An engrossing amalgam of crime and politics with dollops of myth-making, the eight-episode thriller Aranyak investigates human desires and transgressions, in the garb of a sadistic case of rape and murder. Set in a fictional town in Himachal Pradesh, the series, dotted with a multitude of characters and plots, is truly a slow-burn mystery that gradually sucks us into a jungle where everybody seems to be hiding a secret, and where greed and redemption are the overriding emotions.
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In this dense foliage, two morally upright officers, who are fighting their own inner demons, seek to find the culprit behind the suspected rape and murder of a teenage girl, who had ostensibly come to spend the holidays in the picturesque town with her mother, who happens to be a foreign national.
Has Aimee (Anna Ador) become a tool in the machinations of a wily politician Manhas (Zakir Hussain), or is she a victim of the hot-headed son (Tejasvi Dev) of the minister Jagdamba (Meghna Malik)? As Aimee’s mother Julie (Breshna Khan) appears to be economical on the truth as well, the list of suspects keeps getting longer, so much so that supernatural elements also claw their way into the case file.
Riddled with red herrings, there are times when you feel that the writers — Charudutt Acharya and Rohan Sippy — have opened too many folders, but director Vinay Waikul ensures the series never goes into a hang. Of course, you tend to feel that the results of the call records of the accused are being conveniently delayed to keep the audience waiting till the eighth episode, but pensive atmospherics, innate social commentary, believable character arcs, and credible performances keep you logged in. The whodunit also faintly reminds one of Esmayeel Shroff’s Police Public (1990) that has acquired a cult status, over the years.
Going with the trend of ‘let’s rope in an erstwhile star make his/her OTT debut,’ the makers have brought in Raveena Tandon to headline the series. Cast in perhaps the most challenging role of her career, Raveena takes time to get into the skin of Kasturi Dogra, a local police officer whose methods of investigation are old-school but effective.
Raveena’s accent remains uneven and, at times, she marks the rawness of the character with a bleeding marker that sounds out of sync on the smaller screen. However, her inherent earnestness and blunt attitude save the day for Kasturi every time she goes overboard. As the series progresses, she sheds the vanity that we associate with stars, and we get to see a new side of Raveena, not to forget her chiseled nose that adds to the intrigue, created by Saurabh Goswami’s moody cinematography and Yasha Ramachandani’s sharp editing of a Byzantine material.
Kasturi is so well-written that the chances of her not winning over the audience are remote. Here is a committed mid-level policewoman, who suffers from a complex that she is not being able to spend time with her smart children and cagey husband (Vivek Madaan). Kasturi’s bond with her father-in-law Mahadev Dogra is also one of the highlights of the series. A retired head constable with a fading memory, Mahadev believes in the myth of man-leopard behind the killings, but also exemplifies the progressive milieu of the hills.
Meanwhile, in Parambrata Chatterjee, Raveena has a perfect foil. If Kasturi has a bucolic texture, Angad Malik is absolutely sagacious. Deep inside, Angad is damaged as well, but Parambrata peels one layer at a time, making Angad immensely likable. After firing a few blanks, the unlikely pair finds the bull’s eye.
Perhaps driven by the desire to have a second season, Waikul, who has assisted some of the top-notch directors in the country, gets carried away towards the end, making the final stretch a bit wobbly. He seems to have forgotten boldness is the brevity of being.
Aranyak is currently streaming on Netflix