For some reason, or no reason at all, in Chutzpah, light is associated with women, and darkness with men. The frames have a more airy quality, with shafts of light when the women take center stage — the influencer with body issues (Aashima Mahajan), the designer girlfriend with a long-distance boyfriend (Tanya Maniktala), the online sex-worker with a conservative family (Elnaaz Norouzi). The dingy doings in mustard lighting of the boy’s rooms contrasts severely with the more open, designed spaces of the women, with Frida Kahlo bed covers, velvet curtains, and fabrics on mannequins. The masculine-feminine lines can also be drawn differently in Chutzpah: the women are grappling with circumstances which they created, while the men — a fuckboy (Kshitij Chauhan), a coder in America (Varun Sharma), and a virginal poker player (Manjot Singh) — are bratty, entitled losers.
Created by Mrighdeep Singh Lamba, and directed by Simarpreet Singh, each of the 7 episodes begins with “People please don’t get offended. It’s just a damn fictional show.” Let me dwell for a second on the absurdity of this disclaimer — to tell people how to watch the show as if eyes weren’t enough, ears weren’t enough. This is possibly a reaction against the perceived onslaught of “cancel-culture”, worried that making entire animations discussing the different types of “pig-sluts” might offend people, and that placing this irreverent disclaimer in the beginning might make them feel otherwise, like plastering cigarette disclaimers on scenes where the tobacco burns. It won’t, because that is not the logic of offense, the logic of addiction. So, the only other reason I could think of to begin each episode with this banal prologue is to signal a certain brand of irreverent-cool. But even that facade cracks as the show progresses.
There is PoloGrid, there is Joypad, there is Mopid — social media sites that the characters run their lives around. The biggest issue with Chutzpah is the time it takes to establish its characters vis-a-vis social media — the first two episodes just feel like random, unconnected vignettes from different lives, long stretches of influencers pontificating, or couples chatting aimlessly. In fact, the connections between these stories are so threadbare, at the script level, it could be reworked into another anthology. The point of watching disconnected stories, like Ship of Theseus, like Life In A Metro, like even Ludo for that matter, is the joy in seeing them coalesce, how they come together. Often that “coming together” makes for a crackling climax in and of itself. Here, there is no such effort being made.
This weak, uncompelling writing wedded to characters that take their own time to be set up creates a show that is neither exciting on the uptake, nor worth it on the eventual climax.
But even at a scene level, there is barely any progression, a stillness that stagnates to rot. You could argue that it is a metaphor for the act of being on social media, the infinite scroll syndrome, to which I can only sigh. This weak, uncompelling writing wedded to characters that take their own time to be set up creates a show that is neither exciting on the uptake, nor worth it on the eventual climax. In the case of some characters, like the e-sex worker Wild Butterfly, or the influencer Deepali Shah, who the character is is the “suspense”.
The show, to its credit, takes us behind the camera lens the moment we stop performing for it — either on video calls with long-distance lovers, web-cam clients for online-sex, fans of an influencer, a potential fuck. That sigh when the camera goes off, that cracking of the neck, the exhalation, almost of relief, certainly implying that work was being done. Because being on the grid is, all said and done, work. The rigmarole of performance is tiring even if its validating veneer makes it hard for us to see it for what it is.
There are even small, endearing moments where characters are getting ready for a video call — checking their breath as if that could translate over the internet. The real-reel distinction completely unravels after a point because each of the characters are always seen in proximity to digital devices. Visually, this gives the makers space to experiment — the aspect ratios keep changing, sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal, sometimes vertical within horizontal. Sometimes the texts of a DM are plastered over the walls of the bathroom as the character sits on the pot. Sometimes the settings change where it seems like the characters interacting over the internet are actually interacting in real life. Sometimes the goings-on of a house, as seen through a window, zooms out to become the wallpaper on someone else’s room. This visual experiment sputters out soon because its uniformly dingy look, with the brief feminine reprieve of light, creates optical ennui. It’s almost claustrophobic and not in a tense way that implies art’s intention, but in a lazy manner, like being stuck in a slow-moving elevator.
The real-reel distinction completely unravels after a point because each of the characters are always seen in proximity to digital devices.
The show has an odd soundscape which makes it hard to parse the goings on. A suspenseful track comes in when a character is signing up on a porn site. Light romantic, inspirational music plays when a character talks of AI, stealing dead people’s voices or living people’s voices without their consent to personalize Siri. The star-follower relationship is even given a veneer of friendship, of hope, but really, the “like-share-comment” song and dance around influencer life, pressures and everything else, is only hinted at for what it really is — empty. And that title, Chutzpah? It isn’t even referenced through the show in anything but spirit.