Director: Karishma Kohli
Producer: Rupali Guha, Kalyan Guha
Writer: Ritu Bhatia, Suyash Khabya
Cast: Karisma Kapoor, Dino Morea, Sanjay Suri, Sandhya Mridul, Shilpa Shukla, Shruti Seth, Tillotama Shome, Nikita Katakwar
Streaming Platform: ALT Balaji, Zee5
Motherhood is a harsh reality- one that comes with as many quirks as it does perks. (I am not a mother- this is received knowledge, not lived knowledge) Like a circle that tries to find peace in closed loops, motherhood instead ends up becoming an infinite outward spiral, and this chaos is fertile for storytelling. It also has immense space for messaging. So it isn’t surprising that Mentalhood, ALT Balaji’s mom-propaganda vehicle, is a deeply entertaining show.
Now, if the show is meaningful in any sense is a different matter. ALT Balaji shows, even their borderline pornographic series Gandii Baat, come attached with a moral lesson. But they are often delivered with such less conviction, that it begins to feel like these moral lessons are the shoulders they shoot their watchable but disposable content from.
All the actors ham, but if you watch the episodes end-to-end, the hamming begins to feel organic, part of the universe of homemakers who sit around in Gucci off-shoulder dresses, stomping off from arguments into gin enclaves.
Spanning 10 episodes, each around 25 minutes each, this show weaves itself around Karisma Kapoor who plays an acquiescent Meira Sharma (‘Meera with an I’ she keeps saying. I assumed it was Mira, but it has both the e and the i- this greed to fit everything in is a thread that runs through the show), a Kanpur model who dreams big for her children, moving to South Bombay with her husband (Sanjay Suri, salt-and-pepper, the bland corporate kind) to have them study at the best school. She quickly has a run-in with Mom-zilla, Anuja (Sandhya Mridul) and the mom-gang. Predictably, everyone has an ‘issue’ going on in their lives.
Mridul’s character has a husband with whom her relationship is transactional, literally.
Tillotama Shome’s character has a husband who is verbally abusive, and her two sons seem to be taking after him.
Shruti Seth plays the free-spirited one, who teaches yoga, reiki, doesn’t let her child consume chemicals, and battles for custody with her husband whose vacillation between asshole and aspirational is trite.
Shilpa Shukla plays the career mom, her photo pasted on magazines that she agonizingly carries around, but her child isn’t biologically hers.
Then there is Dino Morea, the single dad, who works from home, producing architecture for games.
These characters embed their complexes into their children, rather unsuccessfully, while the children battle their own complexes- health, bullying gender, and child sexual abuse. A brief look at the titles of each episode tells you that the makers of this show want to deal with issues of both children and parents. (the ‘e’ and the ‘i’ in Meira) If there are episodes titled ‘Bully’ and ‘Gender Bender’, there is also the ‘Tiger Mom’, and ‘Trust is Overrated’.
Each issue is taken and dropped within the 25 minutes allocated to it. Meira’s daughter starts using the boys washroom because she is beginning to resent her breasts. Meira’s explanation that growth is painful but eventually beautiful solves this, never to be brought up again. These are problems meant to spark intrigue, and they do- you begin to wonder where this will go. But a singular monologue seems to solve it, it is never allowed to spiral wildly; the desire for neat, closed circles triumphs.
Moreover, these issues that initially feel earnest, slide into the territory of the gimmicky. Sample this: Morea, who finds out his child has been molested, exclaims, “My daughter has been molested on your school premises”, followed by the peppy tune of the show’s end-credits asking you to come back to know more.
It’s the kind of show where characters in LuluLemons, yoga pants, sipping sugar-free cocktails spout unironically, “Privacy type ke American concepts mat sikhao.” It’s the kind of show where the background music doesn’t just prod, but demands for you to feel what is being shown- conflict, love, and joy, sometimes all in one scene, one background track after the other. It’s too loud, too suggestive, and tends to overshadow some of the earnest acting. (All the actors ham, but if you watch the episodes end-to-end, the hamming begins to feel organic, part of the universe of homemakers who sit around in Gucci off-shoulder dresses, stomping off from arguments into gin enclaves. Kapoor’s acting too grows along similar lines, the artifice either wears off, or begins to feel real) Scenes cut into and out of each other too fast; a lot happens all of a sudden. Tones change, characters soften, problems are introduced to then be solved, it’s the formulaic descendant of the Ekta Kapoor serial where moments are fixated upon, one close up after another. Is this evolution? Perhaps. But who cares, just keep watching.