Director: Sathish Chandrasekaran
Cast: Sacchin Nachiappan, Samyuktha Viswanathan, Saranya Ravichandran
Engga Hostel has some of the most meaningful dialogues for a show that is about a half-baked yet precious part of our lives — hostel friendships. “If you think hostels are a place where we sing songs about friendships, you’re wrong.”
The reality, we’re told, is much uglier and complicated, yet invaluable. The Amazon Prime Video campus comedy is filled with such surprising nuggets of depth, mirroring its hit original Hostel Daze in parts. But instead of adding to its screenplay, the profound dialogues often stick out, in what is otherwise an unremarkable caricature of the source material.
The premise is pretty straightforward — a group of young men, Ajay, Senthil and Pandian, new roommates and future BFFs, find themselves in the dingy, sex-crazed hallways of their engineering college. And standing in their way is Chitthapu, a repulsive, self-anointed reigning campus king, who spends his time watching porn, roughhousing juniors, and bootlegging cigarettes. Ragging ensues and in its course, brings a few closer together, and pulls away a few others. The problem isn’t in its premise, which is an accurate portrayal of hostel life, thorns and all. But it is in the uninspired writing.
For a show that speaks a lot about finding your footing in an unnerving phase of your life, Engga Hostel has one-note caricatures in place of complex, lived-in characters. Senthil is a kind-hearted Malayali who speaks in a heavily accented Tamil that often offends and frustrates. Ajay is a boy-next-door who is caught in a love triangle of sorts, Pandian (a sweet Dravid Selvam) is a fill-in for a village simpleton, and Chitthapu is a slacker who mouths every line with an expletive. Even if the women (Ahaana and Rajathilagam are roommates who bond over the idiocy of college men) are better written, even if slightly rushed, the show hardly goes beyond these one-liner descriptions, rendering its comedy flat. The actors (Chu Khoy Sheng, in particular, plays a lovely outsider in the hostel who dreams of fitting in one day) who give sincere performances are often let down by a kind of writing that fails to understand the complexities of the college generation that is often dazed and confused.
And what a shame, too, because the show sits on some unexplored campus territory. For one, it sets out to detail the curious minds of adolescents with a matter-of-factly sex-positive tone that is refreshing on paper. Take for instance the conversation between two women casually discussing the hushed-up fate of female pleasure and the male gaze that mainstream porn caters to, as they are watching porn. In another scene we see a man wearing lipstick and a woman doing welding in class, questioning gender order. But these reformist ideas in the show are about as unexplored as the female sexual pleasure that the girls vent about.