Gullak 4 Review: This TVF series has run its course

The show is streaming on SonyLIV.
Gullak 4 Review: This TVF series has run its course
Gullak 4 Review: This TVF series has run its course

Creator: Shreyansh Pandey

Writer: Vidit Tripathi
Cast: Jameel Khan, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vaibhav Raj Gupta, Harsh Mayar, Sunita Rajwar

Streaming on: SonyLIV

The year is 2066. An air taxi picks me up from a cardio-reparation chamber in Mars; my ailing 80-year-old body settles in for the hour-long ride home. I swipe the oxygen to summon a transparent plasma screen to ‘review’ an AI-generated romcom. Deadlines must be met. A humanoid will edit my copy. Stuck in a traffic jam in Earth’s stratosphere – the clouds have potholes again – the screen suddenly loses its intergalactic signal. An underground trailer for Season 28 of Gullak appears. The same radio-like voiceover of a wise old piggy bank. The same narrative inertia posing as unremarkable middle-class life. The same nameless town. The same Mishra family – the two sons are grandfathers now and the parents are chilling in cryogenic chambers (designed to look like vintage water tanks). The same home (now a cluttered zero-gravity apartment). The same banter. The same sameness. 

The taxi driver winks at me. This show is supposed to be soothing, an antidote to the algorithmic ways of long-form dramas. But for some reason, I’m irritated. The plasma screen disintegrates. I mumble things like “middle-class is not the same as nostalgia” and “old is not always gold”. He is not impressed.

This remains my growing grievance with Gullak. Actually, it’s with most TVF shows these days (The release of Gullak 4 is sandwiched between Panchayat 3 and Kota Factory 3). Even their real world looks like an escape from the real world. Being static and vignette-ish is not a flex anymore. Erasing the darkness and cultural nuances from settings like studenthood, middle-class familyhood and rural India is not a flex anymore. Celebrating averageness often comes at the cost of neglecting its struggles. The iterations of nothing are the point, but the point feels increasingly empty. 

Gullak 4 on SonyLIV
Gullak 4 on SonyLIV

Meet the Mishras, Again

Either you watch familiar characters live for a few hours every year or you get distracted by the chores you’re actually doing while Gullak plays in the background. I’m in the latter category now. Gullak 4 is five more episodes of the Mishras – parents Santosh (Jameel Khan) and Shanti (Geetanjali Kulkarni), older son Anu (Vaibhav Raj Gupta) and younger son Aman (Harsh Mayar) – simply existing. At least Season 3 tried to be disruptive; the father had a major health scare and the frame rates were on fire in the closing scenes. But this time, it’s just more nosy piggy-bank wisdom (otherwise known as “gyaan”) masquerading as natural progression. I spent more time distracted by the bedbug infestation in my house – a plotline I'm surprised Gullak hasn't made an episode on yet.

One episode revolves around a corrupt municipal officer so that the voice-over can intellectualize the difference between a bribe giver and a bribe taker. Another revolves around a chain-snatching incident so that it can school us about the difference between ‘stealing’ and ‘snatching’ (You guessed it: Financial damage v/s psychological damage). The few nice touches – like the male Mishras’ concerns for Shanti morphing into casual patriarchy – are undone by the preachy tone. Another revolves around the decluttering of the house (the scrap dealer who watches the family bicker is played by Amarjeet Singh, the iconic plumber from Kapoor & Sons) so that the voice-over can ruminate on middle-class belongings and memories. At other points, the piggy-bank breaks character to use Hinglish terms like adulting and parenting, closing out an episode with an engineer-who-reads-philosophy line like “Middle-class people are their own trauma and therapy”. Basically, the voice-over has such a quarter-bar-wisdom, seen-it-all vibe that it’s hard to watch a scene on your own terms. While the voice-over’s repetitive use of the term ‘middle-class’ could make for a great drinking game, it disrupts the viewer’s agency. 

Gullak 4 on SonyLIV
Gullak 4 on SonyLIV

Channelling Rocket Singh

The broader arc of Gullak 4 features the very forced conflict of Aman, the cub in the family, growing up. I like that it’s nothing too overt: He crushes on a girl, writes a love letter, finds an erotic novel, steals money, talks back to his brother and teases his father. He is chastised repeatedly until things reach breaking point in the finale. But the ‘emotions’ and family spats don’t land because you can tell that Gullak 4 is reaching for drama. It is trying to hold a conversation in the land of small talk. Ditto for Anu’s track with his toxic boss – their face-offs unfold like budget Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009) scenes, existing solely to show that Anu is developing a moral spine. Ditto for the parents who, despite the fine cast, succumb to odourless writing. It’s hard to understand why they’re so upset with Aman, even if their hypocrisies make sense on paper. 

The bigger issue with these petty conflicts is that it seems to be hiding the actual tensions of ‘living like the Mishras’. There are quips about Santosh drinking every night, but it is of course a cutesy joke in the TVF-verse. There are quips about Shanti being the neglected hero of a house where the males (and the show itself) trivialize her moods, but her scowls are staged as fun and games. There are hints of the Mishras being conservative right-wingers – it’s nice to see a series about a family like this for a change – but Gullak refuses to label their leanings. Instead, you get a “simple pleasures” environment where the harmless PG-13 mornings edge out the dark R-rated nights. 

At some level, you have to wonder if the series excludes more than it includes. You have to wonder if the whole commoners-minding-their-own-business angle – the general stillness – is a front. I did enjoy the first few seasons, but I also forgot about it hours after exiting its world. I get that perhaps the intent is to be sweet and forgettable, like days themselves, but tell that to my roving mind. I also don’t understand the nostalgic treatment. The series is based around 2015, so it’s not even that far back. Maybe it speaks to the innate human tendency to live in the past to conceal the cracks of the present. Either way, the novelty has run its course. The traffic jam is over. The air taxi is moving again. Back to the AI-generated romcom. 

Related Stories

No stories found.