BETTER LIFE FOUNDATION
Cast: Naveen Richard, Utsav Chakraborty, Sumukhi Suresh
Creators: Rahul Hota, Naveen Richard, Navaneeth Sriram
YouTube Channel: Them Boxer Shorts
Rating: Four stars
WITH THE BEST OF INTENTIONS
The offices of an NGO are an unusual setting for a comic web series. You’d think the limits of political correctness would be too stifling. There’s only that much fun you could poke in an environment that’s inevitably well meaning. Better Life Foundation (BLF), however, does the impossible. Delightfully irreverent, it doesn’t once come across as insensitive. There are of course moments that you could pin down as awkward. Better Life Foundation’s employees are as dysfunctional as they are incompetent. At one point, they sit around, trying to select the picture of an impoverished child for a campaign. Founder Neil Menon (Naveen Richard) finds it hard to choose a single image, until someone finishes his thought and puts him out of his misery. The picture ought to look “beggar” enough. The butt of the joke here is Neil himself. The discomfort is his and in oh so many ways, ours.
The mockumentary format which BLF adopts makes comparisons with The Office inescapable. Like Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, Neil Menon’s attempts at humour befuddle his colleagues, while leaving us in stitches. Accounts executive Kevin Malone in The Office is adorably dull-witted. BLF’s accounts head Anirban Sengupta (Kumar Varun) runs a pirated DVD business on the side and is just as slow. In one episode of The Office, we see Dwight Schrute cover his hands in beet juice, pretending they were soaked in blood. In the first few minutes of BLF, Jerry Pinto (Utsav Chakraborty) pulls a similar prank. The parallels are obvious, but more than The Office, BLF is India’s Parks and Recreation. Here are people who want to do good, but their own bumbling ineptness stops them from being better.
The script of BLF is clever and it certainly does allow for a delectable levity. After donating three lakhs for the uplift of Dharavi’s sanitation facilities, Menon boasts, “The people of Dharavi should defecate no more.” He of course means “publically defecate”. But more than smart lines, it is the interplay between characters that makes you chuckle helplessly. YouTube star Kanan Gill plays Armaan Garewal, an outsider of sorts who has to spend 500 hours at BLF because a court has mandated that he repent for his drunk driving through community service. His incredulous asides mirror our own disbelief. How can a bunch of people be so dense? Aditi Goel (Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy), an unpaid intern, designs a logo for BLF that looks like a sad smiley, and it takes Sumukhi Chawla (Sumukhi Suresh), an ill-humoured Programme Head, to point out this conspicuous problem.
Jerry, who Sumukhi regularly chastises for being on drugs, delivers the show’s most hilarious line when he sees her being promoted – “Just because your country has problems, doesn’t mean you elect the first dictator you see.” BLF might well be light-hearted, but it is also cheekily political. When its office is raided by the CBI, the NGO’s employees wonder if the beef they’ve brought to office is the meat of a cow or buffalo. When making a video for the Swachh Bharat campaign, Menon and Jerry force Anriban to pretend like he’s urinating on the road. Their rationale – others too will feel peer-pressured into peeing. The urinals they construct are hilariously installed on the sidewalk itself.
Created and written by Rahul Hota, Naveen Richard and Navaneeth Sriram, BLF does have a few expected gags – a South-Indian Hindi accent being one of them – but each of the show’s five episodes gives you something new to laugh about. At a pompous NGO awards ceremony, someone’s heard saying, “I was telling Shabana just the other day …” The reference is obvious, and there really isn’t a single joke in BLF you don’t get. Watch this series in office. That is clearly where one has fun.