"Have you forgotten the path to your own farm?" a middle-aged woman in B.E. Rojgaar asks Papdya (Sambhaji Sasane), a jugaadu engineer, son of a farmer, who has tried and failed to make a living in Pune, only to boomerang back home, to the fields. It is a casual taunt, but its import — of forgetting the land that produced you to court success in faraway, glittering, clustered cities — is broader. It smites not just the character, but those who are watching the show, lapping up its charm made up of progressive and feminist sheen, nostalgic writing, and the capacity to lasso you into its world.
The six-part Marathi show, produced by Bharatiya Digital Party (BhaDiPa), streaming on their YouTube channel to over a floodful million views, has struck a chord the way many shows by The Viral Fever (TVF) have done in the past. It sanitizes a relatable demographic — for B.E. Rojgaar, it's an educated, unemployed youth in the wake of COVID-19 — imbuing it with charm. All three protagonists, Akshay (Jagdish Kannam), Piyu (Sai Tamhankar), and Papdya, while belonging to different tiers of wealth and caste privilege, come from families of farmers. They are struggling to make rent in Pune.
Then, mid-way, B.E.Rojgaar diverges from this TVF format of relatability, tossing itself over the cliff towards an aspirational other-land. These friends, whose bond is thicker and more frivolous than blood, are suddenly in a village, trying to make the life of a farmer better, more profitable. Characters pronounce, "All one needs in life is a river like this" — something every city person has said and heard on their brief nature reprieves between their nine-to-fives in glassy, glossy towers. What to make of the bizarre decision (treated as brilliant in the show) to stick QR codes on bananas, so, using "Block chain" and "Digital Twin System", the urban consumer can know from where their fruits and vegetables are being sourced?
This decision to be a show that is initially relatable and eventually aspirational undoes all the charm it accumulated in the beginning, but it is also one that bodes well for its target demographic — those who want to feel "seen" and also inspired at the same. Sample these two comments under the videos, which have been rumbling in popularity.
"Every engineer suffers this types of situations in their life…. This show is soo relatable to the engineers life"
"I'm a Punekar based in Europe and I've never experienced and seen village life and problems…. thanks to you guys this series is just so realistic and true now I understand the pain of my engineering friends who came from Marathwada and Vidarbha region to Pune to pursue their dreams."
Platforms like TVF and now BhaDiPa tap into the comforting myth of the "Indian middle class" — a phrase overused by the richer to perform relative poverty and by the fragile to perform economic security — as bastions of relatability and the first few episodes of B.E. Rojgaar have that texture and illusion of lives that are familiar. At least familiar enough for the characters to become receptacles of our sympathy, and eventually, identity. With TVF and Bombay Cinema receding into small-town storytelling, it's clear that these relatable stories are their own genre with their own robust, committed audience.
Created by Sarang Sanjeev Sathaye, written by Saurabh Shamraj, B.E. Rojgaar is a thrilling attempt at diversity and authenticity. A language tutor has been credited, for example, to hone the different dialects. So much of the texture and aspirations of a person can be gleaned from the walls of their home. A Buddha and Ambedkar portrait, side by side, is enough to connote their relationship to caste. Images of Shivaji, Indira Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, and Ganesha — all sharing space side by side — speaks to the expansive, ill-defined philosophy that girds the life of the upper-middle class Marathi manoos. An inspirational quote from police officer Vishwas Narayan Nangare-Patil on winning — as opposed to one from the Jay Shettys and Sadhgurus — tells you of the character's relationship with culture, what they consume, and whom they hero worship. The clothes that are drying from ceilings — because there is never enough space in these houses for a drying line — the empty aquarium that is used as another cupboard for riff-raffs, the flaking walls, the "Chill out or surf" t-shirt worn at a home in Pune which has no ties to either chilling or surfing, all these details create an atmosphere of a life broken into, like worn out shoes. On this, the show imposes its filigree of heroism.
Papdya's character arc takes him from being a man who initially tries to convince male farmers by wearing a tie around his neck, to becoming one who convinces female farmers with a garland of rudrakshas. It's one way of looking at what transformation, evolution, and catharsis means to this show. Another is Piyu shirking off the patriarchal sandbags that her family has her lug, including a rather odd sub-plot of domestic violence. Yet another is Akshay shedding his shell, becoming more confident, initially selling apartments on the phone, and eventually getting placed at Google. Each character begins as lucked out, lurking, and loan-laden, and they are given a mile to leap across when an inch would have sufficed. For when a show shape-shifts from relatable to aspirational, it takes very little for a feeling of sympathy to morph into envy or worse, disbelief.
B.E. Rojgaar is streaming on the Bharatiya Digital Party (BhaDiPa) YouTube channel.