Director: S Shivakar
Cast: Akshara Haasan, Ashwin Kakumanu, Gayathri, and Sunaina
Streaming on: Zee5
Researchers I was working with in a previous life were trying to collect blood samples of villagers for a study. Permission from local officials and leaders were taken, and consent forms printed. All was going according to the research timeline. A WhatsApp message emerged from the cesspit of lazed, toxic groups circulating sexism and boredom with a veneer of humour and fact. It said that people were roving around villages, injecting people with HIV. It spread like forest fire. The research process was forsaken, and all permissions were rescinded.
Zee5’s Fingertip, directed by S Shivakar, taps into that anxiety. The premise is simple: Social media ruins lives. A cursory look at the titles of each of the five episodes affirms this –
Social media makes people anxious; everyone wants to become an influencer, exhibiting a life that is lived differently. It makes people seek revenge, troll and circulate botched images and revenge porn. It makes people promiscuous, hide behind fake profiles, catfish, sleep around, migrate between cities and personalities… it makes them a fuckboy, a husband, a boyfriend.
Each of the five stories is connected by so threadbare a link, it might as well not exist. That’s not an issue per se; standalone episodes work here, because making one set of characters embody all the negative effects of social media would be a massacre.
I want to look at this series’ curious take on “viral” culture and dating. Lust has been mentioned as an ill-begotten gift of social media. You can see it is in the same category as greed, rage, betrayal and vengeance. Lust is bad, or so Shivakar wants you to believe. So, there is the stereotypical fuckboy, who is emotionally unavailable, looking for “fun”. The girl doting on him is pining, jealous, and vengeful (at one point, she says: “You are not the Varun I met online”. There is something oddly funny about this line), and the girl’s best friend is the fuckboy’s next dig. Old wine, old bottle. Message: Dating apps can be bad.
Something similar happens with viral culture – the number of times things go viral makes “Anything can go viral” to become“Anything goes viral”. There is a finality to this series that is awfully simplistic and frankly, a little problematic. An actress, retaliating to a video released by an actor’s account of her snorting drugs, responds by tweeting her experience of sexual harassment by the actor, with #metoo as an epilogue. Vengeance!
Cinematically, the series is watchable and I know that is an awful threshold. But, given the glut of shoddy content, what a manager called a “garbage dump being constantly hurled at you”, it fits. There are moments in the series that genuinely shock you. The performance veers between the real and acted. There’s a visceral artificiality in the way some dialogues are written and enacted, but, otherwise, it is harmless.
John Lanchester while reviewing Tim Wu’s book The Attention Merchants, cites French novelist Flaubert, and his skepticism about trains in the 1800s. Flaubert thought that ‘the Railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid.’ Two centuries later, the anxiety endures. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about attention to craft.