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2by3 Review: Half The Ambition

Created by Dice Media, this web series comes across as a quirky collection of young suburban vignettes forcefully fitted into a temporary narrative

Rahul DesaiRahul Desai

November 22, 2017 | 12:11 PM

FC Rating

★★★★★
film-companion
2by3, dice media, Abhishek Kumar, Akash Deep Arora, Anand Bhardwaj, Daljeet Singh Gujral, Govind Menon, Kriti Vij, Ashwin Lakshmi Narayan, What The Folks, little things, not fit, netflix,

Creators: Dice Media

Director: Ashwin Lakshmi Narayan

Cast: Abhishek Kumar, Akash Deep Arora, Anand Bhardwaj, Daljeet Singh Gujral, Govind Menon, Kriti Vij

I don’t think page-view targets are a problem for most Indian web shows anymore. Every second series on Youtube’s “recommended for you” and “up next” panels has more than a million views per episode. Whether they’re organic or not is a topic for another day. The point is: digital content houses have been able to build their brands and attract advertisers so seamlessly that many of them have stopped taking risks. The artistic landscape is already beginning to resemble that of contemporary Hindi cinema. Everyone seems happy to operate in a “niche” space.

I’m beginning to sense a level of millennial comfort in their material – a gnawing template of sorts, that kind of challenges the very notion of web storytelling in such a diverse country. Dice Media is one of the better players in the game. They get their numbers with a smart short-content strategy; most of their viral videos are simply popular listicles in visual form. I dislike the term “snackable,” but that’s what they are.

But I’m not quite sold on their web-series language yet – slightly longer, similarly observational versions of this snackable formula. As a result there’s no real “story” or larger purpose to these shows, which is fine, but it’s hard to tell the difference between them anymore. 2by3, too, just like the last two (What The Folks, Little Things), comes across as a quirky collection of young suburban vignettes forcefully fitted into a temporary narrative.

ALSO READ: RAHUL DESAI'S REVIEW OF THE SHORT FILM 'SYAAHI'

What The Folks presented a polite young husband reluctantly living with his Bombay-based in-laws on a work project, while Little Things chuckled about the moods and times of a young Bombay-based live-in couple. The situations may be different, but there’s a tonal sameness about them – as if they were taking place in neighbouring middle-class (Oshiwara) flats in the Dice-universe.

The adjusting-to-Bombay theme is taken forward in 2by3, where a young married couple moves in with three messy 20-year-old college students to save some money. The setup is unlikely, but not impossible in a desperate city like this. As is the norm with Dice, you notice the smaller (unseen) details standing out – the homebody boys enrolled in a typically useless BBA course (IIPM, perhaps), the “adults” as self-serious IT consultants, the couple subconsciously practicing for future parenthood by living with three brats (the whole parents-visiting-hostel-for-vacation treatment), the sublet room appearing “cleaner” on no-broker websites, the man being more excited about a rare cricket Sunday than the boys.

If you think about it, the makers have taken two of modern-age cinema’s trending themes – the buddy-slacker-stoner movie and the gritty happily-never-after romance – and mixed them together, hoping to produce the quintessential coming-of-age dramedy

There are also the flashy “sitcom” cutaways, where we often see the characters’ thoughts, no matter how outlandish. So a smug meat-eater imagines vegetarians to be farmers chewing on a room full of leafy vegetables, and the mention of a “clever rodent” is followed by an image of a sneaky rat operating a smartphone.

Yet, if I try to recall 2by3 later, I might not be able to distinguish it from a relatable “10 Bombay Tenant Habits” video listicle. If you think about it, the makers have taken two of modern-age cinema’s trending themes – the buddy-slacker-stoner movie and the gritty happily-never-after romance – and mixed them together, hoping to produce the quintessential coming-of-age dramedy. Consequentially, as is the case with many short desi shows, the “reconciliation” part in the final episode always seems artificial and pre-decided, irrespective of the personalities involved. It’s the pressure of making a glorified montage achieve a certain degree of cathartic direction that often does them in.

Moreover, 2by3, like its predecessors, looks fairly packaged for the conditions it occupies. For instance, the bachelors are supposed to be unhygienic and living in a sty of a flat, yet even their clutter feels somewhat “designed”. Maybe it’s the bright colours and walls, the clean-shaven boys (as opposed to the stubbled man), or even the clean clothes, but when five economically challenged people share a flat in this city, there’s a certain dirty perspiration and disorder about it.

ALSO READ: RAHUL DESAI'S REVIEW OF THE SHORT FILM 'SYAAHI'

I didn’t smell that in 2by3 – it bears the aura of a hipster-ized, romanticized, product-placed struggle. Not as ridiculous as a “low-budget” Karan Johar sequence, but not too authentic either. That’s one aspect Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Laakhon Mein Ek got right – the humid South Indian climate ensured dull, lifeless coaching-class corridors replete with sweaty teenagers. If it wasn’t the story, it was this uncomfortable habitat that got us.

2by3 confirms that perhaps creating something momentous and path breaking isn’t quite an ambition. Rather than expand or challenge the diminishing attention spans of a digital generation, they’d rather mold themselves to fit within them

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Dice’s best show was their first – Not Fit, a long Office-style mockumentary series about a struggling Versova actor. It was experimental, and unique, back when they were still to discover a “voice” while looking to make a mark. The next three, however, raked in the numbers and recognition – all of them urban-family spin-offs that are pleasant, occasionally perceptive but eventually forgettable. For anyone in the business, this is a familiar, timeworn graph: holding onto fans instead of finding new ones.

2by3 confirms that perhaps creating something momentous and path breaking isn’t quite an ambition. Rather than expand or challenge the diminishing attention spans of a digital generation, they’d rather mold themselves to fit within them. They’re the homegrown snacks, while it’s up to us, the viewers, to figure out a lavish continental main course (Netflix?) of our liking. It’s the little things they’re satisfied with – for now.

Watch episode 1 of 2by3 here: