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Aarya review: Sushmita Sen delivers strong, layered performance as reluctant head of illegal business

Release Date: 19 Jun 2020


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Sonal Pandya

The Indian adaptation of the Dutch series Penoza follows Sen as Aarya Sareen, a perfectly poised wife and mother who has to get her hands dirty to survive after a tragedy.

Aarya Sareen’s life seems perfect. Loving husband Tej (Chandrachur Singh), three wonderful children, and a tight-knit circle of family and friends that all gather for the wedding of her younger sister Soundarya (Priyasha Bhardwaj) have no idea how their lives will be upended afterwards. What Aarya doesn’t know is that Tej, along with her entitled, impetuous younger brother Sangram (Ankur Bhatia) and business partner Jawahar (Namit Das), have gone too far and got involved with stolen drugs from a rival.

The ground falls from underneath her feet as she steps up to handle the family business of illegal medicines after Tej’s murder. As she tries to figure out whom to trust, the dual threats of the rival Shekhawat (Manish Chaudhari) and Russian drug dealers who want to collect on their stolen money loom large. Meanwhile, a relentless narcotics officer, ACP Khan (Vikas Kumar), pursues Aarya to turn on her family.

The perfectly poised wife and mother is overnight inducted into a messy family business started by her now retired father Zorawar (Jayant Kripalani). The besieged widow must navigate a ruthless man’s world and assert herself in order to protect her children. An adaptation of the Dutch series Penoza, Aarya relies entirely on Sen and the actress is the beating heart of the show. After what seems like ages, Sen has a character in Aarya that brings out her strong and compassionate nature.

With Chandrachur Singh

Like Sen, Chandrachur Singh is seen in an important role after a long while. Tej is rather old-fashioned, a man who still listens to Hindi film music on old vinyl records, and his character is missed after his death. 

The show, directed by Ram Madhvani, Sandeep Modi and Vinod Rawat, also tangibly addresses the  different stages of grief the Sareen family goes through after Tej’s death, especially with the kids. They discuss death often, with characters wondering about souls and afterlife through references in the Bhagavad Gita.

Besides Tej, the men of Aarya are quite dominating and toxic to the women in their lives. Actors Ankur Bhatia and Namit Das play their characters' downfall efficiently. Chaudhari is well cast as the dangerous Shekhawat who won’t take no for an answer. Sikandar Kher is impressive as the brooding, silent right-hand man of patriarch Zorawar.

With Namit Das

Maya Sarao as Jawahar’s wife and Sohaila Kapoor as Aarya’s mother have belated conversations with her, causing her to arrive at momentous decisions. Aarya’s relationship with her younger sister and her children divulge more about the kind of person she is.

Co-creators Madhvani and Modi have adapted the show ably and carry the lingering mystery of who killed Tej far into the show, taking us to a tense but somehow stretched climax. The saga, set in Jaipur, Rajasthan, is gripping and completely binge-worthy as most episodes end on a cliffhanger or a major reveal.

Sushmita Sen in a scene from Aarya

The show lags occasionally veering off point with subplots involving Aarya’s teenagers. The romance of Veer (Viren Vazirani) with a young bartender and her daughter Aru’s (Virti Vaghani's) infatuation with her uncle Bob (Alex O’Nell) take us away from the main action.

The production values of the web-series are splendid, setting up the scale of the Rathore family, from its grand old havelis (mansions) to the Sareens' ultra-modern bungalow.

The cast is beautifully outfitted by Theia Tekchandaney; even dishevelled, their costumes are attractive. Sen, in particular, is beautiful to look at even as she battles her fears and grief to move ahead. As she tells the omnipresent Khan, a character that could have been explored more, she has had to choose between the lesser of two evils.

A line from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) reminds us, "You can do anything, but never go against the family." Aarya, unfortunately, learns that the hard way.

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