Director: Aakanksha Dua
Writers: Akshay Asthana, Aakanksha Dua, Nidhi Bisht, Mayank Pandey, Nikhil Sachan, Saurabh Khanna
Cast: Supriya Pathak, Manoj Pahwa, Chakori Dwivedi, Poojan Chhabra, Happy Ranajit
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
You can take the team out of TVF, but you can’t take TVF out of the team. Home Shanti – a six-episode series about what else but a middle-class North Indian family – is not (officially) a The Viral Fever (TVF) show. But it comes from Posham Pa Pictures, a production company started by the original TVF gang. As someone covering the Hindi web scene from the time TVF became the famous first movers, I was happy to see familiar names like Biswapati Sarkar, Nidhi Bisht, Amit Golani, Sameer Saxena and Saurabh Khanna in the end credits of Home Shanti. These are creators who legitimised the Indian web landscape long before the studios followed. It felt strangely reassuring to see these names, too. Because Home Shanti is what happens when Gullak goes back to school – and I didn’t want to accuse the makers of “aping” the TVF formula. I even heard the words qisse and kahaani in one of the climactic voice-overs. At least these voice-overs are delivered by a human poet character, not a smug clay piggy-bank.
The middle-class-family-comedy fatigue is real. The banter, chemistry, humour, transitions and conflict-resolution templates are so neatly packaged that you can nearly hear the Tinkle-comics beats. Just like its small-town-dramedy counterparts in films, Home Shanti lacks the flow and instinct that, over the years, have been commodified by texture-heavy writing. This series lacks the craft of Gullak as well, with the Joshi family in Dehradun reduced to situations, feelings and an annoying sound-cue-filled background score. The feel-good resolutions at the end of every episode arrive with the punctuality of monthly salaries. In the first episode, for instance, we see the daughter Jigyaasa (Chakori Dwivedi) trying to get out of a bhumi pujan commitment because she’s planned a camping trip with her friends. In the end, all it takes is the sight of a deflated parent for Jigyaasa to get a phone-call from her friend and declare: Camping can wait, it’s a big day for the Joshi family! Her transformation is too easy, and too simplistic in how it’s designed to extract the lump from our throats. Ditto for an episode where her brother grows a conscience and refuses to rat her out to their parents, or when a high-ranking government official turns out to be the mother’s old student, or when the workers building the Joshi house agree to do an overnight shift because of how honest the family is.
It’s all very saccharine, and reminds me of those ‘90s Bollywood dramas that close with a shot of the whole family laughing and joking together. I’m all for everyday narratives, but they need to have a sense of rhythm and personality. Home Shanti is too derived and stagey, curated from years of pandering to an audience that refuses to tell the difference between ordinary storytelling and stories about ordinary people. Introducing a pandit with his own startup called hawankarenge.com was quirky back in 2015, but not anymore. Introducing an architect who’s basically a pretentious artist with a quasi-European outlook of life used to be cool in internet skits, but not anymore.
It’s a pity, because the concept of centering a series on the building of a dream home is a smart one. It’s not just the readymade theme – where every episode is set against the backdrop of different stages of construction. You can also see the family members strive towards both an ending and a (new) beginning at once. You can see the parents torn between the identities of occupying and owning. Despite the clunky writing, I like the composition of the family. Sarla Joshi (Supriya Pathak) is the primary breadwinner: a school vice-principal whose impending retirement means that the family must build their own home before vacating their government quarters. Her husband, Umesh (Manoj Pahwa), is a poet who isn’t confident enough to monetise his talent. It’s nice to see a plot of land in the first episode turn into a full-blown bungalow by the sixth – with problems like budgets, government permits, interior designing, raw material and name plates revealing the journey of the Joshi family. I particularly enjoyed the recurring role of the contractor (a perfectly cast Happy Ranajit), a local hustler who becomes a part of the family in those three months.
With veteran actors like Supriya Pathak and Manoj Pahwa – who recently played mother and son in Seema Pahwa’s charming Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi – you’d think it’s hard to go wrong. But Home Shanti somehow fluffs its privileges, and seems too hard-headed about how the characters should appear rather than how the actors should perform them. Some episodes are more watchable than the others, like the one where Umesh meets his idol who in turn gives the reticent poet a chance to perform on stage. Or the one where Sarla decides to do up the house on her own to save them some money. These are authentic middle-class conflicts, where something like GST on a bill tends to hurt more than the mammoth purchase of land. But again, the shiny wrapping paper and ribbons holding every episode together make the endings look like Asian Paints ads. Even the marital spats try too hard to be sweet and profound. Eventually, the series looks at life the way tourists look at Dehradun. Home Shanti is where the heart is, but the body is too busy clicking sunset selfies.