Aarya Season 2 review: Sen-sational yet again

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Aarya Season 2 review: Sen-sational yet again

Illustration: Arati Gujar

“Iam just a working mother.” Truer words have never been spoken as Sushmita Sen is back with grit and finesse for the second outing of Aarya on Disney+Hotstar. The eight-episode series sees the evolution of Aarya Sareen, the protective mother of three. As the episodes unfold, the weak and wounded woman – nothing more than a mere pawn in a game of bloody chess – becomes the unlikely Queen outsmarting her enemies, effortlessly turning her foes into friends, while being a few steps ahead of her enemies all the time.

Ram Madhvani’s Aarya, perhaps, had more layers in the first Season. The screenplay was razor-sharp, unlike this time where it falters every now and then. But the second season stands tall on the fact that it becomes accessory to the powers of its women. Led by its fiery and strong women the show is perhaps the first of its kind when it comes to contextually framing women as not just the victims but also its source of ferocity – Aarya fighting to keep her family safe, Sushila Shekhar, the corrupt cop, Maya, the loyal friend, Hina, the grief-stricken sister-in-law and of course, Aarya’s mother, with her grace in the face of grief and betrayal. Madhvani gives his female subjects a kind of agency that is rare still, in the OTT space.

As the episodes unfold, the weak and wounded Aarya – nothing more than a mere pawn in a game of bloody chess – becomes the unlikely Queen.

Aarya’s daughter remains a tantalising yet unrealised idea. Aru unfairly falls prey to the tropes that come with a grief-stricken problem child – drug abuse, suicidal tendencies, temperament, a strained relationship with the parent, and refuge as a coping mechanism. It is a predictable track, and though it titillates on the surface, it rarely says anything that which you cannot see coming from afar. That said, the show’s un-sanitised portrayal of children stuck within the crossfire of familial conflict, at least pushes the boundaries of tele-chauvinism – “the kids are innocent”.

The men in Aarya 2 are either seeking revenge (for instance, Aarya’s father and brother, and the Shekhawat family head) or falling victim to it (Sangram, Kedia) or being the lame duck to the strong women around them, for good or for bad (ACP Khan, Daulat). Vishwajeet Pradhan as Sampat is a welcome change though – a bad man with a conscience. Jayant Kriplani as Zorawar Rathore is almost wasted and could have used more meat. Sikandar Kher’s Daulat is despite its rawness rarely amounts to anything other than the rugged masculinity. Veer, Aarya’s elder son, carries forward his father’s nonchalance, and voice of reason.

Led by its fiery and strong women the show is perhaps the first of its kind when it comes to contextually framing women as not just the victims but also its source of ferocity.

Like its prequel, Season 2 leans heavily on Sen’s abilities. It’s evidently tough to essay grace in the face of blissfully unaware patriarchs and yet Sen’s uprightness doesn’t sever the length of her impact, but only prolong its vitality. She remains in memory, of both her enemies and audience. Even as she breaks down and says, “I’m not a good mother,” you want to whisper back, “But, you are.” A bone to pick here might be Aarya’s extremely clique look that contradicts, at times, her prowling, her instinct to survive the worst of situations.

Though an official remake of the Spanish original Penoza, the series kept reminding me of Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar. But, truth be said, Aarya steers clear of Bollywood clichés. The series does have a few touches of the overdone, but thankfully, they are far and few in between. The background score is noteworthy and so is the use of old songs from time to time. But this merging with the antique doesn’t in any way make the show mossy with nostalgia, but lends it instead, a poetic register, a sort of outhouse to build its moment of chasms inside. This use of both colour and music culminates a breath-taking climactic sequence that will be talked about in days to come.

Aarya steers clear of Bollywood clichés. The series does have a few touches of the overdone, but thankfully, they are far and few in between.

For all its minor flaws Aarya is really a winner in the OTT space, foremost for its platforming of strong women and characters that can’t be boxed into easy cliches. Like any piece of art, you’d want to change things about it, but nothing can be perfect, and with Sen’s role of a woman stuck between a rock and a hard place, that kind of, is the point.

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