Eternally Confused And Eager For Love is, pardon the pun, a cumming of age. The protagonist, Ray (Vihaan Samat), is a 24-year-old virgin, and the eight byte-sized episodes track his journey, from being able to articulate his virginity without too much shame, to recklessly masturbating to coconut ice-cream ads, to buying a condom of the right size, to, finally, swiping his V-card in, pardon the pun, an anticlimactic swell.
It is also, if you want to be sincere alongside the smut, a coming of age. Ray has an inner voice — Jim Sarbh — who with a lacerating comic density is his buddy, his boy, his bro, his boo, and his burden. Sometimes he tells him which side of the condom to roll out — odd, given that he is an inner voice and is not supposed to know more than Ray does — sometimes he plays bad cop, sometimes sad cop.
Together they chart this world of romantic missteps and foot-in-the-mouth disease, with a close childhood friend (Dalai) and a colleague (Ankur Rathee) whose physical proximity begins to feel like close friendship. Can colleagues become, then remain friends? Dates and lovers swing by. Some stick, some stain, some storm off.
Written and directed by Rahul Nair, Eternally Confused And Eager For Love — a mouthful of a name for such a petite show — is a tale of Bandra Boy Blues. It is such an insular and specific world, that you cannot even fault the show for being insular and specific. Nair is merely being honest about the world he has chosen as his canvas. Take a look at the roster of names — Sid, Sonali, Pari Khanna, Pari Mirchandani, Akshay, Naina, Ruchika, Pushpa, Rhea, Varun, Arjun, Komal, Mohit, Lalit. What is conspicuous is what is absent. The name Ray, though, has a lovely, friendly lilt. When a friend says, "I know everyone, Ray" it can also be registered as "I know everyone, re", which somehow makes the friendship feel more broken-in, kind, and thoughtless.
There is a belief that the more specific you get, the more universal your appeal will be. The assumption here is that honesty and vitality will always be recognizable, viscerally felt, even if the context is unfamiliar, so as a filmmaker, trust your world, don't explain it, express it. In Eternally Confused And Eager To Love, at least the first few world-building episodes, there is this admirable conviction to not broaden the charm and distill a specific experience into a universal moral.
These episodes are a masterclass in dialogue writing — whip-smart, casual, provocative, yet with a conscience. There is some apologetic progressive thought here, making a clear distinction between being awkward and being a dick. Take the scene where Ray goes on a blind date and finds out that the girl is fat. His immediate instinct is to fake a visit to the toilet, and then make a run for it. But the inner voice, now doubling down as the voice of conscience, intervenes, "How do you account for being that self conscious and this shallow at the same time?" It is sharp, not moralistic, not lending itself to a lesson, but merely expressing the hypocrisy of the moment with a rhetorical stab.
But soon this sweetness of the first few episodes gives way to something more raucous, more exaggerated, more escalating, more ridiculous. As if sweetness isn't enough, and the gauche life of a gauche man-boy isn't enough.
The world begins to feel too narratively neat, it makes every exchange feel like a set-up to a joke whose pay-off will come later, something that will escalate down the scenes. A small, innocent anecdote by Ray about how, at night, if he is behind a woman he tries to overtake her, so she doesn't feel stalked, isn't allowed to float around as a specific, nutty character detail. Similarly, Ray asking the cleaning staff of his office her name refuses to remain an innocent exchange, where the guilt of the privileged overcompensates itself as curiosity. Every small detail must be used, so both of these set-ups tumble into an odd scene with Ray ending up in jail with a black eye. The grounded sweetness is swapped for an oddball, logically convenient comedy that doesn't work because of its insistence on edge and humour.
This world soon begins to feel like a bubble that seems unaware of another world taking shape outside of it. The loss of a job isn't catastrophic, hacking at one's self-worth, the existence of a jail record isn't worrying.
Parallel to this tonal shift, the show builds up characters not knowing what to do with them, dispensing off with their presence in odd sub-plots, including believing that one's father's heart attack could be caused by a curse. A really silly story comes and goes by the wayside, with Ray's Japanese CEO's daughter who sends provocative pictures to Ray over a dating app, because, in a Freudian slip of sex, she wants to fuck one of her dad's employees. That story, too, leaves behind an odd, half-baked aftertaste, as though the show did not know what they wanted to say, an arbitrariness that feels incomplete.
Jim Sarbh's voiceover, which perfectly captures the inescapable chaos of a mind that is unintentionally tripping you up with questions, doubts, counters, ifs, buts, cheerleading you into hell, is such a masterful reworking of the voice-over as the manifestation of millennial anxiety. It is too much and too relentless and too observant and too witty-in-the-head, like that lightbulb that switches on in the shower with a comeback for last night's insult hurled at you. The grating quality of this voiceover is indistinguishable from the grating quality of being that person, trying to tell your mind to shut up, when it just won't stop revving.
A lot of the socializing in this show happens at swanky bars and loud clubs and polished restaurants in and around Bandra. Cinema, literature, theater, music don't seem to make much of a peek. Doesn't art still the mind? When we see Ray open his laptop, it is to watch porn or to work on Excel sheets in a job that is fetched from his parents' connections. When music plays, it is from Zoya Akhtar's films, or pop music — both played on the dance floor. The only people who seem to be reading are Ray's parents, Rahul Bose and Suchitra Pillai, who have such a quirky, antagonistic chemistry, they must be having wild sex. (XL condom size, we are told.)
This world soon begins to feel like a bubble that seems unaware of another world taking shape outside of it. The loss of a job isn't catastrophic, hacking at one's self-worth, the existence of a jail record isn't worrying. There is no hint of which "age" Ray's coming of age is taking place in. The newspaper being read by Ray's father is fictional. There is no puncturing of the rhythms of this world with things that happen outside it. There is no Twitter, and while people are constantly shown on the phone, what are they doing, thinking? Again, to be fair, to be clear, this seems more of a critique of the world than the show that world partakes in, so seamless is that difference. But even as the writers recognize that this world might not be enough for drama, concocting contorting situations as bizarre as the next, they refuse to unsettle the social diktats of the world itself. No, because that would be too radical, too reckless. Instead, in this world, there is no desperation, no anger, no extreme reaction except a perpetual hum of self-loathing. That is enough, I guess, to be relatable across borders.