At the heart of each of the three standalone seasons of Broken But Beautiful is a silly but believable idea, the kind that mistakes a human for a jigsaw puzzle — that everyone is jagged and broken, and to be in love is to find a person whose jagged brokenness fits in yours to become one complete, Shreya Goshal and Papon crooned perfection.
It’s not hard to understand the allure of this. We are the generation of break-up playlists. We love to wallow in the philosophical aftermath of love. We have put Imtiaz Ali’s movies on a philosophical pedestal. Why shouldn’t Ekta Kapoor’s enterprising empire monetize this banality? But like everything on their platform, it pushes the story till its logical breaking point, and then pushes some more, propelled by fiery, improbable melodrama.
The third season cranks this up a notch. The female protagonist is named Rumi (Sonia Rathee), and they even find a few excuses to bung in the poetic namesake. When the male protagonist, Agastya (Sidharth Shukla) — like the mythical sage who brought the Himalayas and the Ganga down South — smoking copiously, notes, “I feel broken,” his PR manager simpers, “You have to be broken. You had to break for the light to come in.” What a relentlessly silly idea. What a gloriously believable idea.
It is easier to buy into this belief if it’s dressed up in purple prose and velvet robes, because there is a recognition here that wallowing in love is a luxury, one that pales when impending bills and an increasing workload are at stake. Roti, kapda, makan are at best, a peripheral worry. So everyone is cloaked up in glitter and sequins, even the poor theater playwright and his broke entourage have tapri-wali chai from a gilded cafe attached to a glamorous theater. Agastya is a theater playwright, but that’s only a plotpoint — because no self-respecting writer will allow such pathetic lines to be attributed to them, especially if they are introduced as a class conscious “angry young man” — so he can have Rumi play the role of the actress.
Rumi is a socialite, who curates art, or performs theater, or gets married, or gets drunk. She is given the luxury of psycho-analyzing and a life worthy of psycho-analysis. A stepdaughter of a rich man whose other daughter is the embodiment of perfection and composure, Rumi rankles every time the comparison is made in her head. She is the most singular, toxic character there is, with shades of Heer (Nargis Fakhri) from Rockstar — both in appearance and odd theatricality. She is pining after a childhood crush, while using Agastya for sex and sensibility. She is prone to exaggeration. When worried that Agastya is only Rumi’s Plan B, his PR manager asks him to pave forward cautiously. Rumi, who overhears her, notes that Agastya isn’t her plan, “Kyunki plans badalte rehte hain. I’m in love [with Agastya].” Half an episode later, she decides to marry someone else.
The first two seasons were manageable, and modest in their twists, and coincidences, because they were rooted, comparatively, in a simpler, less twisted world. That was the story of Veer (Vikrant Massey) and Sameera (Harleen Sethi) — both broken when they met, with Veer hallucinating his dead wife, and Sameera stalking her ex. Their brokenness was healed by their companionship, which slowly leaks into love. At the end of the first season Ekta Kapoor, who is credited with “Concept”, made the bold and appreciable choice to not have her lovers be together, which is now becoming an ALT staple. They acknowledge the love they feel for each other, they kiss, but they also realize that being together opened them up to the possibilities of life in a way nothing else has. They want that feeling to remain before it binds itself in a relationship. So they part, with a promise to be together, eventually.
Here, this is reversed. While Veer and Sameera met as broken people who heal-or-some-such each other, here, Rumi and Agastya meet and through love break each other apart. Agastya is even given a lonely-biker montage after his heart breaks, the poor thing. Love here isn’t the healing but the destroying force, which is why this season is darker in its preoccupation.
But there is something more sinister behind this — that it is the chase of love that is exciting, not love itself. “Woh pyaar nahin tha, woh zid tha,” Rumi says in the last episode, referring to a passionate affair they had, which the show spent 7 episodes dwelling on, all dismissed in an exaggerated overture. A similar thing happened in the first season when Sameera spends all the 11 episodes trying to get her ex to love her back. And when he finally does, she realizes that she doesn’t want him back. To be loved, in this universe, is the perfect reason to not love.
But there are also thematic continuities between the seasons — the circuitous, desperate, and self-destructive capacity of the broken yearning heart, the alternating voice-overs, the romanticized idea of “closure” as something you arrive at, and once arrived at, can move on from, and the sledgehammer-like obviousness of it all embedded in the most contrived of circumstances. Sameera and Rumi both have self-respect issues, and it is the “handsome, brooding men” in their lives, broken and fussy as they are, who snap them out of it with a kitsch monologue sculpted out of a self-help book, padded by a swelling, almost intrusive background score that finds every excuse to have Shreya Ghoshal hum loudly.
They also make madness sound aspirational. “Crazy” and “Psycho” are deemed the logical aftermath of longing. Sameera notes that she finds Veer’s hallucinating his dead wife for three years since her death “romantic”. The first thing Rumi does after seeing Agastya two years after dumping him is to try and win him back. She’s married to someone else, and he is in a comforting relationship with a single mother. But the erotic brokenness of these characters muffle and muddle lust for love and love for madness and madness for passion till it all becomes one indistinguishable, irresistible cliche.