S02E08 is relentless. It takes everything that has happened in the seven episodes preceding it and puts it on steroids. The action, the reaction to the action, the fallout of the action and reaction, the emotions, the anxieties, the grit, the gumption, the fear, the fierceness... everything is in top gear, everything is almost pitch perfect. Everything about it reinforces what makes Aarya one of the most well-made and watchable shows to have come out of the Indian creative space in recent times. If anything, it justifies why the show was in the running for an International Emmy. It didn’t win, but boy did it deserve it.
Family was at the core of the first season. Family, more than ever, remains the focus of Aarya in Season Two. After spending a few years abroad in anonymity, Aarya (Sushmita Sen) returns with her three children to testify in court against her father and brother, responsible for not only gunning down her husband Tej —- Chandrachur Singh bowed out in the first episode of the first season, but Bade achhe lagte hain lingers on — but also the bloodbath that ensued thereafter. When Aarya comes back, she not only has to battle her kin to protect her kids, but is also plunged right into the battle for survival against the outside forces that she had attempted to run away from. Pushed against the wall, Aarya does what she has always done best — take the fight to the enemy, all guns blazing.
Slow-burn has always been the essence of Aarya, and it remains so, often justifiably, sometimes a little frustratingly. Director Ram Madhvani and co-directors Vinod Rawat and Kapil Sharma (not the one you are thinking of) craft a season that takes some time to get going. Aarya is an adaptation of the Dutch series Penoza. Madhvani remains fairly true to his source material, successfully transposing the action, as he had done in the first season, to the arid climes of Rajasthan. Drugs remain the pivot around which most of the blood is spilled, but old rivalries and the quest for revenge also rear their ugly head, even as corrupt law enforcers and Russian drug dealers run amuck. Soon, the professional, as always, becomes personal for Aarya.
Sushmita Sen is Aarya. There is no other way to put it. In Season Two, the statuesque actor, whose inherent calmness and trademark grit under the most extraneous circumstances, slips on the character like second skin, effortlessly portraying both a woman who has to get the job done at any cost even as the mother in her remains at the forefront.
And this is not limited to just her own. Take that scene in the final episode — I will reveal the bare details for those who haven’t watched the season yet —- where Aarya is in the middle of a do-or-die situation, but is sensitive to a fault to the kids she takes off with as ‘hostages’. Even in all the madness, she doesn’t neglect taking a call from her daughter Aru, the most vulnerable among her children, talking while she gropes for a gun in her handbag. That one scene succinctly spells out everything that makes up Aarya, and Sushmita embraces and enacts each of these aspects of her character with complete authenticity and authority. Even when the makers take the liberty to put her in a scene that falls into the category of a typical Bollywood money shot (it involves a helicopter and a man at the end of the barrel of the gun that Aarya is holding), Sushmita — blessed with both physicality and personality —- pulls it off in a manner that doesn’t make it appear disjointed from what we have known Aarya to be and to embody through the course of the series.
Even as authenticity in look and feel remains Aarya’s strength, its ensemble cast once again comes up trumps. Every actor is perfectly cast, whether it’s Vishwajeet Pradhan’s Sampath, Daulat played by Sikandar Kher, Akash Khurana as Shekhawat or Vikas Kumar as Khan. Some new players emerge this season, and we would definitely like to see more of Shataf Figar, whose chemistry with Sushmita is natural, in the coming season. Of the actors playing Aarya’s three children, Virti Vaghani’s Aru is given the maximum screen time, but while we remain invested in her struggles, that track starts to labour after a point, emerging as a speed bump in the story. So also is the use of old Hindi film songs in the narrative, with what was novel in the first season now bordering on overkill.
This is perhaps nitpicking in a season that delivers more than it falters. And those final moments of Aarya balancing on her exercise rings, like the first shot of the first season, and looking straight into the camera, tells us she isn’t quite done. The lioness is ready for her next kill.