Director: Debbie Rao, Ishaan Nair and Abi Varghese
Writer: Neel Shah and Ravi Patel, Nisha Kalra, Devashree Shivadekar
Cast: Swara Bhasker, Ravi Patel, Dolly Singh, Varun Thakur, and Girish Kulkarni
Producer: David Bernad, Ruben Fleischer, Seher Aly Latif, Shivani Saran
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Comparisons with The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, streaming on Amazon Prime, will be a dime a dozen, so perhaps it makes more sense to outline how Bhaag Beanie Bhaag, streaming on Netflix, treads its own course, even as it dangerously flirts with boredom and narrative contrivance. While the narrative arc- of using stand up comedy to resurrect one's life- might feel familiar, here things start off differently. Bindiya Akankshi Bhatnagar aka Beanie (Swara Bhasker) just wants to make jokes in public. The flashback sequence showing her reading joke books and creating simulations of them is what differentiates her from Mrs. Maisel. This MBA comic thinks she can feedback-form her way to fun. She doesn't want to be on stage to exorcize herself- her humour, at least initially, doesn't come from this space of immediacy and tragedy. It's only an act to make people laugh, and to be honest, like Beanie's mother, I didn't find her funny until her last climactic stand-up, which was itself an odd mix of motivation and humour.
Of course there is the part where Beanie's parents find out about her sex life by chancing upon her comedy act, much like how Mrs. Maisel's father is shocked by her stage performance describing sex, but the shock of the latter is so much more because the humour is so much more. I am sorry but sex in a (plush and mood-lit) public toilet just won't cut it as humour, unless you really are willing to jump off the deep end and go all out. This, Beanie, and the makers, both aren't willing to do. So this humdrum breeziness is what we are left with, a mediocre comic with massive ambitions. Can you imagine Masaba Masaba if she was a mediocre designer? That show hinged on her genius, and this show too should have hinged on Beanie's superlative comic timing.
There is smart writing peppered throughout, but smart doesn't cut it in a show that needed to be funny.
So, Beanie does stand-up to work through a bad day, but she never refers to the bad day on stage- the laughs she gets from her generic, prepared jokes seems to do the trick. But as the episodes progress, this spotlight catharsis involves her getting more impromptu, more radical, and even more funny. But again, the humour is never hysterical- it isn't designed to make you gag, but the kind you would laugh at loudly only if you watched it live, so the comic feels encouraged.
So for a show -6 episodes, 20 minutes each- that just wants to be breezy, it almost makes the cut. In the first episode we see Beanie leave her roka ceremony dressed in a pigeon gown gifted by her fiance's mother (Veere Di Wedding did this better, but to be fair, even that was shoddy), but she also leaves her fiance, and her job, to pursue a stand-up gig which she bombs. The episode plays out with an inertness so you are not expected to and thus don't feel any despair for Beanie. Everything is played out for caricature- her fiance who is designed to not listen to her, or read her obvious facial cues (Varun Thakur), her best friend who is an influencer (Dolly Singh), her father who is strict but soft (Girish Kulkarni), and her mother who is soft but strict (Mona Ambegaonkar). It all plays out for shits and giggles which would be okay if it had consistent humour propping it up. There are stretches that are just not funny or moving, and barely engaging. The whole couple's therapy for Beanie's parents is not just shoddy but too convenient a narrative trope- as viewers we can see through the lazy writing here, attempting to finish an arc, that should take a few episodes, within ten minutes. (Both Masaba Masaba and Bhaag Beanie Bhaag use therapy as a minefield for humour, but both spectacularly fail. Maybe it needs an Ethos to bring in a flesh and blood therapist, for the odd, black humour to stain.)
There is smart writing peppered throughout ("Jab family samosa vale ho toh salsa ke sapne nahin dekhne chahiye"), but smart doesn't cut it in a show that needed to be funny. The few-and-far-between bits that are funny involves the NRI comic Ravi Patel playing his namesake (He also co-wrote this show). He is funny because nothing about him feels prepared, and he wears his self-doubt on his sleeve. Whereas, there's something steely about Swara Bhasker which I fear is not a character trait, but an acting lacunae having seen this same steeliness in her Amazon Prime show Rasbhari and ErosNow's Flesh. Here too, you get a sense of this reticent but desperate to be outgoing figure that just feels too timid to do the impulsive things she does. You can't YOLO your way through life, the way you might do through some decisions. Well, unless you have a rich, influencer best friend like Beanie has, on whose plush couch you can crash- in which case, YOLO away.