Drama

Fresh For February

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Whether it’s a brand new show or an old favourite returning to the screen, television in February has a lot to love. Here’s a list –

1. Taboo – Tom Hardy and Ridley Scott get together in this eight-episode miniseries that is set in 19th century England. The Mad Max star plays James Delaney, a man long presumed to be dead in Africa, who returns to England to extract revenge on all those who have wronged him. Taboo promises vengeance, stolen diamonds, an abundance of top hats, and also boasts of an all-star cast that includes Jonathan “The High Sparrow” Pryce, Oona Chaplin and Michael Kelly.

2. Homeland, Season 6 – Homeland returns to our screens, this time with the focus shifting back to the United States as Carrie (Claire Danes) moves to New York City. The season’s storyline, apart from featuring a firecracker of a political situation will, interestingly enough, also involve an election with a female presidential candidate. The sixth season of Homeland also feels darker, and seems to hold more intrigue than focusing on the twists that it’s famous for. {Star World & Hotstar}

3. A Series Of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket’s deliciously wicked children’s book series makes its small screen debut with Netflix. The rich, brilliant but chronically unlucky Baudelaire children lose their parents and are put in the care of their relative, Count Olaf, who makes it very clear that he’s only after their large inheritance. Neil Patrick Harris returns to the small screen as the Count, an unabashedly evil and twisted man with a failed drama career. If you liked the books, rest assured that you’ll love the show. {Netflix}

4. The Young Pope – Jude Law plays Pius XIII, a forty something Pope elected by Cardinals with the hope that he will be their puppet, except things never really go to plan, do they? Born Lenny of Brooklyn, Pius XIII declares independence and asserts his authority as a master of manipulation. This HBO series is directed by Oscar award winning director Paolo Sorrentino, and also stars Diane Keaton, as a nun. If that isn’t good reason for you to get started on watching this show, I don’t know what is.

5. Girls, Season 6 – Lena Dunham’s outrageous and sometimes bawdy coming-of-age drama, Girls, finally comes to an end with the sixth season set to premiere this month. Although the show has been criticized many times for having characters that no one could relate to, there’s no doubt that it has made a significant impact on modern pop-culture, with its messy-on-purpose storylines and oddly endearing characters. {Hotstar}

Prime Choice

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

E-Commerce giant Amazon launched Prime Video a few weeks ago to its Indian customers. Prime Video is an online video streaming service, like Netflix and HotStar. The service is free, rather, packaged with the ‘Prime’ subscription that Amazon offers for its customers, where, for an annual fee, they receive extra discounts, free delivery and other privileges. Although Prime Video is probably one of the cheapest subscription services out there at Rs. 500/- a year (not to mention the host of benefits that you’d also be receiving as an Amazon customer), it must be said that there isn’t much variety on offer, especially on the TV show front. But hey, when life gives you lemons, you make lists – so here’s my pick of the TV series that are available on Prime Video.

1. Mozart In The Jungle – Based on Blair Tindall’s 2005 memoir of the same title, Mozart in The Jungle is a series about the inner workings of orchestras, and what it takes to make it in (western) classical music today. A young, unconventional new maestro is appointed at the (fictional) New York Symphony to shake things up and bring in more audiences. The motley set of characters might seem too many at the start, but it doesn’t take too much time for the show to draw you in to its world. The episodes are short, and move fast, so if you find yourself binge watching for five hours straight, well, I warned you.

2. Transparent – Transparent has been a bit of a constant fixture on every award show’s nomination list ever since it made its debut in 2014, and with good reason. This show about a seventy-year-old man who comes out as a transgender to his family, and the world, is heartwarming in ways you don’t expect it to be. Transparent takes on heavy issues like gender and sexuality with a light touch, and a great deal of sensitivity and humour.

3. The Girlfriend Experience – The Girlfriend Experience traces the story of a law student interning in a corporate firm who moonlights as an escort for rich men. The show initially seems to be a tiring commentary about prostitution, but halfway through the first season becomes much more complex and crosses over multiple genres. It’s dark and at times, quite morbid, but riveting throughout.

4. The Night Manager – Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman come together to create magic on screen in this BBC produced mini-series. I have raved about this show enough times on this space, but I’ll reiterate here that it truly is one of the best mini-series out there in terms of story-telling, acting and adrenaline.

5. Mr. Robot – Mr.Robot is easily one of the edgiest television shows out there, with its hacking based storyline and borderline neurotic protagonist, Elliot (Rami Malek). Mr. Robot is thrilling, but also terrifying, for every episode is a reminder of the colossal amount of information that the internet has on and about us, and how vulnerable we are to it. It’s a show that’s as much about hacking people, as it is about hacking computers.

mr.robot, rami malek

Only A Number

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Indian cinema has long been notorious for its ridiculous gender gap. That fifty plus heroes are paired with heroines who are half their age (or less) even in this day and age is not something that is surprising anymore – in fact, it’s convention. The situation is just as bleak in the west, with Hollywood also afflicted by similar gender parity in both casting and in pay. It’s as if every female actress in the world comes with some kind of expiry date, after which they’re exiled to smaller, less significant roles. While films still have a long way to go, it’s heartening to note that television, or at least recent television has created a space for older female actors. More and more shows with strong women leads who don’t necessarily fit into the cookie-cutter versions of female TV characters (young, beautiful and full of first world problems) have been cropping up the past year.

Take the case of Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ll admit that despite being a huge fan, I was relieved to see the end of Sex And The City. It was painful to watch her as Carrie in the last few seasons, for she had obviously aged but was still being written like a twenty-year-old. In her newest show Divorce, however, she takes on the role of a woman struggling through a dysfunctional, middle-aged marriage. The show works because of its painful honesty, an honesty that wouldn’t have been possible without the caliber of an actress like Sarah Jessica Parker, who doesn’t just play Frances, but becomes her.

Winona Ryder, one of the eighties’ most iconic actresses, made a splash on the smaller screen by wresting all attention in Stranger Things. Her performance as the distraught small town who must make sense of the bizarre happenings that shroud her son’s disappearance made the show for me. Interestingly enough, the other character who stands apart among the varied and diverse cast of the show, is twelve-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. Brown blew me away as ‘Eleven’, a child on whom unspeakable experiments have been conducted on, and is additional proof that when it comes to being a lead, age and gender are mere constructs.

Grace and Frankie rounds off the list of my favourite shows with unconventional and (much) older female leads. This heartwarming comedy about two seventy-year-olds trying to reclaim whatever is left of their lives after their husbands declare their love for each other, resonated with me in ways I never expected it to. Given how sixty plus actresses are usually relegated to two minute roles of crazy grandmother, it’s brilliant to see 78-year-old Jane Fonda and 77-year-old Lily Tomlin light up the screen the way that they do, and have always done.

There are a few more shows that I can list with older and nuanced female leads. There’s How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis as a powerful lawyer with a turbulent life, and although I’ve stopped watching Empire, there’s really no doubt in my (or anyone else’s) mind that the life of the show is Taraji P Henson in her role as Cookie Lyon. Veep is another example of a series whose success has hinged entirely on Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ comic talent and timing.

Shows which are brave enough to go all out on a female lead are few, but it is heartening to note that there is a palpable change taking place across the film and television fraternity. One can only hope that more shows with older female leads make it to screen, after all, actresses, like fine wine, only get better as they age.

The 10 Best Shows of 2016

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

There was an avalanche of new content that stormed our television screens during 2016, but some shows stood much taller than the rest. Here are the 10 best shows of 2016, in no particular order –

the crown on netflixThe Crown: The Crown traces the life and times of a young Queen Elizabeth as she struggles to balance the monumental responsibility that has been thrust on her, with her once ‘regular’ life. Claire Foy is stunning in her portrayal as a young woman with an immense burden on her shoulders. The show is visually arresting, tightly scripted and is proof that story-telling is, and always will be superior to big budget special effects. {Netflix}

Westworld: What happens when robots created solely for the purpose of human pleasure discover consciousness? Worse, what happens when they realize the magnitude of the abuse that they’ve been put through? A mind-bending storyline with equally confounding twists and a cast that reads like an honour roll, no show this year is capable of making you stay up at night the way Westworld is. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things: The eighties are back with this eerie sci-fi mystery that plays like a Stephen King novel brought to life. Stranger Things boasts of not only Winona Ryder (who is flawless as a distraught small town mother trying to make sense of aliens in her backyard), but also the most lovable 10 year olds in recent television history. {Netflix}

the-night-of

The Night Of: Dark and gripping, The Night Of is, to borrow from the show itself, a subtle beast. Naz Khan, every bit a good Muslim boy, finds himself accused of a gory murder, and it doesn’t help that he has no recollection of events. Riz Ahmed, John Turturro and Bill Camp are fantastic in this courtroom drama that makes no mince of discussing racial prejudice and Islamophobia in the backdrop of the American justice system. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The Night Manager: John Le Carre’s riveting espionage novel is brought to life by this lavish BBC production which has some sublime acting performances. Hugh Laurie doesn’t just play, but transforms into Richard ‘The Worst Man In The World’ Roper, a billionaire weapons dealer, and Olivia Colman is brilliant as Angela Burke, the very pregnant and very determined British enforcement agent who’s out to catch him. As for Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager may as well be the show which cements his place as the next James Bond. {Amazon Prime Video}

Game of Thrones (Season 6): The sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered this year, with each episode having a bigger revelation than the next. With resurrections, family reunions and sweet revenge, the sixth season was probably the fastest moving in terms of storyline after the first, and the final episodes of the season, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘Winds of Winter’ were television masterpieces. If you’d abandoned the show a few seasons ago, now is the time to catch up. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The People vs OJ Simpson – American Crime Story: The miniseries that swept the Emmy’s this year, People vs OJ Simpson resurrects the real courtroom drama of the infamous murder trial that shook ‘90s America. The screenplay is such that it’ll have you on the edge of your seat, even though the events that transpired are now history. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Black Mirror: Black Mirror is a compilation of 6 episodes, each narrating a different (horror) story detailing our relationships, and growing reliance on technology. Whether it’s the story of killer robotic bees or a future where your worth is measured in ‘likes’, Black Mirror will have you looking at your phones very differently. {Netflix}

Better Call Saul (Season 2): Better Call Saul might only be two seasons old, but the spin-off has already outdone its much celebrated original, Breaking Bad. The series about a small time lawyer’s path to becoming an ace con-man has excellent story-telling, sharp dialogue, terrific acting, and is one of the best shows on TV right now. {Colors Infinity}

better call saul, better call saul gifs

The Americans (Season 4): The thriller series about two Russian spies living average American lives during the peak of the Cold War only got better this year. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give extraordinary performances, yet again, as the show dives even deeper into the complex themes of identity, patriotism and family, with a few wigs thrown in. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

 

You can read the round up of my favourites from 2015, here.

A Brand New Affair

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

When you’re someone who watches as much television as I do, every evening presents you with a question – namely – ‘why am I still watching this?’ I’ve found that the more I watch, the less patience I have for television that doesn’t compel me, or simply doesn’t make me feel good at the end of the episode. The Affair, belongs to the first category. The series traces the life of a struggling, married writer, Noah Solloway (Dominic West), who jumps headfirst into an affair with a waitress, Alison (Ruth Wilson), jeopardizing not only his own life, but also the lives of those around him.

The third season of The Affair premiered last week, jumping three years from where the last season finished. Noah has just completed his term in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit, and is back in the city, trying to put his previous life back together. He’s living with his sister, who’s the only person who believes his innocence, and has a part time job teaching writing at a reputed university. His wife, Helen (Maura Tierney) seems to be hopeful of reviving their relationship, although Alison doesn’t want to hear from him again. His children and his new students aren’t very fond of him either. He does, however, meet a very attractive, very French professor at the university, and in typical Noah Solloway fashion, makes his love life more complicated than it actually is. Noah also seems to be plagued with disturbing dreams and visions of his time in prison (which includes Brendan “The Mummy” Fraser as a scary looking prison guard), so even though the third season has done the time hop, we can be sure that it’ll explore Noah’s stint in prison, and how it changed him.

The reason the obviously unoriginal premise of an affair works as well as it does is because the story is woven through the perspectives of each of the characters, and takes into account their memory biases. As a viewer, you’ve to bring your own objectivity, and you never really know who ‘the good guy’ is, or even who to root for. The first episode of this season is all Noah, but the show’s creators have announced that the story will move through five characters (as opposed to the previous season’s count of four), so this is a season where you’ll be required to pay more attention than ever.

I’m quite old fashioned when it comes to viewing order, but strangely, I’ve found that watching the current episodes, and then going back to the previous ones makes you appreciate The Affair more as a show than you would if you went in order. So, if you’re new to the series, I’d recommend that you begin with the third season which is barely two episodes old, before you start catching up on the previous seasons. Each episode begins with a rather comprehensive recap, so you’re not going to feel like you’ve missed anything massive, either. I must warn you, however, that The Affair is not some kind of commentary on modern marriage. It’s dark, it’s dramatic, and drives home the point that nothing is ever what it seems.

{The Affair is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

The Political Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The past week has been eventful, with two announcements that had us glued to our television sets, the first being the demonetization of the Rs. 500/- and Rs. 1,000/- notes, and the second being the majority of America’s public voting in Donald Trump to be the President of the United States, and the most powerful man in the free world.

Both were surprises, bombs, even, that were dropped on an unsuspecting public, leading to shock, awe and panic. Both these decisions, I am sure, also involved tense newsrooms and action behind the scenes – the kind that directors and writers try so hard to bring to life on screen. It’s hard to imagine exactly what could have happened in the halls of our Prime Minister’s office given the superficial, almost comical ways that high stakes Indian political scenarios are played out in our films and television. However, it is possible to visualize the amount of work, the tension and the nerves that took over political offices in the United States on Wednesday morning, thanks to the abundance of excellent film and television shows that give us an intimate look into the workings of their system.

The most comprehensive show when it comes to American politics, is undoubtedly, The West Wing. The show ran from 1999 to 2006, a true television classic, and is perhaps the prime reason behind Aaron Sorkin’s iconic status as a screenwriter today. The West Wing explores the trials and tribulations of the senior staff at the White House as they attempt to run the most powerful country in the world, while balancing a no-nonsense President who couldn’t care less about being liked and the ground realities at Washington. It’s fast paced, full of quotable lines, an enormous amount of fun to watch, and most importantly, an education in American politics.

Although the The West Wing is the first show that comes to mind (my mind, at the least) at the mention of American politics, it is a decade old now, and runs the risk of being ever so slightly irrelevant.

Many consider its successor to be the Netflix original (and smash hit), House of Cards. It must be said though, that House of Cards is practically a fantasy show in comparison to The West Wing. House of Cards traces the ambitions of Frank Underwood, a Congressman, and his wife, Claire, as they go on a no-holds-barred spree to do whatever it takes to get to the top. House of Cards is just as well written and snappy as The West Wing, but is also extraordinarily exaggerated. The West Wing’s pull lay in its realism. There are plenty of moments in House of Cards where you can’t help but wonder how absurd the scenarios are. Having said that, Donald Trump is America’s President-Elect, so I’m starting to question myself about the show’s farfetchedness.

Finally, it is hard to ignore Veep, the HBO production starring multiple Emmy award winner, Julia-Louis Dreyfus. Veep narrates the story of Selina Meyer, a former US Senator who becomes the Vice President after a failed campaign, and is constantly relegated to matters of unimportance. Veep is entertaining, witty as hell and sharply written. It is unfortunate though, that the one show which is focused on chronicling a woman’s effort to get to the top seat has to be classified as a comedy.

{The West Wing is on FX, Veep is on Star World Premiere HD, and House of Cards is on Netflix}

Ugly Reflections

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Black Mirror isn’t a television series as much as it is an anthology. The episodes are independent stories, so there’s no requirement of watching them in order. They are, however, tied together by the common theme of technology, and the consequences of technology. The first and second season which was written for and broadcast by UK’s Channel 4, released in 2011 and 2013 respectively, with three hour long episodes each. The third season, produced by Netflix, released on the 24th of this month, with six episodes – six different, terrifying stories of how our dependent relationships with technology could alter our lives, and the world.

Each episode takes on a different genre – the first episode, Nosedive, is an excellent satire based on our fixation with social media and is set in a pastel coloured, alternate future (or near future, depending on how you look at it). In this world, every social interaction, whether it’s getting into a cab or buying coffee, involves you being rated out of 5, which in turn shapes your rating as a person. Permanently cheerful and ridiculously good-looking 4.5s get treated with extra care, gain access to privileged spaces, and can claim their world as their oyster. The lesser ranked 3.5s and below – the ones who speak unpleasantly, the ones who don’t care for appearances, are categorized as low lives who for whom facilities are shut off. Nosedive narrates the story of a young woman who gives all she has into climbing up the ratings ladder so that she can move into a plush housing colony.

The second episode, Playtest, tells the story of a somewhat dull American traveler who agrees to test out a virtual reality game for quick money. It’s a fun episode to watch, but is among the weaker episodes in the anthology, with too many predictable, cheesy horror movie tropes and a rather ineffective twist in the end. The similarly themed fifth episode, Men Against Fire, which deals with augmented reality and tells the story of trigger happy soldiers whose brains are implanted with chips that make them see deformed zombies instead of human enemies, isn’t the most impressive either. While the moral lesson is necessary, the episode feels bloated, and doesn’t connect.

The third (Shut Up And Dance) and the sixth (Hated In The Nation) episodes are the standouts of the season. Hated In The Nation combines online bullying with drone technology with a classic whodunit police investigation, resulting the most riveting and well taken 90 minutes of television that you’d have seen in a while. Shut Up And Dance is an especially disturbing story of how a 19 year old, soft-spoken waiter in a café, and a married 40 year old are forced to come together as an unlikely tag team who have to complete terrible tasks when a mysterious hacker gets hold of the secrets of their computers and threatens to leak it to the world. It is poignant, gripping, upsetting and has an ending that lingers long after the episode finishes.

black mirror season 3
I thought the fourth episode was too eh-meh to write about, so here’s a photo.

Black Mirror, as a series can be especially bizarre when you’re watching it for the first time, and this third season hasn’t been consistent with the quality of its episodes. However, if you’re even slightly fascinated by the impact that technology has on our lives, Black Mirror is a series you don’t want to miss.

{The first three seasons of Black Mirror are currently streaming on Netflix}

 

Royal Pains

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The lives of the British Monarchy have been the subject of endless fascination for generations. One would think they’ve no relevance given the times we live in, but the celebrity treatment of the Royals, which began with Princess Diana, has well and truly exploded today. Forget Prince William and the Duchess, Kate Middleton – even their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, are not spared from the constant public scrutiny of not just their behavior, but even their outfits. You’ve got to hand it to the Royals though, their public appearances are always so put together, so polished, so perfect, but the inner workings of their family are kept tantalizingly private. Occasionally a scandal breaks out, but the finer details are buried deep and stowed away, far, far away from the rest of us. Consequently, there’s a Royal rumour mill that never loses steam, and a slew of ‘inspired’ films and television series that try to offer some perspective on their lives.

the crown on netflix

The latest, and perhaps the most promising endeavor in this regard, is Netflix’s newest drama series, The Crown. What makes this series special, isn’t that it’s Netflix’s most expensive production yet (they seem to be topping their previous record for spending every three months now), or even that it is written by Peter Morgan, who was also the writer behind the 2006 film starring Dame Helen Mirren, The Queen, as well as Frost/Nixon. The Crown is special because, for the first time, the Royals seem to have approved of the show- Peter Morgan had revealed at a Press Conference that they were ‘very, very, aware’ of it, and that it might not be too long before Netflix manages to get the Queen’s opinion of it.

The Crown is a drama that seeks to explore the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and the first season, which comprises ten episodes and releases in a few weeks, begins at the very beginning. The year is 1947, the second World War has just about come to an end, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) has been re-elected as Prime Minister, and Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) is getting married to Prince Philip (Matt Smith). In the middle of all this, King George VI (Jared Harris) is ailing – he is frequently coughing blood, which his faithful attenders dismiss as a symptom of “the cold”. It isn’t long before he discovers that it isn’t the cold, but cancer, and realizes that he must do all he can, while he can, to prepare his barely 25 years old daughter for the throne. The Crown explores the impact that the adherence to duty, to royal duty, has over family and relationships, and the immense burden that is placed on a young woman’s shoulders.

Claire Foy plays young Queen Elizabeth, which is interesting because this series would be the second time she’s playing an important English queen on television – she was spectacular as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, and her performance in The Crown doesn’t seem any different. Matt Smith is also wonderful as Prince Philip, a man who is caught between the boundless love he has for his young wife, and hating the monarch that she must become.

The Crown is the story of a Princess who became Queen, but make no mistake – it isn’t a fairytale.

{The Crown releases on Netflix on November 4th}

These Violent Delights

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It was the famed novelist, Michael Crichton, who had written and directed ‘Westworld’, the film, back in 1973. The sci-fi thriller was about an amusement park where guests with heavy pockets could indulge themselves in any way they wanted with the highly realistic robotic inhabitants of the park – from gunfights to lovemaking, everything is kosher to those who can afford it. These robots are programmed in such a way that they can never harm the guests, until one day, they begin malfunctioning and predictably, all hell breaks loose. Westworld was a film that was far ahead of its time, and a runaway box office hit as well. The truth is that I’ve not seen the film (although I am very familiar with Crichton’s similarly themed Jurassic Park) which is why HBO’s lavishly produced television reboot of the film was one that interested me as much as it did.

Westworld (the TV series) picks up thirty years from where the movie left off – the park is well established again and the robots are more human than ever, to the point where it’s impossible to distinguish them from the guests. The only tell that they have is their inability to harm live creatures, which means they’ll happily let flies sit on their face, and sometimes, their eyeballs. These robots live programmed lives wherein their fates are already have already been written, unless an interaction with a guest throws their day off previously scheduled events. Even then, once the guests leave, they go back to sleep and wake up with no memory of past events, ready to lead their scripted lives once again.

The entire scientific set up is headed by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins, who is as hypnotizing as ever), who is in charge of creating and programming these bots. It’s when he installs an update in them, an update that allows the bot to access previous memories and have ‘reveries’, that the bots begin to malfunction, and chaos looms.

The show is unapologetic about its (mostly) ridiculous and over the top premise, and takes itself very seriously, making sure you’re as immersed in their world as they are. The Westworld of 2016 has been created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Ray Nolan, and has JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk sitting as executive producers – all names and talent that need no introduction, least of all in the realm of science fiction television. The casting is also incredible – a veritable coup by itself, for it brings together the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Hemsworth (the oldest of the Hemsworth brothers), Jeffrey Wright and Rodrigo Santoro, among others.

Westworld is only one episode old, making it the perfect new show to watch. To be fair, the premiere left the audience with more questions about the show than answers, but I do believe that it’s by design, for it makes sure that you’re counting down the days to the next episode. The sets are lavish, and it’s evident that every penny of its massive budget is accounted for, but the story is still the hero of the show, which is why a simple shot at the end of the first episode will have you more agape than all the special effects put together. Westworld calls itself a reboot, but think of the term as a technicality, for there is little else that is as original on television right now.

{Westworld is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD every Tuesday, and is also available on HotStar}

A Night To Remember

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

When Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed), a shy, maths-loving college student in New York is invited to a party that holds the promise of “mad females”, he’s elated. He makes plans with a friend to drive there, but as his luck would have it, his friend cancels at the last minute. Naz is so desperate that he decides to borrow (read steal) his father’s cab to drive to the party. It’s not the greatest drive, with him being unable to figure out how to switch the ‘off duty’ light on, resulting in random people getting into his cab asking to be driven around. To make matters worse, he gets lost. It is when he stops to figure out his way that a beautiful young girl gets into his cab, and Naz decides that he’ll drive her, setting into motion a chain of events that will alter his life forever.

Naz and his mysterious, beautiful passenger (Sofia Black-D’Elia) whose name he doesn’t know end up taking a long drive, having copious amounts of alcohol, and fall into bed. Naz wakes up in the kitchen, and when he goes up to the bedroom to say goodbye, he sees her body, bleeding and brutally stabbed. He makes a run, only to get caught for drunk driving. It isn’t long before the police put two and two together and sweet, soft-spoken, wide-eyed Naz becomes the lone and prime suspect in a gory murder.

the-night-of

Naz now faces a future in jail, and must learn to deal with life in prison, forge bonds with other convicts for his own safety and decide whether or not he should place faith in his lawyers, or in his own memory of events.

The Night Of is a tightly paced mini-series (it only has eight episodes in total) which covers a variety of themes including Islamophobia and racial prejudice in the backdrop of the American Justice system. Riz Ahmed is mesmerizing in his portrayal of Naz, a student whose life has shut down because of a mistake which he can’t even recall in full. John Turturro is also excellent as John Stone, an eczema ridden, street smart lawyer who defends petty criminals. Stone is the first lawyer who comes to Naz’s defence in jail, and decides to fight for his innocence. Bill Camp, who plays Seargent Box, a ‘subtle beast’ of a detective who isn’t convinced about the case despite all the evidence in the bag, is a treat to watch as well. Naz’s parents are played by Poorna Jagannathan and Peyman Moaadi, and they are both very convincing as hardworking, middle class immigrants grappling with the shock of their son’s arrest, the attention from the press and most importantly, the fact that they don’t know their son as well as they thought they did.

The Night Of is intense, dark, and gripping, which isn’t a surprise considering the fact that it has been directed by Steven Zaillian, who has Schindler’s List to his credit. The series has been reportedly inspired by the BBC thriller series Criminal Justice which aired sometime around 2008, but I also found that it had striking similarities with a viral podcast called Serial, that came out a few years ago. Serial unraveled a real murder of a young girl that had happened in Baltimore in the late ‘90s, where the accused was also a Muslim student, Adnan Syed. Like Serial, the audience isn’t given the whole picture, and the evidence is unfolded through the course of the series as it reaches crescendo in the finale.

Although The Night Of is a short series with only eight episodes, the impact of the show is one that will stay seared in your memory for a long time to come.

{The Night Of is presently streaming on HotStar}