Director: Raju Bhandari Rajavartha
Cast: Kiran Raj, Pavitra Kotian, Baby Shravya Acharya, Shriharsha
The objective of Jeevnane Natka Samy is to educate the viewer that reality shows, even those featuring children, are manipulated by commercial interests. It’s hard to pin its story down because it tries to be many things: It’s about the experiences of Akash (Kiran Raj) and Suchitra (Pavitra Kotian) when their daughter Adhithi (Baby Shravya Acharya) takes part in a reality show. There’s another narrative thread that introduces a ventriloquist, Santhosh (Shriharsha), for the sole purpose of establishing that Santhosh is the happier of the two as he is content. And finally, we also get unfunny parodies of reality shows. None of the three threads work because of the film’s repetitiveness.
Throughout the film, director Raju Bhandari Rajavartha employs a three-step method to make every point: 1. present a scene, 2. have a character in the scene sum the point of the whole scene with a dialogue before the scene ends, and finally, 3. add a voiceover to spell out everything that happened just now, along with a poetic moral. For example, when Akash wakes up in the middle of the night, sweating, looking like he’s had a bad dream, a voiceover tells us that life is a lonely journey. When he gets a call that Adhithi has been selected for a reality show, he smiles broadly and hangs up the phone. Instead of trusting us to know that this means that Akash is happy, a voiceover tells us: this transition from darkness to happiness brought Akash joy. When Akash goes to meet a friend to share the good news, a voiceover tails along and helpfully observes: Akash is going to meet his friend, Ajay, to share the good news. You can understand Jeevnane Natka Samy with your eyes closed.
This repetition of information can be fatal for satire. Take for instance the scene where a judge in a children’s reality show has to attend an international seminar on protecting children against cruelty (when the show he’s a part of pressures kids to perform). Because he’s in a hurry to catch a flight, he records his comments even before the performances. Instead of just letting the viewer detect and enjoy the irony, the anchor of the show smirks knowingly, and a child sums up the scene with a dialogue at the end: we got our results before the exams. The satire is robbed of its sting by the spelling out.
Some of the comedy in the film is just plain distasteful: a man’s dhoti is stripped away by children for laughs, loose stools are compared to kesari bath, a judge in a reality show comes dressed in shorts over which she drapes a saree and this accidentally gets exposed—it’s not clear why any of these jokes are funny.
But what’s funny is how the film thinks that merely caricaturing reality shows is the same as impactful satire. The film cynically mocks TV channel CEOs, reality show producers, directors and judges, parents of participating children and even schools that try to profit from childrens’ talents. But none of these people feel real as there’s no nuance: A school board member spells it out in a dialogue that reality shows are the best way to increase student intake – and profits. The show’s director has nothing on his mind except increasing TRPs and taking bribes from participants. You’d buy into what’s shown in Jeevnane Natka Samy only if you were prejudiced that literally everyone in the reality show business is unscrupulous.
For the totally naive who think that everything that happens on a reality show is actually real, Jeevnane Natka Samy might offer something interesting. But even then, it’s a big information dump with little semblance of storytelling. The one redeeming point in the film are the child actors. They brilliantly perform traditional dances and skits that self-reflectively comment on what’s happening in the film. For example, a scene of discord between Akash and Suchitra is followed by children enacting an episode from the Mahabharata that talks about how good and bad is based on perception.
And just when you begin to warm up to an intelligent fusion of a mythological past with a modern reality show, there’s a voiceover to remind you that this is exactly what the film is trying to do: Some of the skits of the reality show became moonlight to the darkness of Akash’s mind. The only bit of nuance in the film is marred; sometimes, Jeevnane Natka Samy doesn’t trust the viewer to even get basic things.
And of course, the film ends with a voiceover that says: good stories keep crashing on us. In Jeevanane Natka Samy, it’s actually many little episodes crashing into each other to make a chaotic story.