In 2020, we spent most of our time at home, and that meant consuming a whole lot of content. Several production houses also upped their game and churned out web series and films with a thought-provoking theme.
From questioning hate-mongering against minorities to calling out gender discrimination, and normalising homosexuality, these shows and films broke new ground and shattered stereotypes in every possible way. What was even more heartening to see was the positive response of the audience that heralded the beginning of an open and receptive mindset.
As the year comes to a close, we take a look at the best content that came out in 2020.
One of the most ground-breaking shows, produced by Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Filmz, left audiences asking for more. The show was hailed for its portrayal of prevalent caste discrimination in India, fake news, and crime against minorities and women, sans any filter. Besides, it also made a breakthrough by handling the transgender character of Cheeni sensitively.
The show had several elements of uncompromising realism. Despite its share of controversies, the show received both critical and commercial acclaim, thanks to its progressive storyline and stellar performances.
Another path-breaking production from Anushka Sharma’s stable, Bulbbul was a heart-wrenching attempt to expose the realities of domestic violence, assault and other forms of gender discrimination that women are subjected to. Set in the late 19th century in West Bengal, Bulbbul begins with the child marriage of the titular character (to a much older man) and her friendship with her husband’s little brother Satya, who is around her age. The film mostly revolves around her adulthood, and the many hardships she faces: from being lonely in a huge mansion inhabited by detached individuals, to domestic violence and brutal rape.
The film shows how every fairy-tale is just a lie made up to re-establish social hierarchies: something women are continuing to be victimised by, across centuries and societies.
The movie, which not only stars the biggest female star in the country but also was produced by her, had created awareness and begun conversations around acid attack even before it hit the theatres on January 10, 2020.
Although Deepika’s show of support for the protestors at the Jawaharlal Nehru University had led to a backlash against the actor on social media, Chhapaak garnered massive critical acclaim.
Though Deepika gave a memorable performance, filmmaker Meghna Gulzar was the real star of the film. In her safe hands, ‘Malti’ (Deepika’s character in the film that was based on acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal) is the phoenix rising from ashes over the years, and later becomes a symbol of resistance for her fellow-survivors. In addition to its portrayal of acid attack survivors, the film’s subtle commentary on societal pressures, victim shaming, government’s apathy towards survivors of acid attack, loop holes in our legal system, was heartening and stays with the viewer for a long time.
Anubhav Sinha’s film Thappad laid bare how patriarchy normalises domestic violence in marriage. The film revolves around ‘Amrita’ (played by Taapsee Pannu) who decides to divorce her husband after he slaps her. The film, even before its release, generated quite a bit of buzz for its choice of a bold and unconventional subject. It delivered what it had promised – a slap on patriarchy and gender discrimination.
Domestic violence is often brushed under the carpet in Indian households, often being termed as ‘normal’ in a marriage. It is this lopsided view of gender dynamics that Thappad aimed to shatter, and it did in every possible way. The film fueled discussions on several difficult questions, most of which have been traditionally pushed to the backburner.
The film also shows how the role of a woman is diminished by society, and how she is constantly subjected to scrutiny if she decides to take a decision that is far from giving in to misogynistic ideals.
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
The biopic, starring actor Janhvi Kapoor in the titular role, celebrates the life and achievements of the Indian Air Force officer, who was just 24 when she served in the Kargil War (1999). The film shows how Gunjan always dreamt of flying an airplane, but was discouraged by her brother (played by Angad Bedi), who tells her that this isn’t a domain “meant” for women. Her father, played by the ever-dependable Pankaj Tripathi, is her biggest cheerleader who refutes any sexist statement made by Bedi, or even Gunjan’s mother.
The biopic, directed by first-timer Sharan Sharma, takes you through the many struggles that Gunjan faces when she joins the Air Force. The setup reeks of misogyny and sexism, and her merit is completely ignored because she’s a woman. What stands out is the lack of any form of flag-waving and ugly jingoism that could have easily overpowered the storyline.
The film Axone (pronounced as Akhuni), directed by Nicholas Kharkonger, reignited the debate on the racism faced by the northeastern inhabitants of our country. People from the northeast are often considered ‘outsiders’, and this is visible from the spike in racist attacks and discrimination against them in several parts of the country.
The film is set against the backdrop of a middle-class neighbourhood in Delhi, where a group of women from northeastern states live in rented accommodation, all while battling conservative restrictions of their tenants.
Cleverly named Axone, a combination of two words – axo (which means aroma) and ne (strong) – it is a fermented soybean paste, commonly used in Nagaland and other parts of the Northeast, to lend a distinctive flavour to food. This ingredient is the centrepiece of the film, and serves as a reminder of how poor our knowledge of the northeast is.
Amazon Prime’s Panchayat, directed by Deepak Kumar Mishra, is a refreshing change from all the shows that celebrate toxic masculinity. On the other hand, this is a show that portrays the male characters devoid of their machismo. They are ready to evolve and make amendments, which is unlike men who are glorified even for their wrongs.
The show focuses on the small towns and villages that make up India’s hinterlands. What really stands out is the lack of over dramatisation of its characters, making them appear as raw and relatable.
The performances by the ensemble cast hit the right chord, especially those of Jitendra Kumar, Raghuvir Yadav, and Neena Gupta.
Created by Ram Madhvani, the show marked Sushmita’s debut in the OTT space, and the former Miss Universe captures your attention right from the first scene. As Aarya, the eldest of the Sareen clan, she is an obedient daughter, a doting wife, a confidante to her siblings, but more importantly, a fiercely protective mother to her three kids.
Motherhood and its many shades emerged as the winning theme of the whole narrative. Another striking feature of the show was that ot represented Sushmita 2.0 – far more mature, straddling her way without any inhibition or doubt.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)