The last few years have seen an explosion of streaming content in India, with the likes of Sacred Games and Delhi Crime (Netflix), Made In Heaven, Family Man and Pataal Lok (Amazon Prime Video), Aarya and Out Of Love (Hotstar). As we near six months of lockdown, chances are some of us have exhausted most of the great, new content on these platforms. Sony LIV, a streaming service that was revamped and launched again in June this year, currently accommodates Sony’s 18 years’ worth of programming. It’s made some interesting acquisitions too, like Abhay Deol’s JL 50 that was released a couple of weeks ago. From your favourite TV shows (Taarak Mehta, KBC), web originals (Avrodh, Undekhi) to acclaimed films (The Social Network, Green Book), Sony LIV seems to have a little something for everyone.
Here are eight hidden gems that are streaming on Sony LIV:
1) Ram Singh Charlie
This film starring Kumud Mishra was ready for release in 2016, but finally saw light of the day last week on the streaming platform last week. The film traces the life of Ram Singh (Mishra), an actor in a circus party who plays Charlie Chaplin among other characters. Singh is rendered jobless almost overnight as the popularity of the circus begins to wane. Singh is forced to take up the job of a rickshaw-puller in Kolkata to make ends meet, with the hope that one day he will save enough money to open his own circus. From the experiences of his work as a rickshaw-puller to his desperate dreams Ram Singh Charlie has echoes of Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen and Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. The film stars Divya Dutta in the role of Kajri, who plays his partner.
2) Vada Chennai
Vetrimaaran’s gangster epic has all the elements of its great predecessors (Nayakan, Satya, Angamaly Diaries) — a strong, local flavour, a clever screenplay that brings together a legion of mercurial characters, and arguably a spectacular performance from the lead character, in this case Dhanush. Tracing many rival gangs in the Northern Chennai slums over a span of three decades, the film doesn’t shy away from the bloody aftermath of a power grab, consequently providing the perfect stage for its protagonist, Anbu (played by Dhanush), to gradually emerge from being a skilled local carrom player to a trusted aide, to eventually becoming a Godfather-figure in the neighbourhood. It’s no surprise that Vada Chennai is Vetrimaaran’s biggest hit.
3) A Confession
One of the biggest surprises on the Sony LIV platform is this iTV miniseries starring Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, Joe Absolom, among others. Based on thorough research around the Sian O’Callaghan murder case, which became a nationwide sensation in 2011, Jeff Pope’s show unfurls the grey areas between police protocol, brutality and a broken system that sometimes acts against the very people it has sworn to protect. Freeman plays a Detective, who tries to bend a few rules while trying to catch a killer (Absolom), who confesses to killing other girls apart from Sian O’Callaghan. A water-tight show, Jeff Pope’s A Confession not only critiques the genre of serial killer procedurals, but also features stunning performances from its gifted ensemble. It tackles issues of class, the corridor of ambiguity between good intentions and justice, and is almost surgically precise in the way it goes about underlining the blind spots in even the most fool-proof written laws.
Rajat Kapoor’s latest directorial venture starring Ranvir Shorey, Mansi Multani and Chandrachoor Rai among others, centres around a get-together in a Mumbai high-rise. The beer’s pouring constantly, characters become more and more loud and inebriated as the evening moves along, and gradually secrets begin to spill. Kapoor has been an exciting oddball director, who made the stellar Mithya (2008), and found success with 2014′s Ankhon Dekhi, a film that propelled Sanjay Mishra into leading roles. While Kadakh is still a little too ‘weird’ for its own good, it’s good to have Kapoor back to directing.
5) Dark Waters
Where Todd Haynes takes Hollywood’s playbook of a single lawyer taking on a corporation with a rich ‘American’ legacy, and turns it on its head. Released in 2019, the film starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathway and Bill Camp among others, will get its Indian premiere on Sony LIV this Friday (on Sept 18). Ruffalo’s environmental activism has been well-documented, and at first glance one could even see Dark Waters as a product of Ruffalo’s enthusiasm for his cause. However, that’s where the craft of Todd Haynes enters, and leaves us gobsmacked. Based on a 2016 piece in the NYT Magazine called The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare, the film traces Rob Bilott (Ruffalo) as he goes around representing clients from West Virginia, who blame their illnesses on DuPont’s irresponsible ways of disposing of chemical waste. What follows is an 18-year legal battle that tests their endurance, beliefs and forces them to ask – ‘is it worth it?’
Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle has been on the festival circuit for really long, after getting its India premiere at the 2018 MAMI. And it was only a matter of time before the film became accessible for the Indian public. Starring Manoj Bajpayee in the titular role as a retired constable of the Mumbai police, Makhija’s second directorial venture has visible threads from his short film, Taandav. Both films have Bajpayee as a lead who looks on as the city around him changes beyond recognition, and tests his patience more and more leading to that final meltdown. While the climax in Taandav uses humour as a device to speak the truth, Bhonsle uses raw anger.
Sam Mendes’s WW-I epic features a paper-thin plot about two soldiers being entrusted to go behind enemy lines and relay an important piece of information to an infantry going to battle the next morning. The clock is ticking, there are enemies around every corner, and the only ones who can stop this annihilation are two young blokes (George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman). One of the more intriguing factors around Mendes’ film is the director and cinematographer Roger Deakins’ decision to film it like ‘one continuous shot’, which also dominated the discourse around the film last year. While some dismissed it as a gimmick, others marvelled at how the ‘trick’ allowed the audience to feel the fatigue of the two soldiers across what looks like an exhausting 18-20 hours. The ‘craft’ notwithstanding, it’s hard to label 1917 as anything but filmmaking of the highest pedigree, one that packs in plenty of emotional stakes even in its bare plot.
Nitin Kakkar’s directorial debut is one of the most underrated Hindi films in the decade between 2010 and 2020. Starring Sharib Hashmi, Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt, the film stars a Bollywood nut (Hashmi) who helps an American crew to shoot near a border town in Rajasthan, during which he mistakenly gets kidnapped and is taken across the border to a Pakistani jihadist group. Featuring nuggets of Hindi cinema (Hashmi loudly enacts scenes from Maine Pyaar Kiya at one point), the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry, Filmistaan is an imaginative ode to the ‘we are same, same but different’ sentiment that many Bollywood films have tried to capture.