From stories of a mythical creature to the murder case in the hills, ‘Aranyak’ weaves the absurd with the familiar. This whodunit thriller, directed by Vinay Waikul, is set in a fictitious town called ‘Sironah,’ a small town where people know one another but not their secrets. With the picturesque shots of Himachal and an overall cool tone, the first episode introduces one sub-plot after the other. Aranyak unfolds a labyrinthine of lies and deceits that led to the rape and murder of a young girl, Aimee, who came to Sironah with her French mother, Julie, along with her boyfriend, Sundar.
Kasturi, played by Raveena Tandon, is a police officer who resides in Sironah. Unable to give as much time as she would have liked to her family, she decides to take a year’s leave. After discovering the body of Aimee, which was hung from a forest tree, Kasturi makes up her mind to cancel her leave and be a part of the investigation, which was led by Angad Mallik. Angad Mallik, played by Parambrata Chattopadhyay, who is a replacement of Kasturi, starts to bring about changes in the way the Sironah police worked. After initially facing differences in opinion, the two decides to work together on the investigation that needed immediate attention.
While the police were busy uncovering the rape and murder of Aimee, Mahadev Dogra, a retired head constable of Sironah and the father-in-law of Kasturi, waited for the leopard-man. The leopard-man, or as they call it, ‘Nar-tenduya,’ is a mythical creature who is both a man and a leopard. It lived in the forest and came out on the night of the lunar eclipse to feast on blood. Mahadev came across the leopard-man nineteen years back when he was the head constable but was unable to get hold of the creature, leaving him with a claw scratch on his neck.
Upon discovering the body of Aimee, scratch marks were found on her neck, something that was common in the numerous rape and murder cases that came into prominence nineteen years ago. Angad refused to believe in the creature’s existence and blamed it to be a fragment of the villagers’ imagination; he felt that the leopard-man was indeed a serial killer who raped and murdered young women. Was the leopard-man truly an imaginative creature, as Angad proposed? If so, what made him come back after nineteen years? While every character is potentially suspicious, it is only in the last episode that many questions are answered.
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Along with the larger problem at hand, the series also deals with a personal vendetta. Angad brings in revenge from the past, and the series blends it all together. ‘Aranyak’ has several sub-plots, each in some way leading to the bigger problem. Some characters working for political gain while the others complying for power. The story gets furthermore complicated when a politician’s son, Kanti, is released on parole after being convicted on a rape charge. Every character brings in a sense of mystery, but after two or three episodes into the series, the story starts to rush. Aranyak loses its pace when it tries to wrap the sub-plots within the constrained time frame. Though it manages to keep the audience guessing who might be behind all the chaos, the vast number of characters and plots seemed unnecessary and pointlessly complicated the storyline.
The scenic beauty of the hills, along with the mysterious haze of the forest, adds to the film’s general tone. Raveena Tandon as Kasturi is refreshing to watch. She is able to capture the frustration and irritability of a cop who never had a big case, along with the emotions of a loving mother. The Kasturi character ticks the stereotype of what one expects of a small-town cop, from choosing to strike during interrogation to not following certain protocols saying that is how it has always worked. Even though her suspicion has always been accurate, she could have been a lot more than the usual stereotype.
Angad Mallik, played by Parambrata Chattopadhyay, a renowned face in the Bengali film industry, shines in Aranyak after featuring for the first time in the Hindi film ‘Kahaani.’ Breaking the stereotype of usually casting actors from the Bengali film industry to play Bengali roles in Hindi series, Angad Mallik is all the more interesting to watch as the resolute cop. The fact that the series does not resort to the popular names and instead experiments with the cast is a fresh take.
Parambrata Chattopadhyay and Raveena Tandon form an unusual pair in this thriller series. The mutual admiration and respect that the characters share as fellow cops is something that is built on in the eight episodes. Produced by Ramesh Sippy and Siddharth Roy Kapur, this is an engrossing watch, with every episode ending with a cliffhanger, making you want to binge-watch Aranyak. The final episode hints towards a new start but will it be back for a second season? We have to wait and watch.
Aranyak is a 2021 Indian Crime Drama Series directed by Vinay Waikul. It is streaming on Netflix.