“Mujhe na jhooth bolne main bada mazaa aata hai (I get immense joy from lying),” says Maya (Samridhi Dewan), the protagonist of Good Bad Girl and a lawyer who doesn’t hesitate to lie, cheat and bargain her way out of trouble. Streaming shows have seen their share of female-led shows, but it’s rare to meet a heroine who is as unapologetic about herself as Maya. Just for that showrunners Chaitally Parmar and Vikas Bahl (who is back in the public eye after being hastily cleared of charges of sexual harassment) deserve credit. Unfortunately, as the show progresses, both the plot and Maya squander their potential.
Over the course of nine episodes, we see Maya representing a client seeking divorce in a case that twists itself out of shape while Maya’s moral ambiguity escalates to something resembling villainy. It begins well. The first two episodes of Good Bad Girl combine the serious with the breezy to deliver storytelling that’s whimsical in a good way. Maya discovers that she has a lump in her breast, which may or may not be cancerous (she refuses to get what the oncologist calls “a mast sa biopsy”). When her boss threatens to fire Maya, she lies and says she has cancer. Not only does this save her job, but the lie showers benefits on Maya: House rent allowance, medical reimbursements and other goodies that you’d hope would be the norm, but are rarely granted to the average worker (thanks, capitalism). Meanwhile, Maya has an arch-nemesis at work, Sahil (Vaibhav Raj Gupta), who is suspicious of her sudden victimhood and doesn’t appreciate the benefits she’s scored as a result of her cancer diagnosis. Their back-and-forth serves to point out how ungenerously we scrutinise anyone we think is getting undue favour. In a hilarious scene, Sahil says, “Normal toh dikh rahi hai yeh (She looks normal to me).” To which Maya pulls an exaggeratedly anxious face and whines, “Fataak se ganji ho jaungi kya? (Will I go bald immediately?)”
Secure as she is in her fortress of lies and facades, the moments when Maya does seem to let her guard down are when she sends texts to her father, who has blocked her. The way these messages are used feels reminiscent of Fleabag, one of the most beloved anti-heroes of our time, when the protagonist breaks the fourth wall and uses the audience as her confidant. Maya’s messages to her father are the closest she comes to honest communication. She has nobody else to talk – or confess – to, but instead of using this device to build a sense of communion with the audience, writers Tahira Nath and Nikhil Arora drop it in the third episode. As a result, the only window into Maya’s inner world is shut and we get little sense of whether she is struggling with guilt or if she fears she might truly be turning into a “bad girl” while going on to do outlandish things like, for example, setting an office on fire.
Some of the most compelling parts of Good Bad Girl are in the flashbacks to Maya’s childhood, when she grew up painfully middle-class, tormented by rich mean girls and their snide remarks. When she spots a middle-aged uncle stealing bras off a clothesline, a young Maya (Aradhya Ajana) dons rose-tinted glasses – quite literally – and turns a blind eye in return for a fat bar of chocolate. Instead of helping her see what’s invisible, her red shades — an ode to Mr. India — help her unsee what she has witnessed, for a price. In another memorable scene, Maya, fed up with an uptight cousin’s comments about her ‘old’ birthday dress, defiantly pees on the cousin’s dress. Her small-town insecurity grows when she moves to Pune for college and the rich kids leave Maya starry-eyed. Wealth and the power that it brings becomes Maya’s obsession and we’re shown early hints of her moral ambivalence. When her family discovers she’s been earning money through phone sex, she keeps saying “Main gandi ladki nahi hoon (I’m not a dirty girl)”, hinting at a complexity that the show doesn’t fully explore. At multiple junctions, Maya faces imminent downfall, something that would lead to much more than the loss of a job; it would mean the loss of her dignity. Invariably, these tense moments are resolved through convenient writing that only serves to make her character less interesting.
Director Abhishek Sengupta’s Good Bad Girl introduces us to a heroine who is a fascinating mix of charm and immorality as she navigates her way through a world of cut-throat ambition and class politics. There’s an honest attempt to marry its dark subjects with humour, much like in dark comedies like Rupert Grint’s Sick Note or Vanessa Bayer’s I Love That For You. But this show’s potential becomes mired in conflicts that feel repetitive and an emotional core that weakens with every progressive episode. It’s still watchable, thanks to the clever premise and its cast. Sheeba Chadha and Rajendra Sethi as the frustrated parents of a curious child, Sohum Majumdar as Maya’s charming oncologist, Ajana as Maya’s younger version and Dewan who gives Maya a sleazy insolence — they will all stay with you long after you’re done lamenting about Good Bad Girl’s meandering plot and wasted potential.
What is the point of showing a character who is almost unhinged by her ambition if you can’t reveal her motivation properly? What is the point of revealing the darker facets of your protagonist if you can’t turn them into an anti-hero and instead flatten them out to be a basic bad girl? In Good Bad Girl, Maya’s lie grows from a desperate measure into an all-out revelling of evil. The inner world we glimpsed in the first episode – the one of a fearful adult with loud coping mechanisms – is lost. With each successive twist in the tale, one feels less for this woman caught up in the web of her own lies. Even though her actions become more unhinged, there isn’t any fear that she’s turning into a psychotic antagonist who may go to any lengths to get what she wants. All we have is a show that seems to have lost sight of what its protagonist really wants.