‘Delhi Crime’ to ‘Paatal Lok’: A list of gripping, binge-worthy Indian web series

We have come up with a list of binge-worthy Indian web series – ranging from crime dramas and spy thrillers to police procedurals – that you can happily lose yourself in.
A still from web series Delhi Crime
A still from web series Delhi Crime
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As many states go into lockdowns with stricter restrictions due to the surge in the number of cases in the country’s COVID-19 second wave, many people are once again relying on Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms for entertainment. While there are many movies that can keep one engaged, there’s nothing like binge-watching a gripping web series. With the OTT market opening up at a rapid pace in the country, viewers are spoilt for choice, with several web series available on different streaming platforms.

We have come up with a list of five binge-worthy Indian web series – ranging from crime dramas and spy thrillers to police procedurals – that you can happily lose yourself in. Switch on your TV or unlock your smartphone, make that bag of popcorn, and get ready to binge.

Delhi Crime (2019) 

The infamous 2012 New Delhi Nirbhaya gang rape case was covered widely both by national as well as international media. Just when one wondered if it was possible to bring more details about the case to light, the makers of Delhi Crime prove otherwise. Narrated from the perspective of the Delhi Police who handled the case, Netflix’s police procedural tracks how the team solved the case. In a city where 11,000 heinous crimes are reported on a daily basis, the show tracks how a team of underpaid and under-equipped cops facing mounting pressure from the public, media and politicians managed to hunt down the criminals.

The team is spearheaded by South Delhi’s fierce DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah), who is assertive enough to slap a psychotic criminal and get a lazy subordinate to work, but is also empathetic, reassuring and even vulnerable at times. The cops working under DCP Vartika too deliver layered and nuanced performances, much like Shefali. Contrary to the conventional portrayal of cops as alphas who single handedly nab criminals, Delhi Crime’s cops are weary, cynical and frustrated as they juggle a hectic job and familial duties, thus showcasing a more honest portrayal of Indian cops.

On one hand, the hard-hitting show throws light on the horrific nature of sexual harassment cases and the poor state of affairs with regards to women safety, but at the same time the seven-part Netflix original series also highlights how cops sometimes manage to emerge victorious while operating within a crumbling system.

The Family Man – Season 1 (2019)

When we imagine what the lives of secret agents and spies would look like, we seldom think about a middle-aged man with a drinking and smoking problem, eating vada pav at a roadside eatery while waiting for the next big breakthrough. Revolving around the life of Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee), Amazon Prime Video’s The Family Man’s representation of an intelligence officer for the Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell (TASC) is realistic.

Unlike spy movies that celebrate agents as larger-than-life figures, Srikant Tiwari isn’t recognised enough or celebrated by his family, but rather pretends to be doing a desk job while working on the field as a TASC agent. With a wife who is tired of taking on responsibilities and fixing their marriage, a teenage daughter whose Gen Z lingo and lifestyle is incomprehensible, and a young son who nags him for things, the struggles Srikanth faces as a father and husband in a middle-class family is comical and close to home.

Meanwhile, the show’s main focus is on the cases that come his way, as Srikanth travels across Mumbai, Kashmir and Quetta looking for clues. As its tagline claims, the show is “Inspired from Daily News Stories” since it is loosely based on real-life incidents such as the presence of ISIS in India, its recruitment in Kerala, its ties to Pakistan, among others. The show also touches upon other current topics such as Gaurakshaks, lynchings, imposition of Hindi, “anti-nationals” and the beef controversy, which have often been described as “burning issues” by prime-time TV anchors. If you are looking for a thriller to watch with your family, The Family Man, as the title indicates, might be the family-friendly show for you.

Paatal Lok (2020)

Seconds into the pilot episode, we hear the protagonist Hathi Ram Chaudhary explaining how the world is actually divided into three worlds – swarg lok or heaven, the abode of the wealthy and popular; dharti lok or earth where the ordinary people live; and paatal lok or hell where the lowlife take refuge. He further notes that the low-profile Outer Jamuna Paar police station is part of Paatal Lok. Little does he know that within minutes he’d find himself and his police station in the midst of a high-profile case. What starts off as a simple case where Hathi Ram is expected to chase down four criminals turns into a wild goose chase that takes him to the interiors of Punjab and Chitrakoot (MP), where he is forced to unravel an interconnected web of crime, politics and oppression to get to the bottom of the truth.

From caste discrimination and religion-based oppression to vote bank politics, the show explores various hard-hitting themes deeply inspired from reality. Amazon Prime Video’s Paatal Lok also draws viewers’ attention to the stark contrast between big cities like Delhi and the north Indian heartland by turning the spotlight on celebrated journalist Sanjeev Mehra after he becomes the target of an attack. Although the show was criticised by some for adding too many sub-plots and details to the mix, the witty writing, nuanced performances and tight screenplay keeps you hooked throughout.

Sacred Games – Season 1 (2018)

An adaptation of acclaimed writer Vikram Chandra’s novel of the same title, Netflix’s first Indian original series Sacred Games was a hit with both audiences and critics. The plot moves along two parallel tracks. The portions directed by Anurag Kashyap track the rise of gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddique) as he establishes his reign, seeks revenge and finds love while he gains clout as the king of Gopalmath in the early 80s and 90s. Filled with brutal action sequences and unabashed use of profanity, the world of Ganesh Gaitonde is interesting to watch if you are a fan of the neo-noir genre. Meanwhile, director Vikramaditya Motwane simultaneously focuses on a vulnerable and sincere cop Sartaj (Saif Ali Khan) in the present day and his quest to find the cryptic meaning behind the last words of a dying gangster, with inputs from RAW agent Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte).

Both the worlds collide when Gaitonde sends a tip-off to Sartaj about a catastrophe that will wreak havoc on the city of Mumbai. Writers Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath use the screen-time that comes with a web series to explore various themes including politics, religion, revenge, rivalry, corruption and conspiracy. The gripping background score, mythological symbolism and foreshadowing, and powerful performances help keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Breathe (2018)

To what extent would one go to save a loved one? Who draws the boundaries? How can one measure unconditional love? These are some of the interesting questions put forth by the makers of Amazon Prime Video’s web series Breathe. The show narrates the story of Danny Mascarenhas (Madhavan), a football coach, who is desperate to save his six-year-old son Josh who suffers from a life-threatening lung disorder. Danny sets off on a killing spree to move Josh’s rank up the donor list for a transplant that could save his life. On the other hand, short-tempered cop Kabir Sawant, who is drowning in guilt and sorrow after the loss of his daughter, is hell-bent on following the clues to find the killer. Despite the logical loopholes and cliches, Mayank V Sharma’s Breathe is engaging and binge-worthy.

Other Favourites 

1) Leila (Netflix)  

2) Jamtara (Netflix)  

3) Criminal Justice (Disney+ Hotstar) 

4) Scam 1992 (Sony LIV)  

5) Kaafir (Zee5)

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