Last year, Nawazuddin Siddiqui gave words to something that had been on the mind for a long while. While most focused on the part where he announced (and later redacted) his loss of love for OTT series, there was more to be heard in what he had to say. (Also read: Aarya 2: Sushmita Sen finally breaks bad, but takes 7 long, boring episodes to get there)
“The platform has become a dumping ground for redundant shows. We either have shows that don’t deserve to be seen in the first place. Or sequels to show that have nothing more to say, ”he said. However, lately, it feels like a dumping ground not just for shows no one wishes to watch but also for Bollywood A-listers seeking some indie cred after bathing in the shallow but glossy waters of superstardom. For years, they enjoyed the screaming fans, requests for selfies, obsessed fanpages, chatter about their chiselled bodies or dating life on magazine covers or social media. But now, they wish to be known for the great, serious work they do. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to change direction and seek appreciation for one’s acting skills. However, rarely does it come with any change in the aforementioned acting skills at all. It is the same of porridge, served in a more sophisticated bowl.
Nawaz and his words sparked in the mind after watching the brilliant Sakshi Tanwar in Netflix’s Mai. An imperfect show no doubt, but Mai gets one thing right — its cast. Sakshi plays the once demure, middle class mom Sheel from Lucknow who moonlights… as a nurse at an old age home? But after her daughter is killed, Sheel goes on a search for truth which turns into a murderous rampage, or the calmest, most docile version of it. Sakshi, who is most famous for her two superhit TV serials, is perfect in every scene in Mai – be it as the accusing wife, the heartbroken mother or even as the accidental serial killer. Often times, writers Atul Mongia, Tamal Sen and Amita Vyas are quite unable to tie ends together or give legitimate reasons behind Sheel’s suspicious level of comfort with a life of murder and crime. It leaves you feeling dissatisfied with the series as a whole but Sakshi makes sure she is convincing enough as the vulnerable mother and also as the wall-climbing vengeful assassin, to keep you gripped for all six episodes.
Sakshi as Sheel made me realize how long I had searched for a pitch perfect acting performance in a Hindi series. Perhaps the last time I was still impressed by Jaideep Ahlawat in Paatal Lok or Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime (of course, it would have been the greatest if Mai could be as good as Paatal Lok or Delhi Crime too). Like Shefali or Jaideep, Mai should also become the show that launches Sakshi to bigger, better things. Imagine now, if a 90s superstar with limited talent was handed this role just because they wished to make a ‘comeback’ with something ‘gritty and serious’.
Unbothered about hiding her dark circles, brushing her frayed hair or getting filmed unflattering angles, Sakshi wears her suti sarees with dirty sports shoes, adding some much needed authenticity to her role. The same could not be said witnessing Sushmita Sen not break a single drop of sweat through her make up even when getting tortured on Aarya. The ‘distressed look’ is also not just reserved to assault scenes like on Netflix’s own Fame Game. Sheel is not roaming around the house on a regular day in contoured face, perfectly-filled eyebrows and ruby lips either. Both Sushmita and Madhuri also did well with their respective parts but its never not distracting to be lied to like that. If anything, it only chips away some points for them, points that Sakshi nabbed so well. This obsession with looking Instagram-ready in all scenes all the time is also something most A-listers are accused of being obsessed with it.
Shefali Shah, Jaideep Ahlawat, Pankaj Tripathi are just a few among those who started gaining superstardom from OTT. Delhi Crime, Paatal Lok, Sacred Games and Mirzapur gave them such a massive fan-following, it finally started to look like perhaps the Hindi entertainment industry is still capable of minting superstars from someplace else than a film theater. Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, too, found a much wider fan base than before, thanks to The Family Man and Sacred Games. Through these shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime, viewers were finally learning to love the actors for their work rather than everything else. But of course, everyone wanted to wash their hands in the golden river of free street cred.
In recent months, we have seen a bunch of mediocre shows starring superstars in the lead. Raveena Tandon nabbed the coveted female-cop role in Aranyak, Ajay Devgn was the sadness-plagued cop in Rudra, Madhuri was the gilded superstar in Fame Game, while Saif Ali Khan was the hateful politician in Tandav. For sure, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane managed to churn out two seasons’ worth of good performance from Saif in Sacred Games but the success rate for rest of Bollywood biggies seems much less. And this is when we aren’t even counting the OTT movies (think Dhamaka, Dasvi).
Everyone likes to believe they struck gold with every new release they have. ‘Success bashes’ are thrown in abundance and sometimes, way too prematurely. An army of yes men and bought Twitter trends can make it difficult for any actor to genuinely gauge their own performances. In such a world, those who have done a good job, need to be told and retold about it. Also among those who need to hear it are those ‘big production houses’ that Nawaz spoke about. What made web series fresh was not just the great writing, attention to detail, setting the right atmosphere, but also those who led the story. The actors are a crucial thing to get right. Please only let the right ones in.