s dystopian horror was a brave and edgy attempt at storytelling.

The idea of using genre tropes to subliminally push a more radical tale was not one that Indian shows often attempt, but Ghoul managed to deliver it within the garb of the most commercial element in cinema — horror. 

Apharan 

While Netflix and Amazon Prime focused on building stylized, grand stories, Alt Balaji seemed to take pleasure in unearthing irreverent, kitschy plots that reminded you of the best of the 1970s. If Hollywood had its Westerns, this one was the typical Hindi heartland crime drama led by the underrated Arunoday Singh and a top-notch Varun Badola. 

The story revolved around an abduction gone wrong, committed by Arunoday's Rudra Singh, an inspector reduced to part-time goon. The plot twists and turns as the characters try to work their way out of the traps they set for themselves. Alongside Arunoday Singh and Varun Badola, Nidhi Singh proved she is an excellent actress. 

The magic of Apharan lay in the simple direction of Siddharth Sengupta who built up the plot well. Then, there were the impressive dialogues that added the magic element that made the series worth remembering. Alternately hilarious and engrossing, this was the surprise of the season. 

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ALTBalaji Amazon Prime Video Netflix Year in review

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