Pitchers, released in 2015, harboured the beginnings of the disruptive magic we associate with web shows today. The show, created by The Viral Fever (TVF), reached over a million views on YouTube for each of its episodes and it's easy to see why. It had disarmingly realistic dialogue – including scandalous gaali-galoch – and nuanced characters. But most of its novelty lay in the cinematic peek it offered into an undocumented world: The start-up business. Revolving around four friends – Naveen, Yogi, Jitu and Mandal – who quit their jobs to start their own company, season one focused on their struggle to secure funding for their business idea. We’re never told what their idea is but this never really matters because at the narrative centre is the labour and faith these men pour into their endeavour. Interwoven into this is everything from the rising prices of baby corn to parental tyranny and the sacrifice of love for ambition. Pitchers was easy to love because just like its green protagonists, it carried the endearing energy of an underdog. It was humble, low-scale and worked with what TVF understands terrifically well: People.
Premiering seven years after its hit first season, Pitchers Season 2 attempts to level up in various ways. Beer, which played an essential role in the first season – it also receives a nod through the title – is replaced by whisky. The gang of four is now a trio, with Naveen (Naveen Kasturia), Yogi (creator Anurabh Kumar) and Mandal (Abhay Mahajan) making a comeback sans their Tech Genius, Jitu (Jitendra Kumar). Kumar leaves behind a resounding silence but writers Anurabh Kumar, Shubham Sharma, Talha Siddiqui and Prashant Kumar meld his absence into the narrative as organically as they can. This season is also a more serious step into the politics of the corporate world. Despite keeping their company – Pragati.ai – afloat for two years, Naveen, Yogi and Mandal constantly struggle with cut-throat competition, the danger of being sucked into a conglomerate always looming large. The runtime, which was a quick half an hour per episode in the first season, is expanded to almost an hour. All of this amounts to an evident shift in tonality and this is where the second season loses its footing.
Taking a leaf out of its previous season, the show douses its protagonists and the audience with never-ending obstacles. But, unlike the evocative season one, these conflicts lean towards the technical end of running a company: there is always a Big Man to please, money to be made and a do-or-die business decision at hand. The ugly nitty-gritties of running a start-up in India would have been an interesting creative pivot but Pitchers squanders this by refusing to fully commit to it. Take for example how we’re never told what Pragati actually is or does. Early on, the three founding members are faced with the tough decision of pivoting to a new product to secure funding. To explain this, we’re given the example of OYO rooms, a business that first started out as a listing for hotels around its area before it realised that the issue isn’t the availability of rooms but the absence of a standard service. This is a eureka moment, one that is designed to make what initially looked like a risky escape from a sticky situation into a winning alternative. But it barely lands. We neither know what Pragati does nor do we know if it managed to identify a larger, more profitable problem to work towards, much like OYO once did.
This ambivalence – a conflict between retaining its emotional legacy and charting newer, cerebral territories – impacts the better aspects of the show. Mandal, the lovable doofus from season one, is given a grown-up makeover and while it’s a more fitting use of Mahajan’s talent, this decision feels more of a necessity than an inspired change in perspective. Where is the place for a doofus in a serious company? Confident Mandal, along with Absent Jitu, make a massive dent in the humour. Even the show’s playful poke at its own penchant for sentimental monologues (“Quotes ki book padhta hai kya tu roz? [do you read a book of quotes every day?]” Mandal asks Naveen after he delivers a long speech) becomes a sore point later. When Pragati’s staff is given a deadline that is most certainly a labour law violation, they protest against the founders: they have no reimbursements, no approvals and no work-life balance but pep talks are aplenty. This long-drawn conflict – one that has two montages, back-to-back – is resolved through... a pep talk. Mushy speeches might have been synonymous with having heart in 2015 but are these narrative tools enough in 2022?
At some points, Pitchers season 2 hints at the evolved sequel it could have been. There is Abhishek Banerjee as Naveen’s mentor and now an arrogant multi-million-dollar company CEO, foreshadowing what Naveen might become later. There are elements from the previous season that have been turned on their heads – before, Naveen’s habit of taking important decisions by himself results in a heartening moment that ultimately brings the four together. But here, it is given a more sinister, realistic shade. There are fantastic additions to the cast: Sikander Kher, Rohini Chakraborty, Vipul Goyal and Riddhi Dogra. But these are blips in the abyss of a dawdling runtime, lost in the long stretches that the show is unable to justify. Pragati’s ups and downs seem random and nameless – business deals are stolen by magnetic CEOs only to trot right back into Pragati’s arms. Despite this lacklustre writing, it is the dearth of chemistry between the core cast that hits the hardest. Ironically, it is the anticipation of this familiar charm that will bring fans to the second season. Some pivots don’t work, after all.