Aarya, Starring Sushmita Sen, Is A Lot About Women Dealing With The Aftermath Of Men’s Bad Decisions
I don’t know about you, but I never miss a chance to watch Sushmita Sen on screen. Her stunning, crown-winning beauty and charm aside, the woman exudes a certain warmth that penetrates through the screen. Every single time. I love watching her throw “baccha” and “shona” as terms of endearment, her back hugs that look comforting, and her wit, often delivered with flawless elegance. When I realised she’d be returning to the screen after a decade with a lead role in a series like Disney+ Hotstar’s Aarya, I was intrigued. The fact that she’d be accompanied in this return by another forgotten Bollywood gem, Chandrachur Singh, was just the maachis needed to spark my interest.
The world of Aarya: From homemaker to don-in-the-making?
Created by Ram Madhvani and Sandeep Modi, Aarya is the story of a crime syndicate in Rajasthan with an illegal drug trade on an international scale. At the centre of it is Sushmita Sen’s Aarya Sareen. She is a homemaker, wife to Tej Sareen (Chandrachur Singh) and mother to their three children—Veer (Viren Vazirani), Aru (Virti Vaghani) and Adi (Pratyaksh Panwar). Aarya’s father, Zorawar (Jayant Kripalani), is a major player, but due to health issues, is now retired from the family business of selling illegal opium medicines. He is looked after by his faithful right-hand man and bodyguard, Daulat (Sikander Kher).
The business, run with a legitimised front of a pharmaceutical company, is now managed by Aarya’s younger brother, Sangram (Ankur Bhatia), Aarya’s husband Tej, and their friend Jawahar (Namit Das). Jawahar’s artist wife Maya (Maya Sarao) and Sangram’s hairdresser girlfriend Hina (Sugandha Garg) are also Aarya’s best friends.
Aarya’s mother and Zorawar are separated (not divorced) because he loves and lives with a much younger woman (Flora Saini) now in their family haveli. His wife hates the other woman, passes no opportunity to humiliate her and prefers going through her sorrows drunk on gin because she still loves her husband. Apart from Aarya and Sangram, they have another daughter, Soundarya (Priyasha Bhardwaj), who is getting married to an American musician Bob (Alexx O’Nell), as the series begins.
Despite living in the shadow of her family’s criminal dealings, Aarya’s life is a happy one. However, hell begins to break loose when her brother Sangram decides to expand their already illegal business to include heroin trade. He steals 300 crores worth of heroin from a competitor, Shekhawat (Manish Chaudhary), and gets caught by ACP Khan of the Narcotics Enforcement Bureau with a small sample of it. Tej, who was against this entire deal in the first place, promises Aarya that he’s going to leave it all behind and get their family to safety. However, Tej gets shot by a mystery biker in black in broad daylight, in front of his eight-year-old kid.
With her husband incapacitated, her brother in jail, the stolen drugs lost, and the police and Shekhawat closing in, Aarya must return to her criminal roots which she tried so hard to escape, to clear the massive 300 crore debt. She’s got the trusted Daulat in her corner, who helps her to unleash her hidden claws. But a conspiring, cocaine-addict Jawahar often messes up her plans. The ACP maintains a hawk’s eye on her every move, and the problems are stacked sky high. Meanwhile, her children deal with the grief of losing their father in ways that aren’t always healthy—Veer falls for a girl who introduces him to drugs; Aru takes up smoking and looks for solace in all the wrong places; and Adi takes to bedwetting and is in therapy.
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Men make bad decisions. Women have to clean up their messes!
There’s a dialogue that can be seen in the promos too, where Namit Das’ Jawahar asks Aarya why she didn’t take over their business before. To which, she replies, “Kyuki pehle dhandha mard sambhaalte the. Ab bache nahin.” And this pretty much sums up the show’s vein for you. The men in the show, whether it is for their greed, ego, or with good intentions, keep on making errors in judgement, and eventually either die, get incapacitated or incarcerated. The mess they thus leave in their wake is left for the women to clean up. This was, amongst other things, my biggest takeaway from the show.
Take Tej, for example, whose hurried and miscalculated decision pulls Aarya and his kids into deep shit. His intentions were noble, but not practical. And then, he leaves behind a video telling his wife that she is strong and will be able to take care of it if things go sideways for him. He tells her everything, except some key details that would’ve saved Aarya a whole lot of guilt and trouble. Sangram, the hot-headed wannabe heroin king, sets this whole thing in motion, and gets himself locked up in the middle of a family wedding, leaving his sisters to deal with the mess. His girlfriend knows the truth; she knows that his greed is the reason her BFF’s husband is dead. And yet she supports him.
Maya, Jawahar’s wife, has her work stolen by goons looking for payback, is constantly lied to, gets zero help with raising her kid, might lose Aarya as her BFF, and on top of it gets no sex either. Aarya’s mother pretends to be unaffected by her husband’s young mistress as well as every other life-altering decision he makes, because she has to keep up appearances and keep his secrets. The mistress, who never gives you any reason to think she’s a gold-digger, has her own suffering she bears silently for love.
Every time Aarya has to be intimidated, her daughter Aru gets threatened, or worse. In a scene where Aarya is threatened, it happens in a store’s changing room while she is trying on clothes, while her daughter is doing the same in the next room. In one scene, the big bad mafia boss Shekhawat literally struts out butt naked in front of Aarya, in some bizarre power move. Even when Aarya’s son’s girlfriend gets blackmailed, the threat is of a character assassination. It takes Aarya a while to begin weaponising her femininity to charm men into doing her bidding or mislead them with a false sense of ‘she’s a woman, what can she do?’.
But until the very end, it takes women confessing to each other about the secrets they’ve been keeping for the men in their lives that helps solve the messed up knot.
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Aarya’s strengths and weaknesses
The show, for the most part, plays to its actors and plot’s strengths. It is adapted from the Dutch drama series Penoza, but basing it in Rajasthan feels like a perfect setup for a modern royal woman like Aarya to shatter archaic constraints of a male-dominated world. Sushmita Sen doesn’t even need to ‘play’ Aarya, because if you’ve seen her IRL, you know the role is custom written for her. The older, sensible child, the loving but strong wife, the chilled out mom who can be a fierce protector when need be, and a woman who can hold her own in a room full of men and look like a million bucks while doing it—it’s got Sen written all over it. It’s good to have her back! My favourite scenes are when Sen’s Aarya is deftly juggling dual emotions—like fear and euphoria on having handled a difficult situation herself, or the scenes where she finds out the truth about a betrayal and the very next minute has to hug the one who betrayed her.
The ensemble cast does a great job too, and special shoutouts go out to a scene-stealing Namit Das, Sikander Kher, and young Pratyaksh. It was nice to watch Chandrachur Singh and Jayant Kripalani, both good actors and sorely missed on screen. Aarya does a fab job of weaving in old Bollywood songs as background score, but giving their lyrics a whole new interpretation as they correspond to the characters’ actions on screen. A parallel with the Mahabharata and Bhagvad Gita is well integrated.
Barring a few questionable plot points that make its characters look stupid, and a slow burn that takes time to reach full potential, Aarya is a nice binge to go on with the family, and celebrate girl power while you’re at it.
Watch Aarya for its posh production value (though it is hard to convince you it is set in Rajasthan; it could be Delhi or Mumbai), the host of interesting characters that might get more developed in a potential Season 2, and its thoroughly bingeable quality. But mostly, watch it for Sushmita Sen!