2023: A Round-up of Streaming Shows

As it turns out, ranking the shows I loved this year turned out to be most difficult - and there were so many that I loved a lot. 

Who cares? Here's everything I loved! 

Honourable Mentions 

Raj & DK disappointed this year. Guns & Gulaabs being a complete damp squib. As for Farzi (Prime Video), I am trying to remember when was the last time I enjoyed a film so much while still being a bit disappointed. The chemistry between Vijay Sethupathi and Zakir Hussain, the casual competence Kay Kay brings to any role, and the intensity of Shahid Kapur were all great assets but they were up against formidable competition.


Bejoy Nambiar’s Kaala (Disney HotStar) transforms the usual maverick-officer-out-to-bust-criminal-gang into classic binge by introducing an unusual Macguffin (‘reverse hawala’), an unusual setting (West Bengal-Bangladesh border) and an unusual backstory of the hero. The pacing - with lots of twists and turns - didn’t let go for the entire duration of the show, averting a critical falling of Indian shows (who get caught in the 8-episode-50-minutes trap oh-so-often). 

In the late 1990s, Kay Kay played an employee of Union Carbide who tried to avert disaster on that fateful night in December 1984. The film was Bhopal Express (written by Piyush & Prasoon Pandey, directed by Mahesh Mathai). He was back in Shiv Rawail’s The Railwaymen (Netflix) where a bunch of unlikely heroes (and heroine) took up arms against a multinational company and fate itself. Tightly packed in four episodes, The Railwaymen is a great example of how thrillers should be written and presented for streaming platforms. And in a cast of stalwarts, the standout performer was a ‘nepo kid’ - Babil Khan.

Zakir Khan is a standup comic by profession and a philosopher by vocation. Maybe his training (and his family’s generational involvement) in classical music has something to do with this ability to include a seemingly unconnected thread at the beginning of a show and then point out a lovely pattern created with that colour and texture by the time he is through with it. Mann Pasand and Tathastu are two seemingly innocuous monologues that are about modern life, its silly compulsions, parental disappointments, transient romances and that elusive Goa trip with the boys - but ultimately, they take the step up from enjoyment to happiness.

5. Dahaad - Reema Kagti, Ruchika Oberoi (Prime Video)

Tiger Baby put out a show with a ‘tiger babe’ (excuse the objectification, all for the good cause of punning), Sonakshi Sinha finally showing how utterly wasted she was in films that were called Dabangg but didn’t have her in the title role. Serial killer mysteries can become boring - since they are a streaming platform staple - but Dahaad had a very impressive killer with a modus operandi to match, a solid ensemble cast and a kickass investigating officer who’s as much a modern young woman as she was as cop. The setting of small-town Rajasthan added a dusty, sandy layer to draw us in further.

4. Trial By Fire - Prashant Nair, Avani Deshpande, Randeep Jha (Netflix)

In a year where his cousins and uncle were part of much bigger spectacles, Abhay Deol kept plying his two-decade-old trade - of becoming the character in an offbeat setting. The unspeakable tragedy of the devastating fire in Delhi’s Uphaar theatre got a second life with Rajshri Deshpande and Deol playing two victims’ parents and leading the fight against the all-powerful owners of the theatre. We have seen the story unfold over many years, the Indian justice system moving glacially and sometimes backwards, but to see it with the steel of determination of two unlikely heroes was especially rewarding.

3. Chhotolok - Indranil Roychowdhury (Zee5)

A simple police procedural - the murder of a promiscuous young woman in a middle class apartment block - got layers and layers with middle class morality, shady politics, and institutional corruption creeping in. But all this is not why you should watch Chhotolok. You should watch it because of the lead actor - Damini Basu - putting in the most stellar acting performance in this year’s OTT scene. Her bumbling sub-inspector, unable to manage home or work, is a lesson on how an actor can change gears, adopt a natural accent, and hide a scimitar under an unassuming exterior. 

(I have intentionally used a candid image of Damini Basu, so that the contrast between her real image and the character she plays becomes clear.)

2. Cinema Marte Dam Tak - Vasan Bala and others (Prime Video)

The baap of all reality shows, this one took an affectionate but unflinching view of the 1990s B-grade cinema and then amped it up by getting four directors of yore to direct one more film each. What would have been just another detailing of the quirks of the shady parts of our industry became tantalisingly real because we suddenly had a ringside view of how the story was plotted, what constraints were negotiated, and how the dreams were woven. Created by true connoisseurs of the genre, this one was truly by movie buffs, about movie buffs, and for movie buffs.

1. Jubilee - Vikramaditya Motwane (Prime Video)

The film industry of Bombay takes shape in post-Independence India as characters who look tantalisingly close to real ones take centrestage. I am a sucker for ‘films about films’ and very few of the genre have managed to be as good as Jubilee. Apart from the writing that created so many ‘films’ that we would have loved to see and so many ‘stars’ we would have loved to become fans of, the luscious art direction and the superb cast just took our breath away. 

2023 was the year of Wamiqa Gabbi, who played a star-on-the-rise with chutzpah and charm in this one, and followed it up with Charlie Chopra (And The Mystery of the Solang Valley) and Charu (in Khufiya). 


I watched Indian Police Force on Amazon Prime after Dahaad. That was a perfect sample for comparative study in a badly made cop serial.