The Indian cinemascope has traversed a long way from the big, fat joint family of Hum Saath Saath Hain, wherein the traditional values and cultural norms were synonymous with unquestionable reverence for parents and elders. The more realistic presentation of the Indian familial setup in Kapoor & Sons, Piku, Khosla ka Ghosla, etc. has been instrumental in revealing the grit and patience truly involved in surviving the shenanigans of the generation gap, financial rifts, and paternal stubbornness,and sibling competition. Ram Madhvani’s Aarya,based on the Dutch series Penoza, deconstructs the aforementioned familial dynamic, by taking the stakes a notch higher.
The series begins immersed in a scene of lovable domesticity, with retro Bollywood music, at the breakfast table and within the first episode, the facade of the composure is broken. Betrayal, lies, revelations are the lifeblood of any self-respecting crime thriller, but Aarya does something quite brilliant in intertwining these themes with the familial drama– it places feminine subjectivity at its very core.
The average Indian family is patriarchal at its very root, with women supposed to be at the immanent end of the dynamics, while men step into the world, are expected to be the breadwinners, and become join the realm of transcendence, as discussed by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex. Rousseau’s notion of the marital contract too sees women as second-class, supporting actors to the man’s central journey in society. While the 21st-century women of India may be working, becoming CEOs, and generally taking over the professional world, the internalised misogyny persists and they are expected to “balance”their household duties with that of their occupational demands, but men are unfortunately applauded for sharing in the housework. Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do subtly showcases this in the scene where Priyanka Chopra’s Ayesha is supposedly “allowed” by her husband into the professional sphere.
Aarya not only acknowledges this formative force in the upper-caste, upper-class, supposedly ideal Indian family, but it engages with it in full gusto. The women in the series – Rajeshwari (Aarya’s mother), Maya, Hina, and Radhika (or Rads) are shown to be superfluously free, meaning that their identity in their high-class circles and even within their immediate family is directly defined by their association with the men. Aarya’s mother, Rajeshwari, is a poignant example of the bitterness men’s actions can incubate between women; the series never portrays Radhika, playing the archetypal “concubine”, in a negative light, and exposes how the sense of rivalry between her and Rajeshwari stems from a deep-seated negligence and lack of true agency within the latter’s marriage.
Men’s egos and their hyper-masculine need for control is at the centre of the tornado that erupts in the series and women are either left to be consumed by the devastation or take charge and untangle the mess. Maya, played by a stunning Maya Rao, who plays the wife of Jawahar – the third business partner – and Aarya’s long-standing friend, is like a foil to Aarya,and her character is resplendent with the aforementioned theory’s example. She visits her best friend, distraught, one night when her husband doesn’t make it home for two days and shares in an emotionally charged moment how she just does not understand what is going on. She is not privy to the interior mess, and unlike Aarya who is the widowed woman left alone to fend for herself, Maya is in a limbo between destruction and knowledge. Jawahar may be alive, but like all the other men in this series, he has started a chain of events he can barely control. Aarya has no confidante except Daulat (who is still an “outsider”and can only go so far), but she also doesn’t have a masculine figure obstructing her every move.
Imagine the world of Macondo and the close-knit destructiveness of the Buendia clan, from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Marquez’s women, no matter how resilient and strong, are part of a world where the men step out and wage wars for pride. Aarya’s women too suffer directly at thehands of men’s aggression – the most important example of this is the climactic reveal, wherein the father, Zorawar (who has been otherwise out of the game due to his deteriorating health) turns out to be mastermind who killed his own son-in-law in cold blood. This is the greatest subversion of the long-standing notion that men and women are on the opposing ends of the binary of reason-emotion, since it is the folly of irrational pride within patriarchal men that is the demise of this empire’s ways.
Dysfunctionality in the Aarya-verse hinges on the communication problem too – the men are unused to involving their spouses within their plans, and it creates a lack of solidarity within the family. Conventional masculinity demands of men to repress their insecurities and emotions, and this series showcases the utter instability that arises out of this unhealthy social expectation. A majority of the problems in this drama would have been avoided, had there been open communication channels within the family. But this isn’t the way of this Rajasthani upper-class clan that cares about the image it puts on for show. And this, Aarya graciously exposes, is not the way of the world, even when it ought to be.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.