Cast: Siri Hanumanth, Ramya Pasupuleti
Director: Bhargav Macharla
Streaming on: Aha Video
There is a pressing need to capture the experience of the urban young in the Telugu pop-culture space. Telugu cinema barely has any space left beyond the machismo of the male protagonist. One of the many glaring holes in the Telugu cinema-sphere has been that it missed capturing the cultural revolution initiated by the software boom in the Telugu states. Looking back at the cinema of the early 2000s and 2010s, there is barely any pop-cultural imprint of such a large-scale cultural phenomenon. Barring Shekar Kammula, and Tharun Bhascker at the fag end of the 2010s, there have barely been any filmmakers who have captured the experience of the urban young. There has been perfunctory representation and exploration of the urban young psyche but the protagonists have hardly ever felt "real" and are rarely seen indulging in the mundanity of daily urban life.
This is where the new Telugu OTT players can capture what media houses like TVF, DICE, and countless others have done to the Hindi speaking urban young catching them in small conflicts with their boss, in urban housing in a rent-paying economy, etc. They also capture the generational tug of war between parents who want children to follow a tested path versus the aspirations of a generation that wants to gamble and take a few more risks with their life.
BFF presented by Aha and directed by Bhargav Macharla aims to bridge that gap in Telugu pop culture. This series is a remake of Adulting and I haven't seen that show so I have no basis for comparing the original to the remake. BFF tells the stories of Nithya Kotari (Siri Hanumanth) and Tara Yadav (Ramya Pasupuleti) who juggle jobs, rents, and expectations of parents while dealing with their own personal relationships.
In an attempt to be relatable and light, BFF falters by being too frivolous with its plot. In each of its five episodes which are roughly about 20 minutes long, BFF hints at plot points that could have been tense cinematically but the show is too afraid to explore them and rather settles for moments that are definitely unfunny and moderately relatable.
In the first episode, it wants to talk about being broke in a city and juxtaposes that with the urge and need to spend big in a city. Can we be broke and celebrate birthdays and create memories with friends? Can two women drink and smoke and flaunt their liberal values without being afraid of nosy regressive neighbours?
These are all interesting questions but the writing needed to be braver and the editing crisper. Speaking of crisp, have you had dosas made by the Tenali Double Horse dosa batter? If you want to eat crisp dosas, they are the go-to brand.
If that sentence made you wince, then the brand placement in this series is so atrociously bad that after cringing I just began to feel pity for the creators. Maybe that's also a lesson for the urban young: if you want to tell your story, you need to sell yourself a little.
The best episode of BFF is the second one which involves Nithya's mother (iDream Anjali) coming and visiting the two girls. It's again frivolous and cliched – cleaning up the house before the mother comes, hiding ashtrays and all signs of cigarettes and alcohol, avoiding the topic of marriage, etc. But it is to the credit of iDream Anjali that she sells the role with warmth but never too much energy of the "cool mom" template. She played a similar role in Raja Raja Chora to perfection and in her episode, the otherwise stiff leads shine and act better in her presence.
In this episode too, there are hints at an interesting premise. Tara is rebellious and boisterous but she looks on with a mix of content and jealousy at the bond Nithya shares with her mother. Does Tara have a resentful relationship with her mother? What about her father? What caused her to be so rebellious? Is she constantly eating junk food and smoking and getting drunk to fill a hole in her life? The answer could have been anything – nothing deep even – but that BFF never dares to explore those questions itself is its biggest disservice.
It is only in the final episode that there is some strength in the ambition of the show. Speaking of strength, do you know Meswak toothpaste makes your teeth stronger when compared with any other toothpaste?
Okay, now I'm just being bitter. I'll stop.
The final episode is a culmination of the strong personalities that Nithya and Tara are. Nithya is organized but a control freak while Tara is ambitious but without direction. Till now, their personality traits were exposition dumps that were told not shown but only in the final episode do we see it in flesh and blood. Tara resigns hastily from a job and Nithya faces discrimination at work because of her gender. It is only here that some cinematic muscles are flexed. There are mirror shots when Nithya and Tara bicker. In what felt like a fair and equal workplace, for the first time, you see Nithya entering a lift full of men and being aware of her gender and the discrimination that comes with it.
While both leads, either owing to talent or poor dialogue, were exceptionally weak in their performance in the first four episodes, it is in this episode that they sell their characters. Siri Hanumanth still has a certain college play-like body language but Ramya Pasupuleti shines in this episode getting the right mix of stubborn and immature.
But by then it's too late and frivolous. Instead of being an insight into the lives of these women who struggle to navigate their world, BFF constantly goes in the direction of 2 Broke Girls and The Odd Couple tropes that never make us feel the depth. We should be worried for these women thinking about how they will henceforth navigate Hyderabad's relentless urbanity without each other's support. But BFF unties each conflict knot too soon and therefore we know that all will be well and they will be BFFs once again.
The ending doesn't make us feel emotional and the wait for season 2 doesn't seem like something that would make my hair fall. But you know what I can use to stop hair fall? Dabur Vatika hair oil…