Director: Prithvi Vanam
Cast: Chaitanya Rao, Ananya, Mahendar, Divya, Veerabhadram, Sri Kumari, Narendra Vanam, Anitha Vanam
Just when the concept of arranged marriages was somewhat fading away from the screen, Pelli Choopulu (2016) and Chi La Sow (2018) brought it back in full force and made the whole idea of parents choosing partners for their children look cool. They are gems in their own niche ways, of course, and they make the respective couples stick with each other through thick and thin. These romantic films dig deeper than the skin and offer quick-fix solutions that appear colorful. But they don’t battle with the demon of endogamy upon which the system of Indian marriages functions and flourishes.
30 Weds 21, the new Chai Bisket original, wants to recreate some of that magic but it sets its bar far too low. The series has become a blockbuster on YouTube and it’s easy to understand where the love — and hatred — is coming from. As the title puts it simply, a 30-year-old man named Prudhvi (Chaitanya) marries a fresh-out-of-college, 21-year-old Meghana (Ananya). He’s unsure about their relationship, whereas she perfectly knows that she’s binding herself to a trustworthy fellow.
Meghana is actually a twenty-year-old at the time of her wedding. She celebrates her 21st birthday with Prudhvi in an episode that arrives much later. Age-gaps have always been common in our country and they are usually worn as a badge on the chest. It’s still a matter of pride in many parts of the subcontinent. Thankfully, however, we have cut it down to an extent. While some people point to the invisible star of tradition to justify patriarchy, many blindly follow the rules without taking the pros and cons into account.
Prudhvi doesn’t like the fact that his lawfully wedded wife is almost a decade younger than him. He thinks she’s too young. But he doesn’t sit down with his parents to have a conversation about it. Riffing on the matter of age without acknowledging the elephant in the room — casteism and male privilege — doesn’t help the characters, or the show. This comment isn’t directed at the actors per se. It’s rather a footnote that I’m making about the writers since their gaze is too shallow.
Prudhvi is a God-fearing engineer who wakes up at seven in the morning every day to pray. And no such sign pops up to support Meghana’s religious alliance. And before you realize that the tables have turned, the wife and husband gently fall into their respective roles. When he makes food as part of an agreement they make, the camera captures his moves in slow motion. It’s as though he’s making a special dish for her. And when it’s her turn to cook, director Prithvi Vanam doesn’t even take the camera into the kitchen.
When a work of fiction employs the eye of stereotypes and superstitions, the burden of addressing them falls squarely on the director. As there are no supporting characters that offer largely differing points, Prudhvi’s word becomes the full-stop. He’s not a bad man; he’s just an average Joe. Mediocrity can be good sometimes, but it’s used as an excuse for the lack of pomp and splendor in 30 Weds 21.
The show feels eerily similar to another YouTube hit The Software DevLOVEper. They both build insular worlds – limited characters, limited locations, and unlimited product placements that make no sense to the storylines. Some of them are necessary evils, for they bring in the moolah, but they are literally spun around out-of-context events. Such interjections can become a problem in the longer run.
When it comes to matters of the heart, Prudhvi is under the impression that love blooms between two like-minded people at the snap of a finger. He isn’t aware of the hard work that one needs to put into a relationship to make it click. And when he’s pushed to take a stand finally, he starts asking his friends about the meaning of togetherness. This is perhaps the boldest chunk of the narrative. But you’ll have to spend more than two and a half hours to cross this bridge.
On the other hand, Meghana speaks for herself. When she gets angry, she fires from all corners of her mouth. If the romantic drama had its sights on the journey and not on the prize, it’d have been quite interesting to see her character arc. You don’t get a full picture of her psyche until the climactic resolution. It’s hard to get into her headspace. An entire episode revolves around why she’s not in the mood to throw a party — it’s just all gas and no juice. You can’t side with her unless you know what’s going on, right?
30 Weds 21 is not a disappointment. But it’s not a delight, either.