This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.
I’m more of a reader than a TV watcher, but the quality and creativity of films and episodic series just keeps rising. Of course, this lures me in. My special treat is the occasional binge on OTT content that’s either made in India or about the South Asian diaspora. During 2023, I found particular joy in these exhilarating, upbeat productions.
On Amazon Prime Video:
Made in Heaven, Season 2
This is a fictional series about Tara and Karan, two cool young wedding planners in Delhi who are also friends and, in this season, flatmates. The show is full of glitzy fashion and architecture, subtle humor, and loads of social awareness and romance. This is one of the few shows on my list where the English dubbing (done with Indian voices) is natural enough that you don’t need to watch in Hindi with subtitles. Each episode covers a freestanding story about a couple getting married. Tara and Karan both have personal dramas that started in Season 1, and there’s a whole ensemble of family and friends introduced, so it’s more understandable to watch the seasons in order.
Modern Love Chennai.
The Modern Love series of film shorts is inspired by the essays made popular in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Previous seasons of the Indian franchise of this show have been set in the cities of Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Delhi. This series is filmed in Hindi with subtitles in many languages, and no dubbing. Each episode is a standalone story, giving a nice feeling of satisfaction after the 45-minute episode finishes. Also, it’s great that the relationships explored in these filmed short stories are not all about young men and women headed toward matrimony. Love between parent and child, or between a mentor and young person, or between friends are all grist for this fantastic mill. This is not Bollywood song and dance—it’s the real scene in one of South India’s most dynamic cities.
Polite Society (also on Apple+, Google Play and YouTube)
Although this 104-minute film is set in Britain and is made by a British-Pakistani filmmaker, Nida Manzoor, it makes the list because it hilariously spoofs the striving community of Pakistani expats wanting excellent marriages for their children. Ria, a rough-and-tumble teenager, tries to save her artistic older sister Lena from willingly heading into arranged marriage with a hunky OB-GYN who seems too good to be true. Part martial arts action adventure, part kooky science fiction, and part family comedy, and my best laugh-out-loud film seen in 2023.
My appreciation for this historical series rocketed upward over the course of a few episodes. Set in the world of 1940s and 50s Bombay film world, Jubilee traces the destiny of three men and two women involved in acting and producing films. Their entanglements, including love affairs, violence, betrayal and legal suspense, are themselves a homage to the beloved tropes of Bollywood. But, oh—the gorgeous sets, cars and clothes, the stirring music, social worldview, and compelling acting! Stream it with subtitles or English dubbing, because the vocal track recorded by the show’s original actors is top notch.
This 141-minute comedy about a young Punjabi housewife, her family and college friends falls into the realm of “women empowerment” cinema. There are good laughs and surprising directions taken, with some good song and dances. Of all the shows I’ve mentioned, this is the most stereotypically Bollywood, although the outcome is a pleasant surprise. This film isn’t dubbed, and it has subtitles.
The Archies puts Riverdale, the fictional location known to readers of Archie Comics, into North India. Specifically, up in a historic hill station populated since the early 1800s by a majority of Anglo-Indians, which gives a logical reason for the mostly fair-haired teenagers with names including Archie, Veronica, Betty, Reggie, and Ethel. I strongly advise against watching the dubbed version, which is Netflix’s standard setting for those of us streaming outside of India. The dubbed version is painful because it’s voiced by Americans which shatters the illusion of an Anglo-Indian community. Watch it in Hindi with English subtitles, and you won’t miss a beat.
The rollicking musical score brings Bollywood, Broadway and 1950s-60s pop, and the dances by the teens and the crowds around them are the best I’ve seen in a long time. The teenagers’ parents, especially Veronica’s borderline nefarious father, Mr. Lodge, also lend interest to the plot. A real estate crisis devised by Mr. Lodge is something that only Archie and the gang can solve—with a lot of songs and dance and a ’60s protest. If you liked Hairspray, Grease, or Barbie, you’ll adore The Archies. In fact, my adoration led me to stream it two times within the last twenty days.
On Hulu (and Apple):
Chef Shrimoyee Chakraborty, a British Indian restauranteur, takes viewers to both Mumbai and her hometown of Kolkata to meet interesting people and get up close with food in this one-season program. The food is geared toward what a visitor might find in restaurants that reflects multiculturalism—such as the Persian-Indian mix of Parsi cuisine, the late night joys of Indo-Chinese bar food, and savory chaat snacks gobbled on the street. But this delightful series is not just about food; it’s hangout-interviews with people involved in acting, startup companies, and non-traditional romantic relationships. Stream this show before traveling to Mumbai or Kolkata, because it will give you a to-do list for sightseeing and eating. Recorded in English.