Netflix’s Indian Originals haven’t quite gained global stardom while the streamer’s other phenomenal Asian content like squid game, K-Dramasand Love is blind: Japan. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. As well as being home to several Bollywood hits, the streaming platform has steadily released its own Indian movies and shows since its launch in 2018. Granted, not all of its offerings are worth hyping up. But two relatively recent thrillers, Aranyak and The fame game, certainly. Many others were also excited about the shows: their trailers racked up over 17 million views.
Both gripping Hindi thriller dramas are led by eminent Bollywood stars. Aranyakby Raveena Tandon and The fame game‘s Madhuri Dixit Nene both rose to fame in the 90s and each have at least 75 films to their credit. So, yes, they are definitely accomplished performers. As the leads of their respective shows, Tandon and Dixit Nene are honing their skills tackling the kind of complex and nuanced characters they haven’t played on the big screen in a long time.
Aranyakwhich fell last December, is an atmospheric murder mystery in the vein of Easttown Pond Where Broadchurch. In it, police chief Kasturi Dogra (Tandon) is about to retire in the small mountain town of Sironah when a young French tourist goes missing. She teams up with her stiff replacement Angad Malik (Parambrata Chatterjee) to solve the case, which is tied to a haunting local legend about an animal killer that has plagued local residents for years.
In eight one-hour episodes, AranyakWicked twists and turns tie together the floating narratives, including multiple deaths, local politics, and even cops’ private dealings, all set against the backdrop of a lush, scenic city. Like the best of its ilk, the series’ thriller has an engrossing payoff (and setup for season two). But it also succeeds because of the way Tandon grounds Kasturi’s ferocity as a cop and mother with a calm, calculated docility.
Meanwhile, The fame gamewhich debuted late last month, feels more on par with a version of Bollywood that western media is generally familiar with. Because let’s face it: Indian films continue to be stereotyped with lavish costumes and song-and-dance sequences (even Marvel’s Eternals fell prey to this with Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo) or too long runtimes (uh, The Batman and Dunes would like a word). The fame game somehow exhibits these elements – its central tension lasts a bit longer than necessary – but offers a unique perspective on the industry. (Oh, and if “drawing the curtain on Bollywood” is a desired theme, Zoya Akhtar’s 2009 film luck by chance is another fantastic option.)
The fame game follows the investigation into the sudden disappearance of actor Anamika Anand (Dixit Nene), which sparks a huge public outcry. Police scrutiny of Anamika’s life unravels a complicated story (often too complex) family web. The story goes back six months before she disappeared to fill in the blanks about how the crime could have happened, and this back and forth between timelines adds to the boiling tension.
As the show veers towards heightened drama at times, Dixit Nene centers the show with a commanding performance. The actress has always lit up the screen, but here she’s both unnerving and charming while turning Anamika into one of her most important characters to date. (For proof, see a pivotal moment between Anamika and her locked-up teenage son, the show’s best scene.)
Tandon and Dixit Nene join a bandwagon of mainstream Indian stars who are now transitioning from film to television, a trend that is already the norm in the United States. sacred games starring Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, set the stage for the Bollywood way – a decades-the former billion-dollar movie industry – has adapted to new-age streaming.
sacred games also ushered in an avalanche of TV thrillers. Seriously, the genre eclipses the rest when it comes to original Indian content, regardless of platform. Prime Video Paatal Lok and Mirzapurand Disney+ Hotstar Special operations and Aarya make for quality addictive viewing.
Netflix has dropped more than 50 of these Originals from various genres, but Aranyak and The fame game are fascinating entries in the genre (with those of 2019 Crime in Delhi, which won the International Emmy for Outstanding Drama). These shows catapult audiences into a new way of consuming Bollywood content, a way that does not inhabit but shatters preconceived notions. And if the language seems to be a problem, feel free to press play Bong Joon-ho’s speech at the Oscars to once again overcome the one-inch barrier of subtitles.