Director: Jessica Sadana

Cast: Aisha Ahmed, Yashaswini Dayama

Watching a Dice Media web series makes me the bitter uncle with a sturdy Nokia handset that thrives on dismissing the cool kids who can’t go a sentence without enforcing upon my uncluttered brain the hipster credentials of a shiny iPhone X. I really don’t mind keeping up with the times. But this particular platform, with every subsequent show, has become so deliberate about showcasing the cute frivolousness of the trendy millennial generation that it often feels like “marketing guru” Arindam Chaudhuri invaded their boardrooms, presented flowcharts on decoding the precise ingredients of engineered coolness, assembled scenes with the efficiency of a manager dressing up a mannequin and promptly turned every episode into an online shopping market and app store.

Every frame is so obsessed with its short-form culture that Adulting (which, to be fair, could be the title of any of their shows) is like that banal celebrity blogger handle that gets paid handsomely to promote branded tweets without giving us the slightest glimpse into its true personality. It’s futile enough to build entire episodes around such validation-hungry characters; the show itself doesn’t need to imitate the superficiality of its faces. I’m surprised Veere Di Wedding didn’t tie up with Dice – it’s a match made in product-integrated heaven. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before even the air they breathe on screen is branded – “O2 for Bro-twos!”

The five-episode show is about two Delhi girls doing the cash-strapped Mumbai-flatmate routine with all the intensity of Kim Kardashian’s official White House date with Donald Trump

It started with Little Things, which I thought was an acceptable portrait of “nothingness” – it used a young live-in couple to wax mundane about the smaller moments between life’s bigger scenes. Adulting, however, takes the young Bombay co-inhabitance culture to a designer peak so aspirational that there is almost no difference between how Karan Johar accessorizes Indian colleges and the extent to which this series sanitizes big-city immigrant struggles. The five-episode show is about two Delhi girls doing the cash-strapped Mumbai-flatmate routine with all the intensity of Kim Kardashian’s official White House date with Donald Trump. Nikhat (Aisha Ahmed) is a coder, and baby-faced Ray works in an office that is supposed to convince us it is stressful enough to make her a manic-pixie chain smoker. I can’t stand characters who don’t know how to convincingly puff on a cigarette on screen, and it definitely doesn’t help that actress Yashaswini Dayama has never looked (or sounded) a day older than 13.

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The first episode spends a good ten minutes inside a supermarket, where a guilt-ridden Ray chooses all things cheap and yellow to surprise Nikhat on her birthday with a colour-coded apartment. In fact, till the middle of the second episode, I genuinely thought the Dice folks were onto something – there was no mention of a boy thus far, and Nikhat’s visiting liberal mother gently probes her about this big transition. Could she have been hinting that it’s safe for her daughter to come out of the closet? Is this actually a story about two girls who’re using the “flat-mate” peg as a ruse to hide a more intimate relationship? Do they even know that they are in fact in love with another? Nikhat’s mother even bonds with Ray – revealing childhood nicknames and playfully teasing them – the way a potential mother-in-law would when she sizes up her daughter’s choice. If one views Adulting (ah, the title) through this prism, it is actually a subtle, self-aware and slyly revolutionary show.

Quintessential city stereotypes – the bai, broker, bad boss, nosy neighbour, hustling electrician – are scattered across the episodes with all the earthy extravagance of sprinkling cumin seeds across creamy mashed potatoes to remind themselves of a rooted jeera-aloo splendor

But soon enough, these illusions are banished, and all we are left with is two female roommates who are best friends – a rarity in a city like Mumbai, where functionality and space tends to supersede the idea of closeness. It’d have been a challenge, and arguably a more authentic exercise, to construct a show around roommates who live in their own bubbles, roommates who are separable and connected only by the common pursuit of surviving in India’s messiest metropolitan environment.

I’ve always found it fascinating to witness the measured distance between two people sharing a flat – almost as if they consciously allow the contract they sign as tenants to create a dotted line between them. But most movies and shows overlook this sub-culture and insist on painting the protagonists as two hearts occupying the same body. It is, after all, easier to label such equations.

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As a result, if I earned a nickel for every opportunity a show like Adulting misses with its stubborn pressing of digitalism over soul, I’d be just about rich enough to be fashionably urban-poor enough to star in the show. Quintessential city stereotypes – the bai, broker, bad boss, nosy neighbour, hustling electrician – are scattered across the episodes with all the earthy extravagance of sprinkling cumin seeds across creamy mashed potatoes to remind themselves of a rooted jeera-aloo splendor.

One of the episodes occurs almost entirely in a taxi, in which Nikhat tries to understand a crisis-hit Ray’s professional restlessness. The eavesdropping driver keeps taking breaks to buy vegetables, take a leak and execute various other such activities that might have qualified as mental harassment in the real world. Soon, we discover that the address reads: Jeevan Marg, Manzil theatre, Khushali Nagar, Vijay e Chowk. The driver gleefully tells them that he has brought them to their “destination.” This is about as #deep as the writers dare to go, in a series that wears its frothy lightness like a pink traffic signal. If this scene was an unsubtle metaphor for life, this review is a subtle metaphor for writing an unsponsored, unbranded eulogy even before the medium – or its critic’s mind – dies.

Rating:   star
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