Writer: Praveen S
Available on: Disney+ Hotstar
Duration: 5 episodes
Sreejith, who had previously made Oru Thekkan Thallu Case, is not just the director of the five-episode Masterpeace, but he also happens to be the production designer. Like how a film directed by a cinematographer looks extra special, you find that sort of special attention to detail in the way the sets have been designed in Masterpeace. Set predominantly within the interiors of one upscale Kochi apartment, you also get that extra push to avoid the fatigue of looking at the same people in the same place for 180 minutes. With “quirky” becoming the operative word, we find loud flashes of yellow, orange and red almost throughout the show. At times, the care that has gone in to the background overpower the scene itself; I found myself thinking very seriously about the trouble the crew must have undergone to find a vintage yellow refrigerator that forms a part of several scenes. Then I googled the Italian brand named SMEG and realised that a smallish fridge costs upwards of Rs.2 lakh! Fortunately, when I returned to the scene, I realised I had not missed much.
This is perhaps one of the challenges of “designing” a series around an overtly quirky Wes Andersonesque aesthetic. With this sort of look reserved mainly for advertisements in the South, it requires an equally special set of writers to keep us invested in the characters, rather than get distracted by the pretty yellow tiles in the bathroom. But for the most part, these design choices feel consistent even with the writing. An example of this is in the way the series itself is being narrated by the Mona Lisa. Da Vinci’s painting becomes a fly on the wall as the show’s central couple, argue, debate and reconcile through a particularly tough time. The tonality also allows for characters to consistently break the fourth wall for exposition and to even switch between Italian and Malayalam to land a joke. The quirks extend to their careers too with Ria (Nithya Menen) trying to set-up a regional dating app that’s encouraging to all sexualities and Binoy (a funny Sharaf U Dheen), an undergarment salesman searching for a brandname for the women’s line.
What works in the show’s favour is how simple the plot is: a couple gets into a massive argument which then leads to both their parents intervening to solve the issue. With a misunderstanding being placed at the centre, each episode begins with this fight being slowly revealed to the audience. But what is most interesting about this show is how it subverts the core theme you find in movies like Amour (2012) or Nithya Menen’s own Oh Kadhal Kanmani (2015). The older generation here is not romanticised as ideal lovers nor are the youngsters made to look like they know nothing about love. More than a debate about what love is, the show instead is interested in how much the concept of marriage has changed and how there are no right answers or wrong. This leads to interesting situations, like when the younger couple declare how they had decided to not have children even before they got married. It also leads to heated arguments that reveal a lot about these characters, even if they feel rushed and stretched after a point.
But how many of these arguments can one sit through before switching off? The issue isn’t really with the loud, boisterous nature of the performances or the points the characters keep shouting at each other. To an extent, it is because we don’t understand what’s at stake. The major fight that sets up the series of events in itself doesn’t feel like a threat to their marriage, so we do not get why the whole family is making a deal out of it. This is also the case with the way the show treats even serious scenes with silliness. Binoy, for instance, has not been drawing a salary for three months, adding to the pressure on Ria to provide for him. But this statement is made at such a funny situation that you think it’s inconsequential or that they probably have a few lakhs saved up anyway (remember their super expensive fridge?).
So when nothing much is at stake for this couple, the only real investment we’re making is to see how this interaction would end up transforming the parents. This is where some of the best scenes take place. Even the writing that has gone in to the four senior characters (played by Malaa Parvathi, Shanthi Krishna, Renji Panicker and Ashokan) appear to be more organic than the younger, woke couple. Like Renji Panicker, who is the diametric opposite of the characters he is known to have written in the show. A lovely meta joke comes when a soft-spoken Renji Panicker speaks in support of the writing in Lelam (1997) when the movie plays on TV. Or the ingenious comedic idea to have Shanti Krishna speak in song lyrics. Not only is this used for comedy, but the reason why she quotes old Malayalam songs is presented almost like a failed singer’s urge to keep going back to songs she cannot sing. Beyond the joke, there’s a hint of pain in her performance and a soft rebellion against patriarchy whenever she “speaks” in music.
Yet these are a handful of moments that come with any sort of subtlety. The rest of it, including the additional characters that recur, are merely loud and annoying, repeating things we already know. Jokes about adultery or a mistaken identity too are used lazily, neither presenting us with an original laugh or the tension to keep us hooked. And by the end of it, we switch off through long stretches of shouting and melodrama that leads nowhere. Despite its intentions, we long for moments like when a father discovers an unlikely friendship with his son’s mother-in-law as they discuss poetry and Shakespeare. Or when Binoy’s mother finds a companion in her son’s father-in-law as they find peace and solace in a plate of egg omelette. In all that noise, one wishes the writers had thought of a few moments of silence. It’s a show that needed to chill for a bit.