mayanagiri

A scene from the web series “Mayanagiri.” (Publicity photo)

Sheer amazement envelops me as I ponder on how a South Indian, one-time NRI like Nagesh Kukunoor gets the Maharashtrian ethos and Indian political scenario so right, and so real. While due credit must go to co-creator and co-writer Rohit Banawlikar, who is a Maharashtrian, we must credit Kukunoor on those magnificent small gems of directorial nuances that bring Banawlikar’s and his nuances not only alive but vibrantly thriving and ablaze.

Of late, many ethnic series and movies have crucial words, phrases and sentences uttered in the respective relevant language, and Marathi, as occasionally and illuminatingly used in the series, is fabulously done.

The various characters, all seeming amazingly true-to-life, are etched not just with passion but also with care, and the seemingly varied and divergent tracks come together with sledgehammer impact.

Having never watched Season 1 (both are of 10 episodes each, varying between 30-plus and 50-plus minutes), I began watching S2, only to realize that I would understand nothing, and so I went back to S1. After that, S2’s first episode actually seemed to go down in terms of caliber significantly. But I was wrong, the pace and the intensity picked up right away from episode 2, and did not flag until the end. Once again, and very creditably, S2 ends on a finite note, and yet leaves scope for a Season 3.

Simply put, “Mayanagari—City of Dreams,” is one of the best series I have EVER watched on OTT, and the hypes like “Mirzapur” and what-have-you can go take a walk! Make no mistake, the film has its share of lurid expletives, gratuitous violence, sex scenes and everything for which web series are notorious, and yet, this time they feature in a well-knit, powerful, fictional saga that has moments of inspiration taken from so many of our politicians and their clans, apart from events. The clever references to real political entities and events is exactly that—clever!

Ameya Rao Gaekwad (Atul Kulkarni) is the hardboiled, totally amoral and ruthless head of the family and is a prominent politician in the quagmire of Maharashtra’s politics. He give short shrift to merit and thus suppresses his deserving daughter Poornima Rao Gaekwad (Priya Bapat) at every stage in life, mentally marking his very insecure and unstable son Ashish (Siddharth Chandekar) as his political heir despite Poornima’s greater intelligence and acumen. His loyal deputy is Jiten Kaka (Uday Tikekar) and he has a secret agenda with reference to his friend from early years, Jagdish Gurav (Sachin Pilgaonkar), who is now the CM.

Let me say that the brilliant direction, power-laced writing and stupendous performances together form the three-legged stool on which this series sits tall. It is all about a politician and his family, and yet it is equally about a father and his two children, sibling rivalry, two friends who once aspired to have power, and ordinary mortals caught in their shenanigans.

The series begins with an assassination attempt on Gaekwad, and his relapsing into a coma. This leads to a spiral of events in which everyone gets involved, most of all Poornima and her brother Ashish. From here onwards, the various traits and unholy secrets of all are revealed and the vertiginous tailspin leads to shocking developments even for simple people who work for the Gaekwads.

Priya Bapat, for starters, is a stunningly powerful actress, whose eyes express so much so easily on camera it is incredible. Anger, grief, joy, fear, sympathy, pity, contempt, admiration, devotion, disgust—there is nothing that she cannot do merely with her eyes, and she supplements that with fabulous body language and evocative lines. Giving her great company is Atul Kulkarni as her father—after several web triumphs (notably “The Raikar Case” and “Bandish Bandits”) and immaculate performances in films, here is another absolutely confident turn, whether he is expressing love for his children or planning the most dastardly deed!

Third in excellence is Eijaz Khan, as an honest cop caught in the mess, disgraced inspector Wasim Khan. His story is heart-wrenching again and again, and his stubborn resistance to total defeat carves a niche in our hearts for him and his cute daughter Fatima (Moukthika Sharma).

Uday Tikekar and Sachin Pilgaonkar as the other main players also bring in their vast professional experience to create memorable characters, as does Adinath Kothare as the hot-headed Mahesh Aravle, and a special mention must be made in an otherwise consistently effective cast of Sandeep Kulkarni as the simple man in the wrong place, Vibhawari Deshpande as his wife Manjari, Shishir Sharma as Ramnikbhai, Shriyam Bhagnani as his daughter and Ankur Rathee as her fiancé.

The actress (Pavleen Gujral) who plays Lipakshi, Poornima’s “friend” (Why do I qualify that word? Watch the show!) in Season 1 is good, but her replacement in Season 2, Lekha Prajapati, is a vast improvement. Sushant Singh as the South Indian goon is his usual, effectively vicious self. Priya’s husband (Koushik Amre) and son (Krish Chhabria) too are very good.

Technically superb as well, the standout camerawork by Aamir Lal, razor-sharp editing by Farooq Hundekar, perfect casting by Shruti Mahajan and a precise background score by Tapas Relia add to the terrific virtues of this brilliant piece of cinematic work.

A must-watch series, this one! Miss it at your own peril.

Rating: ****1/2

Created and written by: Nagesh Kukunoor & Rohit Banawlikar

Produced by: Sameer Nair, Deepak Segal, Nagesh Kukunoor & Elahe Hiptoola

Directed by: Nagesh Kukunoor

Music: Tapas Relia

Starring: Atul Kulkarni, Priya Bapat, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Eijaz Khan, Siddharth Chandekar, Geethika Tyagi, Uday Tikekar, Shishir Sharma, Sushant Singh, Ivan Rodrigues, Pavleen Gujral, Lekha Prajapati, Adinath Kothare, Divya Seth, Ankur Rathee, Vibhawari Deshpande,  Amrita Bagchi, Rakesh Dubey, Devas Dixit, Vishwas Kini, Sandeep Kulkarni, Rio Kapadia, Saurabh Goyal, Gauransh Chauhan, Shriyam Bhagnani & others

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