Cast: Aadhitya MS Bhaskar, Namritha MV, Jayant, Devadharshini B, Siddharth, Badava Gopi, Latha Venkatraman, Sri Ganesh, Nikhil Nair, Guru Somasundaram
Director: Arun Koushik
Streaming On: SonyLIV
Meme Boys, SonyLIV’s latest Tamil original offering is steeped in Tamil pop-culture goodness. If this was not apparent from its title, look no further than its introduction sequence. When a gang of four students is arrested in their campus, one of them emulates Thalapathy Vijay’s signature wave in handcuffs from Atlee’s Mersal. This hilarious prelude can be considered a gentle nod to fans of Tamil cinema and meme-hood: a reminder that they are set to navigate a hilarious labyrinth of Tamilness over the course of eight episodes.
The series, which unfolds in a remote engineering college in Tamil Nadu — something that most engineers in the state are familiar with — follows the lives of Meme Boys, a gang of misfits and lovers of memes, who come together to win an annual meme contest (and more importantly, the chance of working with actor Sivakarthikeyan in a film). And no points for guessing that it is an SK fan who is the glue of the group. The gang comprises a riot of characters – Aadhitya MS Bhaskar is Mojo, a cinema-nut who has a Thala, Thalapathy, and Thalaivar dialogue ready for every situation, Jayanth (of Super Deluxe fame) is the “Charles Babbage” of the campus, a computer genius with a knack for hacking, B Siddharth is Jumbo, a serial pessimist, who illustrates memes when he is not stressing, and Namritha MV is Julie, an aspiring YouTuber who doesn’t mince words. And together they use memes to speak about student struggles. When they aren’t arrested that is.
Even as Mojo assembles these misfits – the Avengers of Apoorva University if you will – they still have one problem. Their new dean Narayanan, played incredibly by Guru Somasundaram, is a strict disciplinarian who doesn’t care for students or their freedom of speech. So, when Narayanan and his eponymous college ideals – are turned into a meme on his very first day on campus, he is out for blood. And thus begins a rip-roaring rat race to nab the memers. Narayanan ensures this through a poor man’s task force that includes Kathir (played beautifully by Badava Gopi), who is often reminded that he is not an assistant dean, but an assistant to the dean (props for The Office fan in the writing team), Sivagami, the terrorizing ladies hostel warden, who gets away with one of the best lines in the show, and college security Azim, who loves his naps.
The show is largely funny, evoking laughs either because it mimics Tamil pop culture or the dangerous internet censorship that is prevailing in our country today. Internet bots, hate trolls, television media circus, and the loose-and-fast usage of “anti-management elements”, all worrying realities of navigating the internet today, are given a subversive twist in the show. But it is at its best when it pokes fun at the generational gaps between Boomers and Gen Z. Narayanan and Badava Gopi excel in moments where they struggle to keep up with internet lingo, and a generation that is always one step ahead of their plans. Badava Gopi’s exchanges with Jayant about old people and passwords deserve a sketch by itself.
The motif of student power in cinema is a theme that is rife with opportunity, especially in the days that we live in today. But that doesn’t seem to be utilized to the fullest, as the show progresses. While the makers keep Meme Boys crisp, aided by smart cliff-hangers every episode, they stop short of making a larger statement beyond just memes. So, while they stay true to the genre, the frivolousness that comes along with making a student comedy drags the narrative. And with that, the subversiveness is also dialed down, and the writing becomes confused. So much so that when the engrossing chase – the main arc in the show – finally concludes, you are left wanting for more – more substance, more cheekiness, and something more than just palatable comedy.