Director: Shreya Dhanwanthary
Cast: Shreya Dhanwanthary, Amol Parashar, Sunny Hinduja, Sharib Hashmi
Streaming on: Eros Now
For some reason, the moment I heard about a web series being produced in quarantine, I expected it to be set entirely on computer screens and smartphones. I envisioned a chatroom tale, or something like an Unfriended or a Searching but on a smaller, simpler, happier scale. This is a better time than any to introduce a new medium of digital storytelling in India – and one born out of necessity rather than gimmickry. But A Viral Wedding – a micro-series about a young social media influencer who decides to continue with her wedding despite Lockdown 1.0 – is satisfied to introduce a new way of life instead of a new genre of filmmaking. Despite its enterprise, it remains infuriatingly modest.
Written and directed by Shreya Dhanwanthary, who also stars as Nisha across eight mini-episodes, A Viral Wedding is shot by each of the actors themselves in their own houses, and remotely assembled to flesh out a frothy, feel-good premise that might have otherwise found a fleeting mention on John Krasinski’s Some Good News (SGN). Only, unlike uplifting real-world clips, the composition is visible and distracting. Some of the show unfurls over video calls and Instagram Lives, but the rest of it is despairingly conventional. The characters, too, reflect this strangely sterile ambition: There’s the supportive boyfriend (Amol Parashar), the paternal big brother (Sunny Hinduja), the excitable gay friend (Aritro Banerjee), the excitable best friend (Aishwarya Chaudhary) and the “progressive” pandit who tries too hard (Sharib Hashmi).
Yet, even for what it aspires to be, A Viral Wedding is far from fulfilling. If nothing, it sets the ball rolling.
Any film or show made in these times runs the risk of being judged for its audacity over its art. A Viral Wedding, by virtue of merely existing, stands for the spirit of creation. It stands for restless minds and resourcefulness and determination and cheekiness and all the sort of underdog things that inform the miracle of modern collaboration. But just like social-message movies can’t get by on intent alone, a lockdown series deserves more than being defined by its off-screen circumstances. Given that the logistical challenges of production were always going to be the USP, I can’t quite understand why the writing didn’t aim higher. For a show that is physically brave, the form is surprisingly safe. It presents urban Mumbaikars flimsily coming to terms with the pandemic, fretting about first-world problems but also making sure we notice how they keep checking their own privilege (“I know some people can’t reach their homes but…”) – an annoyingly retrospective gaze that seems more interested in depicting how people should have behaved rather than how they actually did. There’s a political correctness about their behaviour that feels at odds with the emotional ambiguity of a global pandemic.
At one point, Nisha launches into a monologue about social media being a saviour rather than a deterrent. At another, her brother delivers a pained monologue to his wife about the pressures of being the only adult-adult in his family. Due to the limitations of filming, these “normal” static shots resemble awkward spy-camera footage instead of slice-of-life moments; the quirk rarely lands, the spunk seldom inspires. All through, I couldn’t help but imagine what might have been. An app-based love story, a Twitter-based divorce drama, a WhatAapp family comedy, an indoor marriage thriller…there is no dearth of ideas. Yet, even for what it aspires to be, A Viral Wedding is far from fulfilling. If nothing, it sets the ball rolling. Filming has a new meaning. It’s tough. But impossible is nothing. There’s no hurry. We have all year, at the very least.