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Top 20 web series of 2021

In a quick rewind, The Telegraph spotlights its streaming picks of the year gone by

Priyanka Roy    |   Published 03.01.22, 02:17 AM

Tabbar

One of the best reviewed shows of the year, Tabbar is yet another feather in SonyLiv’s cap, a streamer which is fast gaining the reputation for picking titles of high quality. The question of how far will you go to protect your family takes turns both surprising and sinister in this gritty exploration of crime and misdemeanour, directed with remarkable acuity by Ajitpal Singh and grounded in compelling performances by a strong ensemble, led by the always dependable Pavan Malhotra. The series pushes the conventional boundaries of a crime thriller, scoring with its atmospherics and authenticity.

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Streaming on: SonyLIV

GULLAK SEASON 2

The Viral Fever, better known as TVF, continued to churn out winners (they also had Aspirants in 2021). Season 2 of Gullak took forward the heartwarming premise of the first season, focusing on the relatable, everyday life of the Mishras. Wisecracks and witticisms, food and family form an integral part of Gullak 2, which takes feel-good a notch higher and provides a welcome breather in the unpredictably tough times we are living in. The performances — led by Geetanjali Kulkarni and Jameel Khan — take care of the rest.

Streaming on: SonyLIV

GEELI PUCCHI

In the overcrowded world of anthologies that came out of 2021 — most of which was average fare — Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi, that was part of the Netflix anthology Ajeeb Daastaans — turned out to be a rare gem. Ghaywan — the man behind the brilliant Masaan — delved into casteism and repressed sexuality to tell a tale of the deep divide that exists in society through the tale of two women, both of whom battle prejudice, even as they find themselves placed on either side of the privilege spectrum. Konkona Sensharma, playing a woman who is discriminated against for her class, gender and sexual orientation, is the star of the show. Like always.

Streaming on: Netflix

Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa

Attempting to mainstream Satyajit Ray’s much-feted short stories was Ray, an anthology of four shorts. A 50-50 effort brought to life by three film-makers, the unanimous pick of the lot was Abhishek Chaubey’s Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, an adaptation of the master’s Barin Bhowmick’s Ailment. A delight from start to finish, Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa packed in both humour and heart, with the thrust and parry between Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao — with poetry and music, tales of wrestling matches lost and won — not only holding the short together, but also resulting in a gratifying ending.

Streaming on: Netflix

DHINDORA

In 2021, viral sensation Bhuvan Bam took a step forward to come up with his first web series. Rooted in his much-loved BB Ki Vines universe, Dhindora had Bhuvan playing to his strengths, providing both laughs and social commentary and, in his inimitable and effortless style, playing 10 different characters. “I actually wanted Dhindora to reach out to people who don’t know who I am,” Bhuvan had told The Telegraph in a recent interview. Well, Dhindora now has more than 300 million views (and counting) and a billboard on Times Square in New York.

Streaming on: YouTube

GRAHAN

Plonk Pavan Malhotra into a series and watch him run with it. Grahan, a drama built around the1984 anti-Sikh riots, was handled with both compassion and sensitivity and anchored by some strong acts, chief among them coming from Malhotra and Zoya Hussain. A relevant watch that finds resonance in today’s times, this eight-episode series scored for being a cautionary tale about the cost of truth that, despite spreading itself a little too thin at times, impacted with its deeply humanist core.

Streaming on: Disney+Hotstar

MUMBAI DIARIES 26/11

A powerful and poignant look at courage under fire, Mumbai Diaries 26/11 presented a fictionalised account of the trauma and tension that first responders — particularly those working in an ill-equipped government hospital — found themselves under during the Mumbai terrorist attacks a decade ago. Chaos defined the tone and texture of this eight-part series, which hooked the viewer both with action and emotion, showing us how truth is always braver than fiction. Konkona Sensharma, Mohit Raina... some very fine performances out there.

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

AARYA SEASON 2

Season 2 of a smash-hit show is always a tricky one to pull off, but the second innings of Aarya, coming in a little more than a year after the first, showed that it was no flash-in-the-pan. Distinguished by its slow-burn essence which gradually progressed to a relentless watch, constantly keeping the viewer on tenterhooks, this Ram Madhvani series — with themes of rectitude, revenge and retribution — continues to be a winner, with Sushmita Sen’s physicality and personality illustrating once more what makes her the perfect Aarya.

Streaming on: Disney+Hotstar

THE FAMILY MAN SEASON 2

The crown for the most awaited second season of a show belongs to this Raj & DK series taken to level next by Manoj Bajpayee in only the way he can. Season 2 of The Family Man, arriving in June last year, comprised nine episodes of adrenaline rush that not only took the best from Season 1 but bettered it in more ways than one. Even as Srikant Tiwari — Bajpayee’s unconventional secret agent who could just be the average Joe — saw his personal and professional worlds colliding like never before, packing in a huge punch this season was Samantha Ruth Prabhu, who brought both volatility and vulnerability to her Raji. Season 3 soon... please!

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

HOUSE OF SECRETS: The Burari Deaths

Taking the true-crime genre to places both dumbfounding and disturbing was Leena Yadav’s painstaking effort to put together the mystery behind the mass deaths of 11 members of a family in Delhi’s cheek-by-jowl bylanes of Burari, an episode that shocked the country a few years ago. Over three episodes, the documentary steers clear of sensationalism and looks at the perplexing case with sensitivity, even as it uncovers everything from blind belief to superstition to collective psychosis. The mystique is magnified by A.R. Rahman’s haunting background score, with House of Secrets guaranteed to give you a few sleepless nights.

Streaming on: Netflix

SUCCESSION SEASON 3

A great series became even more watchable in its third outing, with Succession building on everything that it had done in its previous seasons, and capping it off with more unbelievable drama, relentless nastiness, ridiculous humour and remarkable performances. This is a series which relies on its characters to be unlikable in order to be watchable. Season 3 continued to be the incisive satire we have always loved Succession to be, with the last episode serving as one of the best finales in recent times. Bring it on, Season 4!

Streaming on: Disney + Hotstar

MARE OF EASTTOWN

Tension simmers below the surface to build a pressure cooker-like situation in small-town America — with Kate Winslet front and centre — in Mare of Easttown. One of the most compelling shows in recent times, Mare of Easttown — a whodunit tempered with an exploration of family dynamics and small-town politics — had familiar tropes and some predictable twists, but what powered the show was an immensely watchable Kate Winslet, who made her flawed protagonist — with warts both physical and metaphorical — one of the most interesting screen sheroes in recent times.

Streaming on: Disney + Hotstar

THE FAMILY MAN SEASON 2

The crown for the most awaited second season of a show belongs to this Raj & DK series taken to level next by Manoj Bajpayee in only the way he can. Season 2 of The Family Man, arriving in June last year, comprised nine episodes of adrenaline rush that not only took the best from Season 1 but bettered it in more ways than one. Even as Srikant Tiwari — Bajpayee’s unconventional secret agent who could just be the average Joe — saw his personal and professional worlds colliding like never before, packing in a huge punch this season was Samantha Ruth Prabhu, who brought both volatility and vulnerability to her Raji. Season 3 soon... please!

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

HOUSE OF SECRETS: The Burari Deaths

Taking the true-crime genre to places both dumbfounding and disturbing was Leena Yadav’s painstaking effort to put together the mystery behind the mass deaths of 11 members of a family in Delhi’s cheek-by-jowl bylanes of Burari, an episode that shocked the country a few years ago. Over three episodes, the documentary steers clear of sensationalism and looks at the perplexing case with sensitivity, even as it uncovers everything from blind belief to superstition to collective psychosis. The mystique is magnified by A.R. Rahman’s haunting background score, with House of Secrets guaranteed to give you a few sleepless nights.

Streaming on: Netflix

SUCCESSION SEASON 3

A great series became even more watchable in its third outing, with Succession building on everything that it had done in its previous seasons, and capping it off with more unbelievable drama, relentless nastiness, ridiculous humour and remarkable performances. This is a series which relies on its characters to be unlikable in order to be watchable. Season 3 continued to be the incisive satire we have always loved Succession to be, with the last episode serving as one of the best finales in recent times. Bring it on, Season 4!

Streaming on: Disney + Hotstar

MARE OF EASTTOWN

Tension simmers below the surface to build a pressure cooker-like situation in small-town America — with Kate Winslet front and centre — in Mare of Easttown. One of the most compelling shows in recent times, Mare of Easttown — a whodunit tempered with an exploration of family dynamics and small-town politics — had familiar tropes and some predictable twists, but what powered the show was an immensely watchable Kate Winslet, who made her flawed protagonist — with warts both physical and metaphorical — one of the most interesting screen sheroes in recent times.

Streaming on: Disney + Hotstar

TED LASSO

Its first season earned it a record 20 Primetime Emmy nominations. True to its DNA, the show’s sophomore season turned out to be a feel-good watch, with Jason Sudeikis, in the title role, continuing to be the heart of the show. Embracing optimism and goodness without ever feeling fake, Ted Lasso was the good we needed last year. In fact, every year.

Streaming on: Apple TV+

DOPESICK

The impact of the opioid crisis on American society is the focus of this series boasting names like Michael Keaton, Peter Saarsgaard, Will Poulter and Kaitlyn Dever in its casting credits. Rich storytelling is the cornerstone of this riveting series, which may be primarily bleak but makes for essential viewing. Dever is the star act here, and what do we say about Michael Keaton that we haven’t said before! Catch this one stat if you haven’t yet!

Streaming on: Disney+Hotstar

MAID

Heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure, Maid paints a powerful portrait of a powerless woman in America, offering a captivating, humane and unflinching look at the raw realities of day-to-day life for women who flee bad relationships and unending abuse. Margaret Qualley turns in a career-defining performance, supported by real-life mother Andie McDowell, who plays her mother in the series. A disturbing yet necessary watch.

Streaming on: Netflix

SHADOW AND BONE

Based on the much-loved books in the Grishaverse, the eponymous eight-episode series on Netflix was a winner in terms of its eye-catching costumes and its expansive world-building, with its inventive writing and incredible acting hooking even those who aren’t familiar with this universe. What’s best about the show was the fact that it was faithful enough to keep fans of the books happy, but also made ingenious changes to establish itself with an identity of its own.

Streaming on: Netflix

THE CHAIR

We will watch just about everything that has Sandra Oh in it. The Chair, a six-episode series that dropped last August, had Oh bringing in her trademark humour and affability to her Ji-Yoon Kim, the first woman to be appointed chair of the English department at the fictional Pembroke University. Entertaining and insightful, The Chair provided an interesting look into the world of academia and a genuine exploration of intergenerational differences, but was its best in its lighter moments, most courtesy Oh’s caustic one-liners.

Streaming on: Netflix

SEX EDUCATION SEASON 3

Season 3 of the Netflix series which looks at the personal dilemmas of its principal characters kept its core alive even as it graduated to becoming a masterclass in brutally honest and searingly heartfelt comedy. Sex Education has always been a show that examines its characters beyond the surface level and in its latest outing, what we got was eight episodes of raw, unafraid  storytelling.

Streaming on: Netflix

THE SERPENT

There’s been many a screen rendition of the Charles Sobhraj story, but few have been as intriguing as The Serpent. Operating with a split-level storytelling structure that was both frustrating and rewarding, the eight-episode limited series turned out to be an effective slow-burn peek into Sobhraj’s shenanigans. The show followed Sobhraj’s bloodied journey of notoriety, preying on unsuspecting young tourists through the mid-1970s on the Hippie Trail. A man who murdered without breaking a sweat, but also mesmerised with his innate charm, Sobhraj was played with conviction and charm by Tahar Rahim, with the show’s decision to dramatise the events rather than bringing in real footage and talking heads helping in keeping the interest alive and kicking.

Streaming on: Netflix

MIDNIGHT MASS

Grief, faith and horror came together in Midnight Mass, created and directed by Mike Flanagan, the man behind seminal spook fests like Oculus and The Haunting of Hill House. Focusing on how the lives of the inhabitants of an isolated island change with the arrival of a mysterious priest, the show, over seven episodes, may have suffered from too much speechifying, but holds the distinction of perhaps being Flanagan’s most thought-provoking material yet. Though it tested our patience at some points, this is a show where the scary and the sublime merge seamlessly, as do the personal and profound.

Streaming on: Netflix



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