The rise of OTT platforms is providing the perfect opportunity to the lead actors and actresses from the ‘90s to make their much-awaited comebacks. While the Disney+ Hotstar series ‘Aarya’ marked the beginning of Sushmita Sen’s second innings as a performer, the MX Player series ‘Aashram’ legitimized Bobby Deol’s efforts to make a strong comeback to the world of acting.
Sanjay Kapoor also has been trying to establish himself as a character actor as part of his second innings and the Amazon Prime series ‘The Last Hour’ has helped him achieve it to some extent. Of course, there are many more examples of actors from the ‘90s and the 2000s trying to use the web as a means to resuscitate their careers. The most recent name that comes to mind is that of Raveena Tandon who has made her web debut with the Netflix series ‘Aranyak,’ which also stars Ashutosh Rana, another actor who made it big in the ‘90s, in a pivotal role alongside Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Zakir Hussain, Indraneil Sengupta, and Meghna Malik.
‘Aranyak’ is produced by Siddharth Roy Kapur and Ramesh Sippy with Rohan Sippy serving as the showrunner. The series follows Kasturi Dogra (Raveena Tandon), a harried local cop, who must learn to co-exist with her urbane replacement, Angad Malik (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) after a French teenage tourist disappears in a misty hill town of Sirohna. What ensues is a high stake game of deceit as the two mismatched hill station cops navigate a web of suspects on the big-ticket case that digs up skeletons and revives a nigh forgotten myth of a bloodthirsty, serial killing entity in the forest—the Leopard-Man, which is said to be responsible for a series of gruesome deaths in Sirohna 19 years back. But, ‘Aranyak’ is not a typical horror story in the vein of werewolf dramas that Hollywood is known for. With the ominous presence of the mythical entity lurking over the hill town, the series doesn’t back down from plunging into the political ploys employed in the power circles, drug and social media culture amongst the millennials, personal agendas amongst the grownups while taking a good old procedural approach to solving a puzzling murder mystery.
The Bengali word ‘Aranyak’ basically means “forest-grown” or “pertaining to forest”. And, aptly, the theme of the series as well as its setting is such that the idea of the woods is never lost or forgotten.
A character in the series that is dying from cancer talks about a magical mushroom found deep inside the forest that has the healing power to cure every malady. He recounts to his son how his father had succeeded in curing himself thanks to the healing powers of the mushroom he had discovered in the woods. But it had turned to be a bittersweet affair for this father who lost his voice in the forest. He attributes it to an encounter with the Leopard-Man during which his father barely escaped through but the fear nonetheless made him lose his voice. ‘Aranyak’ is a reminder of how easily the minds of the populace in the small towns can get occupied with superstitions and false beliefs. It’s not a case of illiteracy, for even those who are educated can fall for it at the drop of a hat.
‘Aranyak’ is well shot and edited with consistent acting performances on offer which means that it’s superior to a series like ‘Candy’. Having seen Raveena Tandon’s essay ultra-urbane characters throughout her career, it takes some time to accept her in the role of a small town cop. Also, her accent doesn’t sound very natural at first. In comparison, Parambrata Chattopadhyay’s Angad Malik is a far more believable character. But the chemistry between Tandon and Chattopadhyay is very strong from the word go. It might remind some of the chemistry that Chattopadhyay shared with Vidya Balan in ‘Kahaani’.
Chattopadhyay is an earnest actor who seldom disappoints but his performance in ‘Aranyak’ is truly exceptional. And once we get used to Tandon’s accent and delivery even she starts looking pretty believable in her role. But the best performance comes from Ashutosh Rana, and expectedly so. He plays a retired head constable named Mahadev Dogra, Kasturi’s father-in-law, who is still held in high esteem by everyone in the police department.
Although he seems to be losing his wits, he perhaps is the only one capable of solving the mystery of Leopard-Man. Zakir Hussain is also brilliant in the role of a powerful local politician who wants his daughter to be happy at all costs. The show’s surprise package is Indraneil Sengupta whose enigmatic character holds the key to an important secret about the French girl who mysteriously disappears at the start of the series.
‘Aranyak’ is not a typical whodunit that unfolds at a breakneck pace. On the contrary, it is a slow burner that’s deliberately paced. And so it does demand patient viewing.