First things first – OTT shows or any form of content that can be accessed on personal devices should come with trigger warnings. Including scenes of a young adult attempting suicide without any loud and clear trigger warnings is extremely irresponsible. Aranyak and the other release this weekend, Aarya Season 2, have graphic scenes of an attempted suicide with no trigger warnings. Please ditch the fear of spoilers at a time when the collective mental health of the nation/globe has hit rock bottom. We owe this to the viewers.
Missing trigger warning apart, Aranyak, written by Charudutt Acharya and directed by Vinay Waikul, is an entertaining watch. Rohan Sippy serves as executive producer on this series co-created by Ramesh Sippy and Siddharth Roy Kapur. Aranyak takes us into the fictional town of Sironah in the hills of Himachal Pradesh. The seeming idyllic and slow pace of life here is disrupted when a young French girl on holiday is found hanging from a tree in the forest. When news spreads that she was raped before being killed and that there were claw marks on her throat, painful memories from almost two decades ago resurface.
It turns out that Sironah has seen serial killings of the exact same nature in the past, but the culprit was never found. The town folk blamed the killings on a ‘nar-tendua’, a mythical half-man, half-leopard creature who attacked women and hung them on trees. Mahadev Dogra (Ashutosh Rana), a former police officer investigating the case, had come close to capturing the alleged leopard man but never managed to till he retired. His daughter-in-law, and now police station head, Kasturi Dogra (Raveena Tandon) is about to begin a sabbatical from work when the killer strikes again. Kasturi is hoping to focus on the fragile situation at home, help her daughter pass the IIT entrance exam and salvage her marriage to Hari (Vivek Madan), who quite predictably resents her success and his inability to ever become a cop.
But just as she rather grudgingly starts packing her things to make way for her replacement Angad Mallik (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), the opportunity to finally work on a big case forces her to change her mind. This doesn’t go down too well with the city bred English speaking Angad, who struggles to fathom the simplistic and often eyebrow raising methods of functioning at the Sironah police station. After clashing with each other a couple of times, Angad accepts that he needs Kasturi’s help given her knowledge about Sironah. The unlikely pair soon form a strong team, playing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses to solve an increasingly tangled case.
Angad, who has himself lost a child, is bombarded by people telling him that the crime was committed by a mythical creature. He disagrees and starts following the clues to round up suspects. As the investigation deepens, a large supporting cast emerges. We meet greedy politicians, drug peddlers, corrupt cops, troubled young adults and dubious café owners who serve as both suspects and red herrings. While Mahadev continues his hunt for the nar-tendua, Kasturi and Angad pursue the beastly humans who aren’t above anything when it comes to getting what they want.
Aranyak, which borrows its title from a famous Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, literally means ‘of the jungle’. The show subtly borrows themes from the novel but focuses instead on creating parallels between the jungle and the town that has grown around it. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but so are the secrets and conspiracies brewing in the small hillside town. Politicians Jagdamba (Meghna Malik) and Kuber Manhas (Zakir Hussain) are at loggerheads over a resort project that might damage the forest and a Rajya Sabha seat. While Jagdamba’s son Kanti (Tejaswi Dev) is out on parole after being accused of rape, Manhas’s daughter who is battling mental health issues is engaged to Ravi Parashar (Indraneil Sengupta), the brain behind the resort project.
Aranyak does well in building an interesting plot and bringing in cliffhanger moments at the end of each episode that reminded me of television shows like How to Get Away with Murder. This show is not looking to make a bigger point about the state of the country or the division in society like Paatal Lok. It’s a pulpy small-town crime thriller that includes elements of a police procedural and jungle-based horror stories. But while writer Charudutt Acharya builds a vast web of lies and deceit, there seems to be too much focus on creating shocking twists instead of engaging characters.
Raveena and Parambrata try valiantly to work with a script that doesn’t offer much in terms of complexity or nuance but manage to make their characters interesting. Raveena does especially well in scenes where she is chasing thugs or has to slap the truth out of a corrupt cop’s criminal sidekick but seems to struggle with the more emotional scenes. Also, as attractive as she is, it seems a little unreal for her to always have her hair and makeup in place, even in the middle of the night. But the actor surrenders to the part sincerely and I hope we get to see more of her onscreen. Parambrata, also saddled with a character who has a limited emotional range, uses his expressive face and eyes to save Angad from being a boring one-dimensional cop. Ashutosh Rana, who is a fine actor, seems to have let go and had a blast with his pot-smoking retired cop character who spends his days wandering around the jungle and mouthing lines like, “every noose has its own creator”.
Saurabh Gosawmi’s cinematography, Nimish Shah and Dipanjan Guha’s background score, Abhijit Gaonkar and Sonam Singh’s production design and editing by Yasha Ramchandani all go a long way in making Aranyak an engaging watch.
Do check Aranyak on Netflix. It’s great for a fun one-time binge watch.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.