FC Web Watch: It’s Not That Simple

The show is meant for mature audiences. But, in effect, it’s a serious drama packaged as a fluffy rom-com

Cast: Swara Bhaskar, Vivan Bhatena, Akshay Oberoi

Director: Danish Aslam

Rating: 2 stars

This show is for “mature audience,” we’re warned first up in the mandatory disclaimer message. Now, this is not a film, yet the makers – Voot, the on-demand streaming platform by Viacom18 – insist on leaving us with the web-series equivalent of an A certificate. Which is funny, given that none of its characters, especially its choose-a-type males, seem mature enough to deal with the ‘risqué’ themes of (Indian) infidelity and (adult) friendship.

Voot, the on-demand streaming platform by Viacom18 – insist on leaving us with the web-series equivalent of an A certificate

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And the only non-adult, the little daughter of the conflicted lady (Swara Bhaskar, as Meera) around whom the six-episode series pivots, is freely doted upon by various men in her mother’s life. Safe to say, she will mature – with serious daddy issues – far quicker than the audience.

Though, by sidestepping the misguided notion that dead marriages must behave alive to protect their kids, It’s Not That Simple presents a progressive line of reasoning. Most Indian parents want to owe their children an illusion of a happy family, overlooking the long-term effects of molding a life in repressed conditions. In this show, kids aren’t the issue, to the point of them being invisible.

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In fact, the (alleged) triplets of Sameer (Akshay Oberoi), one of Meera’s two extramarital suitors, are never shown. But this is just a tiny, and perhaps unintentional, plus in a popcornified series that oversimplifies other ingredients of a stormy stew.

The main problem here is that each character typifies a generic category; they can be described in one word, instead of deciphered. They are what they wear, or how they sound. Imagine the Hindi-speaking afterlife of Riverdale, with grown-up Betty as the soul-searching protagonist. Actually, no need to imagine it – because Meera’s nickname in her presumably SoBoex-college, in true Johar-verse fashion, was Betty Cooper.

This is just a tiny, and perhaps unintentional, plus in a popcornified series that oversimplifies other ingredients of a stormy stew.

Housewife Meera blames chauvinist husband Jayesh (Karanveer Mehra) for her own musings about a possible ‘affair’ – a term repeated enough to lend this a bold-soap-opera identity. A school reunion presents her with her old flames Archie and Reggie to choose from: good-boy doctor Sameer, and bad-boy biker Rajiv (Vivan Bhatena). Sameer is clean-cut, bright-eyed and soft-spoken, and also plays the victim card in a torrid marriage with a female Jayesh of sorts, the quintessential shorthaired NRI-accented She-Devil, Reha (Rumana Molla). Scruffy Rajiv makes a Bollywood-drummer entry at a trendy pub to signify tattooed, buffed-up badassery. Everyone flirts relentlessly with everyone else.

Notice how I’ve pigeonholed every face into a discriminatory adjective? In fact, even the geography can be described as the “Delhi-kind” of Mumbai – where space, and pace, is definitely not at a premium. In her introductory shot, Reha stumbles in drunk from a party in a short skirt to a disapproving, tut-tutting Sameer.

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After dropping a few casual cusses with smeared lipstick, she becomes her own stereotype, and exists only to justify poor Sameer’s illicit love for Meera. Ditto for Jayesh, who, with his gruff “I love you yaar” apologies and enormous appetite for quickies, exists to remind us how unfortunate Meera’s domestic life is. His is the kind of flaky persona that’d be the first to be snuffed out in a serial-killer movie.

The episodes try to be narratively innovative, even told in cheeky mini-flashbacks for the first five episodes by Meera, while she waits to begin her tryst with one of the two – we’re supposed to guess who – in a hotel lobby. She is clearly a very patient lady. Breaking the fourth wall to chat with us isn’t really that novel anymore, and it makes Meera come across as far more self-aware and responsive than is natural for a woman embarking on a life-altering experience. This is, in effect, serious drama packaged as a fluffy rom-com.

I’ve seen similarly designed, and better, feature-length dramas with identical themes: Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, or the British TV film, The 7.39.

While the writer doesn’t explicitly state that there’s always one jerk in every failed relationship, many broad-stroke observations point to the contrary. By the end, this series feels far too deliberate to just happen to be a specific story about specific kinds of misogynistic idiots and flawed angels. I’ve seen similarly designed, and better, feature-length dramas with identical themes: Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, or the British TV film, The 7.39. That this is recalled more as an average film, in itself, is self-defeating for a project conceptualized as an internet-video series.

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As I’ve pointed out before, why curb sensibilities when this medium demands more voice than scale, more vision than size? Which is why I prefer homegrown titles like Not Fit and TXDRMY. They’re experimental and very hit-or-miss, but they also don’t try to manufacture/identify markets like glossy studio-financed efforts. They can only be imagined as web shows, and nothing else – the very essence of creation, something many new players seem to be forgetting. There’s no need to go big and go home. It’s really that simple.

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