Aranyak Series Review: Gets lost in the woods

Aranyak Series Review: Gets lost in the woods

Raveena Tandon and Parambrata Chatterjee solve a crime in this drab, convoluted series
Rating:(2 / 5)

You didn’t see enough female cops in the Hindi cinema of the nineties. What you did see, however, were cop wives, flustered homemakers admonishing or egging on their husbands. Raveena Tandon memorably played one in the cult classic Shool (1999). In that film, Manoj Bajpayee’s character is so duty-obsessed that he repeatedly puts his family in the path of danger. Their suffering is taken for a fact. “We love you, that’s why we tolerate you,” his wife says on her deathbed.

Streaming on: Netflix

Cast: Raveena Tandon, Parambrata Chatterjee, Ashutosh Rana, Meghna Malik, Zakir Hussain

I find it a bit strange that, as Raveena dons her first big cop role in Aranyak, her character’s first gesture, again, is towards home. In the Netflix series, the actor is Kasturi Dogra, a middle-aged station officer in the fictional hill town of Sironah. Kasturi has held the post for years, with middling success. She isn’t ambitious in the ‘I will root out crime for good’ sense—more in the ‘I want to kick ass and land one big murder mystery’ sense. Yet, when one such case finally comes her way, she is going on leave. The reason? Family.

Directed by Vinay Waikul and written by Charudutt Acharya, Aranyak achieves some competent scene-setting in its opening episode. Several characters are introduced, a murder is unearthed, and that’s about it. We meet a wily politician (Zakir Hussain), his canny rival (Meghna Malik), their sons and daughters. The victim is a 19-year-old French teen named Amiee Baptiste (Anastasiya Hamolka). The girl’s mother approaches the new SHO, Angad (Parambrata Chatterjee), telling him that her daughter and boyfriend are missing. Kasturi, who’s there to clear out her stuff, is unconvinced. “Charsi, jhooti,” she calls the woman before whacking her in the face. There goes the tourism bids.

Kasturi teams up with Angad to solve the case. She had taken the one-year sabbatical to be with her kids (and also spruce up her marriage) but starts tailing her substitute everywhere. It’s an equation reminiscent of Olivia Coleman and David Tenant’s in the crime series Broadchurch. Kasturi, like Coleman’s character, is a local, though far less sensitive and resourceful. She bungles through Sironah like it’s a playground— not a place she has worked and resided in and feels responsible for. Her family life, likewise, feels more scripted than lived. Kasturi’s husband, Hari (Vivek Daman), is the scoffing, jealous sort. And what could her chillum-smoking father-in-law (Ashutosh Rana) be called? Of course, Mahadev.

Aranyak has the visual palette of your average mountain thriller—by the third or fourth episode, I was tired of seeing cars snaking through darkened roads. The clichés are piled on in comical succession: bodies dangling from trees, a murky ‘resort project’, a fabled ‘leopard-man’ stalking the woods. This is the sort of show where the cops always arrive a little late and a suspect slips out the window. Our leads spend most of their time chatting and strategizing. Even better thrillers rely on exposition, but not like Aranyak. Long after the audience has made that conclusion, Angad says something is odd, to which Kasturi replies: “Haan, ho sakta hai…

Parambrata Chatterjee coolly delivers what’s asked of him. His extended presence makes this an unlikely vehicle for Raveena—Kasturi, it often feels, is closer to sidekick than lead. Her conflicted family life and subdued ambitions fade in and out of view. Raveena has always shone in stronger roles, yet Aranyak slips her by. It’s more like a medley (‘tough cop’, ‘apologetic mother’, ‘torn wife’) than a full, complete performance. Any tenderness is nipped in the bud—there’s a small moment where Kasturi slips on Angad’s arm, then recovers and tells him off.  

The central mystery becomes too convoluted to follow, too sluggish to care. There was a time when Indian thrillers were made on the cheap. They were quick, kitschy and remarkably self-aware. The advent of streaming has changed all that. Shows like Aranyak aim for prestige. What they forget to have is a bit of fun.

Cinema Express