Sushmita Sen’s Aarya season 3 is gripping, with moral quandaries dogging the protagonist
With a pacier narrative and new antagonists, Aarya’s battles get bloodier and more personal in season three.
Starring: Sushmita Sen, Maya Sarao, Sohaila Kapur, Ila Arun, Sikander Kher, Indraneil Sengupta, Vikas Kumar, Viren Vazirani, and Aarushi Bajaj, among others.
Among the few Indian web series that have found a welcome renewal into their third season, Sushmita Sen starrer Aarya centres itself on the moral duality of its heroine.
Co-creators Ram Madhvani and Sandeep Modi bring Aarya’s conscious decision to take on the mantle of an end-to-end drug lord centerstage, constantly placing ethical conflicts in her path. While most of the dilemma isn’t of her own making, her choices indicate an inevitable shift in her moral compass. Its pace is ambling but it packs surprises all throughout, making each episode a bit more of the same thing but still, engaging.
Season 3 features Aarya Sareen (Sushmita Sen) in charge of her family’s established drug transport network and set upon acquiring the opium supply chain too. She convinces farmers to switch over to her overlordship, sometimes also forcing them into submission.
She is estranged from her past bodyguard and friend, Daulat (Sikander Kher). Her kids–Veer and Arundhati–grow restless while living with constant security and an increasingly busy mother. Aarya’s friend, Maya (Maya Sarao) lives with her along with her son for protection.
Maya and Aarya got entangled in an accidental murder in the last season when they killed Nandini. This death brings unintended and dangerous consequences. So does her plan to own the opium supply, placing her against a menacing female don Nandini Sahiba (Ila Arun) and her erratic son.
Even as her former ally-turned enemy ACP Khan (Vikas Kumar) stays on her tail, Aarya manages to survive each threat to her and her family, sometimes barely hanging on. Her children get involved unknowingly, defeating her reason for taking on the mantle of a crime boss. She did all of this to protect her children.
Aarya is loosely adapted from the Spanish series, Penoza. The third season moves on from its initial set up by making its heroine evolve from a protective parent intent on getting a normal life for her children, to a determined criminal lady-boss for the same reason.
While the story’s core thought–leaving behind one’s family legacy of crime is impossible–has been seen in films and series before, Aarya gives it an Indian context effectively.
Sen is solid and fluid in switching from survival mode to emotionally wrecked and vulnerable, delivering a strong performance again. Her character has to deal with conflicts of all sorts–bloody and physical, and morally ambiguous ones. Her spur-of-the-moment decisions and actions begin to alienate her from her children and her friends, for death and violence become the norm for her survival. As adversaries and allies gather to fight for survival, informants serve to thicken the dense plot.
Aarya’s moral conflict builds up, not too subtly, at a steady pace, when people keep dying.
With new writers on board for this season (Khushboo Raj and Amit Raj), a shift is visible with the scale of violence and her involvement in the bloodshed. The series is directed at a more gripping pace, with less room for conversation (directed by Ram Madhvani, Kapil Sharma, and Shraddha Pasi Jairath).
Adapting standard screenplay practice, stakes against Aarya seeking power keep growing, putting up difficult decisions for her to make in the spur of the moment. Sen is tough when needed, and vulnerable when required. She carries off this performance without losing the tone of her character at any point.
There are a few sore points that catch one’s eye. In making Aarya a lady boss, some wardrobe choices are inconsistent. Set in Rajasthan, it feels out of place to see Sen spot a black overcoat (not a trench) when her friend Maya is struggling with a threat in a silk saree.
Like in previous seasons, a relatively weak link in Aarya’s saga have been her kids. With their penchant for uber urban hobbies like performance poetry and similar indulgences, Veer and Arundhati come across as unreal in the setting of a sophisticated but essentially bloody and violent drug lord’s clan.
Separation of work and home is definitely taken too far in this context here. Besides, Ila Arun’s performance just comes across as affected rather than menacing. Like the tendency to use Sanskrit shlokas in the background score, Aarya displays a tendency to cultivate ‘epic’ storytelling. What it does manage to achieve is an engaging story packed with thrills about a mother’s maternal instincts. By itself, that is a universally appealing and powerful story.
The growing risk to people’s lives in Aarya’s orbit also feels somewhat repetitive.
What works well for the series is its under-toned, non-filmy, and subtle performances. The narrative never spills over to preachy or hyperbole, focusing on a mother’s difficult journey to protect her children. More than original or fresh, Aarya entertains because it is consistent and introspective in parts-like a really good drug drama that could happen in any part of the world.
Edited by Megha Reddy