It’s a pleasure to see a more restrained and mature version of the star who transforms convincingly from sophisticated mother and wife to wily drug transporter.

Aarya, now streaming on Disney+Hotstar, has been marketed and publicised as Sushmita Sen’s return to acting after almost a decade of being away from any Hindi language films or shows. Over nine episodes of almost an hour each, show creators and directors Ram Madhvani and Sandeep Modi along with their co-director Vinod Rawat, build a vast canvas of characters and plot twists around Sushmita’s undeniable charisma and screen presence.

Aarya (Sushmita Sen) is married to Tej (Chandrachur Singh) and is a happy stay-at-home mother of three kids, a devoted wife, daughter and sister, trying to keep the uneasy peace in her aristocratic family. Aarya, Tej and their kids live in a multi-storied mansion with a swimming pool and fancy cars, but life is no bed of roses or in this case, poppies for the couple.

Aarya’s father Zorawar Rathod (Jayant Kriplani) has built a fortune of ill-gotten wealth and roped in his son Sangram (Ankur Bhatia), son-in-law Tej and Tej’s drug addict friend Jawahar (Namit Das) to look after his pharmaceutical company. Only, the pharma company is a front for smuggling opium around India and internationally. All is illegal and well, till Sangram and Jawahar cross the line and steal heroin worth Rs 300 crores from a fellow drug cartel boss Shekhawat (Manish Chaudhari).

Tej, who has made an uneasy peace with his line of work, is totally against the idea of peddling heroin, and stealing from a dangerous man like Shekhawat. When this crisis at work clashes with their youngest son turning up in school with his father’s gun, Aarya gives Tej an ultimatum — leave the business or lose your family. Unfortunately, before they could have their new happily ever after, Tej is shot in broad daylight, with his youngest son being the sole eyewitness. Aarya barely has time to register her husband’s passing when the hawks start circling.

A narcotics cop, ACP Khan (Vikas Kumar), starts hounding Aarya, and reveals Tej was about to give him a USB stick with incriminating evidence against her father’s business. While he chases her for the pendrive, Shekhawat turns up demanding his stolen heroin and makes no effort to veil his threats. Sangram lands up in prison, Jawahar unravels rapidly, and trusted family members deliberately mislead Aarya to cover their tracks. As she struggles to step into her husband’s shoes after resolutely staying away from her family’s illegal business for decades, she realises soon that to battle the greedy, ambitious men around her, she needs to bring something far fiercer to the table — love. Her children and concerns about their safety drive her, as does protecting them from a legacy of wrongdoing that haunts her like a ghost with unfinished business.

Aarya is adapted from the Dutch show Penoza, and while it keeps you engaged, it’s not an easy series to watch, given how long and often slow the episodes are. But it got me thinking about how we have come to expect a certain kind of pace and treatment when the trailer reveals the broad genre of the show. I was expecting Aarya to be a fast-paced thriller, but writers Sandeep Shrivastava and Anu Singh Choudhary deliberately slow things down after establishing the central crisis with urgency.

Having a middle-aged woman and a mother at the centre of things also organically shapes the narrative. Instead of creating a high-octane thriller with car chases and cuss words, the makers focus on the emotional consequences of death in a family and stay true to how time slows down to a crawl when someone you love dearly dies and leaves you a legacy of bad decisions.

In some ways, Aarya is also like Tim Robbin’s character Andy from Shawshank Redemption. She is an innocent outsider who learns slowly to deal with the physical and psychological dangers of her new world. Aarya is beaten, bruised and betrayed, but never defeated, driven like him by the hope that she can set herself and her children free.

Sushmita Sen brings grace and dignity to the role of Aarya. She hasn’t performed on-screen in a long time, so some of her emotional scenes aren’t as impactful as they should be. But it’s a pleasure to see a more restrained and mature version of the star who transforms convincingly from sophisticated mother and wife to wily drug transporter. It helps that she is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. Vikas Kumar, Maya Sarao, (playing her close friend Maya who is also Jawahar’s wife) Chandrachur Singh, Sikander Kher (who plays Aarya’s father’s right-hand man Daulat), Vishwajeet Pradhan (Playing Shekhawat’s henchman Sampat) and Namit Das are all excellent in their roles.

I especially liked Sohaila Kapur who plays the heartbroken, gin-drinking, manipulative mother Rajeshwari. Unlike older women characters who are usually either saints or shrews, Rajeshwari is fleshed out as a real person who can both feel and inflict pain. Virti Vaghani, Viren Vazirani and Pratyaksh Panwar who play Aarya’s kids are also wonderful, lending great support to Sushmita as the drama shifts focus to the family and their individual stories.

I just wish that given the 9 hours of content they had to work with, the makers had spent a little less time on tracks that proved inconclusive, and instead added more nuance and depth to crucial supporting roles like Maya, Jawahar, Daulat and even Shekhawat who end up feeling quite one-note despite talented actors playing these parts.

Watch Aarya for Sushmita Sen and a refreshingly new take on crime stories that have for long been a male-dominated genre. But most importantly watch it because a show with a woman and a mother of three as its protagonist is a rare treat in itself, even on a digital platform. :

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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