Cast: Siddhant Behl, Hussain Dalal, Shabnam Vadhera
Director: Srinivas Sunderrajan
Metafiction affords writers and directors a rare freedom. Once you’ve established that the story you’re telling is in fact artificial, that reality lies elsewhere, you really can get away with anything. Your film, and in this case, your web series, can go to places where others have feared to tread. Metafilms like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Stranger than Fiction only prove that the joy of stories which come wrapped in other stories is altogether fantastic.
The premise of TXDRMY is as novel as its title. A taxi driver takes his passengers around Mumbai. His strange encounters, we learn in the second episode, are in fact scenes from the script of a web series its own director once fears in “indulgent”. That’s how ‘meta’ this show is. Sadly, it panders to its cleverness.
Omung Kapoor (played by an assured Siddhant Behl) is an actor whose big screen and television outings have been largely unsuccessful. He is acting in a web series because, well, a web series can “go to villages”. As a chatty taxi driver, he is being made to ferry Dev Anand’s double, a woman who identifies herself as ‘God’, a killer who looks like an office-going dork and a don who wishes to be taken to be a cemetery.
As a driver, Behl has to simply facilitate scenes that border on the ridiculous, but as Kapoor, the actor mirrors the confusion that you as a viewer might feel. What does Kishore Bhanushali (Hussain Dalal) mean when he says that Dev Anand stole his face? Why is God (Shabnam Vadhera) searching for her programmer, a film director? Why do all his passengers have to be odd?
The success of a metafictional narrative often rests on surprise. When an audience feels yanked out of its comfort zone by the reminder that what they’re seeing is only fiction, there’s a dissonance which is immediately entertaining. The trouble with TXDRMY is that it exaggerates its fiction (narratives within the taxi) so much that events happening outside it barely feel like fact.
The dialogues the passengers deliver are deliberately vague, but a doppelganger philosophising his apparent likeness is hard to categorise as anything but pretentious. There are admittedly some scenes that are memorable. When Satya (Ashish Verma) puts a knife against the throat of his taxi driver, and asks if he is an actor, TXDRMY acquires an urgency that ought to have been consistent.
Writer and director Srinivas Sunderrajan does make his web series compelling when he focuses on all that happens behind his camera. When Kapoor says that he is a 70mm actor, he is reminded that a web series sticks to the 720p format. The humour is lost on Kapoor, but it does make one chuckle. A member of the crew also pre-empts my critique by calling Sunderrajan’s story “nebulous”.
Two assistant directors wonder if they’ll ever get paid for their work on this project. The only trouble is that there are other moments when the metafictional elements are made so obvious that there is little entertainment to be had beyond the erudition on display. TXDRMY really does miss a heart.
There’s undoubtedly something a little brave which TXDRMY must be commended for. The show is unlike any other web series you are likely to watch. Its five episodes, all between seven and nine minutes long, are easy to binge on in one stretch. You laud the inventiveness, but in other moments of bafflement, you wish you had something more to chew on. I just did not see the big 720p picture.