Creators: Dice Media
Director: Ruchir Arun
Cast: Dhruv Sehgal, Mithila Palkar
The reason Little Things Season 1 (2016) might not have entirely worked for me is its conflict between theme and format. The non-adventures of a young live-in couple cannot afford to look packaged. It needs to look unwritten, uncomfortable, comfortable and, at times, interminable. The format – six neat 15-minute-long episodes – is an ally of modern storytelling. Not modern love: which, at its most coherent, is an amalgamation of ordinary non-stories.
Season 2 gets it. Writer Dhruv Sehgal, who also plays the beta male partner at odds with his alpha North-Indian roots, affords this show the time to distinguish between (close-ended) romance and (open-ended) companionship. In turn, the show affords its characters the bandwidth to reach a stage where they are both frustrated and empowered by their inability to distinguish between the two. It stretches, expands and thrives on "figuring it out as we go along," just like its faces and the generation they occupy.
Over eight increasingly mature 25-minute episodes, Little Things recognizes that its title is dichotomous. If it's the visible little things that define the language of commitment, it's the invisible little things that add up to test this definition. The makers infuse undercurrents of gender politics, societal perspectives and professional worth into their world, without succumbing to the temptation of making them a cinematically volatile – a manic-pixie – couple. There's a "for better or for worse" tone to their conversations. The film Tu Hai Mera Sunday managed to achieve this in context of big-city friendships, where not every debate, argument or feel-good moment was furnished with life-altering consequences. Their emotions lack a sense of dramatic continuity – life always moves on – because familiarity hinges on the rhythm of forgiving, not forgetting.
The makers infuse undercurrents of gender politics, societal perspectives and professional worth into their world, without succumbing to the temptation of making them a cinematically volatile – a manic-pixie – couple
In long-term relationships, too, there's always the notion, especially to external observers, that two people stick together because they don't know how to be alone. Or because they are in the habit of being (open, unexciting, boring) with one another. The conflict arises, especially in this age of self-aware keypad equations, when the two inhabitants begin to notice this themselves and think of it as a "problem." As stagnation. What if there's someone better out there? Is this all there is to life? These are the millennial reactions to stability, self-inflicted crises that come with growing up together rather than growing together.
Here, Dhruv and Kavya become Kavya and Dhruv, a natural shift of identity that is established in a fleeting shot from the first episode. The actual theme of the episode is the relevance of childhood friendships – a resonant issue, given that Dhruv, a "reformed" Delhi boy, struggles to relate to the traditional crassness of his old buddy. The camera, for a second, dwells on Kavya's thoughtful face when the friend teases Dhruv about 'bhabhi' wearing the pants and buying the wine bottle they're emptying. It isn't a joke to her. Slowly, this expression manifests into doubt in her head over the next seven episodes – he recognizes this, after which he subconsciously operates within this prism of self-doubt.
The show's victory lies in the fact that it doesn't strive to be as dire, or complex, as I make it sound. Though it simplifies situations to highlight their contrasts – Dhruv loses his job, Kavya gets promoted, he is a drifter, she likes money, he buys vegetables, she meets a risk-taking boy on an office trip, the live-in couple attends a lavish wedding (in the Dice Media-verse), narrative devices such the househelp's kid are conveniently planted to teach them life lessons – there is always the feeling that they have nowhere else to go. He likes this feeling, she doesn't. He has a lot of time to overthink things at home, while she is more prone to snap judgments and internal monologues. She becomes less popular in her office, and he barely keeps in touch with his friends: an inevitable commitment trait that tends to infect both partners in different ways. It holds her back in her pursuit of independence, and boosts him in his pursuit of co-dependence.
Mithila Palkar has grown in stature and skill since her first outing. The only compliment a male writer like myself can offer is that I oscillated between feeling like a victim and villain while watching Kavya
Our reading of Little Things is elevated by its actors. They seem to understand the direction of certain words rather than performing them. Mithila Palkar has grown in stature and skill since her first outing. The only compliment a male writer like myself can offer is that I oscillated between feeling like a victim and villain while watching Kavya – she is at once distant, close and individualistic. And it's a testament to Sehgal's evolution as both an actor and a human that we might find ourselves sympathizing, and getting frustrated, with a version of us on screen. I suspect he hasn't written this season as methodically as the previous one – it has come from experience, which is why their voices sound more garbled, and thus more poignant, than last time. There's a hint to the before-midnight phase of Dhruv and Kavya in its employment of the background score. The fights are devoid of it, hollow and in the moment, while some of the cozy parts flow by in a haze of musical montages. One is happening in real time, unedited and inescapable, while the other feels the need to be communicated, packaged, and remembered.
A passing scene at Kavya's boss' housewarming party sums up the show's journeyman ambitions. When some colleagues notice Dhruv and Kavya exiting the swanky bathroom together, they giggle and gossip, imagining the kind of sexual chemistry that might have resulted in a quickie. What they don't know is that the two were simply discussing other couples while indulging in some light-hearted banter; the 'space' didn't matter.
By choosing to navigate this most unremarkable stage of urban companionship – the one between falling for and falling apart – Little Things finally puts forth a dry truth. If love is all about being together, sustaining the idea of love is also about being lonely together.