Director: Rohan Sippy
Writers: Anvita Dutt, Althea Kaushal, Purva Naresh
Cast: Huma Qureshi, Avantika Dassani, Rajit Kapoor, Samir Soni, Parambrata Chaterjee
Cinematographer: Anuja Rakesh Dhawan, Siddharth Vasani
Streaming on: ZEE5
Do you want to know my pettest of pet peeves? (If the answer is No, too late). It’s when two characters decide to meet at a place, but don’t mention a time. Something in me dies when I think about when exactly they plan to meet – is it immediately after the phone call? An hour later? Evening? Night? Are they telepathic? This happens in the final episode of Mithya, a six-part murder mystery/psychological thriller/family drama that wants to be all but ends up being none. By then, the mediocre series had already numbed me into submission, so my mind started picking on these random quirks for the heck of it. Because by then, a premise that began as a familiar psychotic-student-stalking-pretty-teacher trope had morphed into what can best be described as Gehraiyaan gone wrong. The similarities are uncanny. For those who already think Gehraiyaan was done wrong, Mithya becomes the timely example of how not to tell a story of infidelity, murder, murky memories, confessions, generational trauma and two troubled women connected by unreliable men. Or, in other words, how not to write about humans.
Mithya is based in Darjeeling, Hindi cinema’s foggy stand-in for Ooty to justify the inclusion of two-timing Bengali characters or intellectual cops. Juhi (Huma Qureshi) is a Hindi literature professor at a college, where she clashes with a “modern” student (wears chokers, speaks in a smoky drawl, shows intent) named Rhea (Avantika Dassani) over a plagiarism incident. Juhi thinks Rhea has lifted her latest essay from somewhere – she doesn’t know where – because spoilt brat Rhea doesn’t look capable of writing such chaste Hindi. This conflict soon spirals into no (wo)man’s land, when Juhi’s beloved cat (named Bhaisaab) is found killed outside her gate. It needs to be mentioned here that who else but Parambrata Chaterjee plays Neel, Juhi’s shifty husband who gets seduced by young Rhea in a heartbeat over single malt and sadboi hours, and whose murder forms the core of this convoluted whodunnit narrative. Every episode of Mithya opens with a black-and-white student-film-style scene of Juhi and Rhea taunting each other across a glass partition in prison – both are wearing a white kurta, so the idea is to keep the viewer guessing between the criminal and the visitor. It’s a bad idea, reminiscent of the half-face partition metaphor in Srijit Mukherjee’s Begum Jaan.
Episodes 5 and 6 are essentially an hour of people telling other people about who they really are. The exposition is so bereft of technique and imagination that it’s surprising to see Rohan Sippy credited as director. There are other fundamental flaws capable of scaring away a viewer within the first episode. The brief for the grating background score, for instance, seems to be: compose the exact opposite of what a scene feels like. An electric guitar scores a husband-wife argument, and so on. Not to mention the volume of the music, which drowns out every other line spoken on screen. Then there’s Rhea’s “hostel room” which looks like a mountain retreat Airbnb ad, the asexual chemistry between every man and woman in the story, the quasi-Aranyak atmosphere and, last but not least, the end of every episode centered on cops going about their less-than-convincing investigation. (It’s a golden period for K.C. Shankar though, the actor who plays the lead inspector – this is his third title in quick succession after he played Taapsee Pannu’s father in Looop Lapeta and Vishwesh Mathur in Rocket Boys).
The performances are as competent as the film-making. Huma Qureshi is progressively miscast as a Hindi teacher, a tense woman, a suffering wife and a jolted daughter. Parambrata Chaterjee is too familiar as the sheepish partner, Samir Soni is as Samir Soni as possible, veteran Rajit Kapoor adds some colour to a woefully plotted mess, and debutant Avantika Dassani un-steals the show by playing Rhea as a glorified ‘90s vamp. She is far from menacing as the manipulative student and lost daughter. Negative roles are a good way to make a splash, but they can also go frightfully wrong if the craft of the series/film lacks conviction. The face-off between Rhea and Juhi is stilted and unnecessary because this shouldn’t have been a murder mystery to begin with. And for those wondering why Gehraiyaan didn’t have clearer flashbacks and a more defined Deepika Padukone character, Mithya is a sobering cautionary tale about what that might have looked like. It lacks nuance, sensitivity, sensibility, depth and emotional ambiguity. While some shows are forgotten the moment they end, I forgot about Mithya while watching it. Until, of course, two characters decide to meet at Sunrise cafe without mentioning a time. I looked at my watch for the next 30 minutes, before realizing I haven’t worn a watch since 2004.