Sex has never looked this boring. There is very aggressive neon lighting, there are heaves, thrusts, lips are bitten, hands are held, some missionary, some repentance. I feel like there is a check-list for a Gandii Baat sex scene. I can almost hear the director's instructions, "Abhi thoda neeche, upper lip pe jaao, kiss, keep kissing". (Sachin Mohite, the producer of Gandii Baat, who also directed the previous seasons, had mentioned that this was how he had shot the sex scenes, meticulously giving instructions from behind the camera as the scene rolled; this season is directed by Afzal Sheikh.)
Despite this, the show, streaming on ALT Balaji and Zee5, has raked in 2.2 million views in just the three days since its release. The fifth season of the sex anthology, which began in 2018, has four episodes, 45 minutes each. This is the season of the male gaze — the entire focus is on the body of women and lesbian love machines. Previous seasons seemed to have more of a, well, less male-gaze, as if the intended audience was gender-agnostic populated with hunky men and voluptuous women alike.
A conversation with the CEO of ALT Balaji, Nachiket Pantvaidya, showed that they were very cognizant of their target audience — who watched what– and I can only assume that this shift of the gaze was a demographically determined decision.
There is also a precision involved in crafting such a series. Every episode has at least 3 sex scenes, that makes it one scene every 15 minutes. In a time when local streaming platforms like Ullu, Rapcheek, Kooku, Prime Flix with bawdy content are striving for 15-20 minute episodes, ALT Balaji is clearly trying something different with these absurdly long episodes. (The founder of Ullu told VICE, "According to studies, we tend to change our position every 20 minutes. We try to fit each episode within that span.") And while the math checks out, the sex doesn't.
To make the 45 minutes breezy, they add an element of crime, and suspicion, though not too much of it. The writers of the show, the couple Rajesh Tripathi and Chital Tripathi have said in interviews, "Too much crime will make it look like Savdhaan India."
The problem then, I suppose, is that the crime is too limp, and the sex is too awful. Awful because the men pecking at women took me back to my childhood, with Tweety, the yellow canary, pecking at the ground for grain. If I didn't find that erotic, why would I find this?
The first episode is about a college literary pornographic magazine, Zehreele Ishq, that details the college student's sex with professors. Then we have an episode about adultery and the sex-app-mania (Hello?! Grindr?! Alas, this storyline was wasted on a moping heterosexual couple), one about the hollowness and violence of the influencer's pursuit for viral videos, and one about a lesbian tryst.
There is the regular moral at the end of every episode, but it's tacked on in such an ugly, after-thought manner, it sticks out like a sore thumb. ("Hum kare toh dhokha, tum karo ko mardaangi?", a girl screams at her ex, both of whom find themselves in the house of a couple; the girl is there to have sex with the husband, and her ex to have sex with the wife. The idea of a foursome, alas, is too expansive for the Gandii Baat imagination, content with threes.)
Plot wise the goings-on are so forgettable, the female characters so interchangeable, made-up in similar, powdered ways, that towards the end of an episode when the vamp is revealed, I had to strain to figure out if the vamp is the victim's sister, lover, or gym-buddy. There's very little differentiating the women, afterall, they're mere objects of lust here — it makes sense to homogenize them.
Another change I have noticed over the seasons is that the tagline "Urban stories of rural India" seems less and less relevant. Almost all stories in this season are not in rural but tier-three cities, the small towns. The mofussil moans are getting more urban, as are the references, "Yeh breast nahin, Everest hai."
I don't think I had entirely recovered from the time when, in one of the four Gandii Baat seasons–I don't remember which–a character refers to the penis as Chetak, expressing her anxiety at riding the horse for the first time. Now, I am getting flashbacks, for in one of the episodes in this season, a woman gifts men stuffed toys of a horse as a post-coital gift. Even here, the men badger and pout, each hoping to get a bigger horse than their predecessor, a bigger reward for the better (in-bed) man. When will men learn?