Director: Nikhil Gonsalves
Writers: Nikkhil Advani, Vir Das, Nikhil Gonsalves, Neeraj Pandey, Amogh Ranadive, Suparn Verma
Cast: Vir Das, Ranvir Shorey, Suhail Nayyar, Amrita Bagchi, Ravi Kishan
Hasmukh, which runs for ten bewildering episodes, is the perfect example of how to make a mockery of a fascinating premise. In comic parlance, it's the perfect example of how to stretch a one-liner so thin that the only punchline left is the line of exasperated fans waiting to punch the clueless artist after the show. I don't quite understand how it took no less than six writers to convert a premise that reads "Small-town comedian discovers that murdering people is the only way to ignite his onstage mojo" into the most confused and convoluted version of "Small-town comedian meets big-city showbiz". The makers might have envisioned this as a profound struggle between ambition and morality, but what Hasmukh becomes is a pointless tussle between gimmicky characterization and shabby filmmaking.
This is the kind of series in which an obese cop insists on eating misal pav in the morgue over a one-eyed corpse. It's the kind of series in which a female TV producer squeezes her male colleague's nuts and smokes in his face to demonstrate ambition, while the horny channel boss mutters dialogue that features the terms "round," "soft" and "huge" when his saucy secretary repeatedly bends over to display her cleavage. It's the kind of series in which even the audience chants sound fake – as if it were recorded by four humans on a lapel mic – while the reaction shots feature extras who look like awkward friends of the crew. It's the kind of series in which the rustic protagonist's love interest is a white European dancer so that he can emotionally confess his sins to her in a 15-minute long Hindi-language monologue and she can't understand a word. In case you're wondering, that sound you hear is Farhan Akhtar's brief moment with the Spanish girl in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara turning over in its elegant grave. Hell, this is the kind of series in which the police walk in on a hanged body, discuss the possibilities at the scene, come to a verbose conclusion ("case closed") and then leave…while the body remains hanging in an empty room.
I came in expecting to examine a man best placed to mine the inextricable link between tragedy and comedy. Or a colourful portrait of India's little-known heartland comedy circuit. Or even the psychological portrait of a performer who takes the tortured manufacture-pain-to-inspire-art adage to extreme lengths. Instead, we get this: All great artists need their viagra; Sachin wore his left pad first, SRK smokes 50 cigarettes before a scene, Newton ate an apple. Hasmukh opens with its titular character (Vir Das) accidentally slashing the neck of his arrogant mentor Gulati (Manoj Pahwa) minutes before a show, before taking the stage himself in front of a demanding Saharanpur crowd. Somehow, his stage fright disappears and he wows an audience that laughs all too easily at jokes that would not make his idols Johnny Lever and Jaspal Bhatti too proud. Gulati's desperate manager Jimmy (Ranvir Shorey) notices this spark, signs Hasmukh, hides the body and decides to become his partner in grime. Once they start touring Uttar Pradesh, Jimmy quickly realizes that Hasmukh – who has been bullied all his life – needs to murder bad human beings in order to get that "feel". It gives him a sense of calm on stage.
I suspect the moral conscience of the makers is so distinctly Indian that they refuse to paint Hasmukh as a madman using bloodthirst as creative fuel. Rather than pursuing the complex route of making us empathize with a deranged artist (or, like in the case of Breathe, a deranged father) who will do anything it takes to feed his passion, the writers make Hasmukh a vigilante hero who only chooses bad victims. First he kills Gulati, then his abusive uncle, then a corrupt politician. The problem with this Robin-Hood-ness is that every victim is subsequently designed as a horrid caricature – they are made to look one-dimensionally evil so that Hasmukh's fetish is humanized. A pale Gulati with a rotting neck materializes whenever he is on stage, taunting him and belittling him, lest we didn't get the message. It's a major copout, yet there are several possibilities even in this direction.
When a video of Hasmukh's performance goes viral, a Comedy Circus-style show flies him down to Mumbai in the hope that his wild-card entry will boost their sinking TRPs. Jimmy assures him there are plenty of haramis in Mumbai to kill. They find some: a blood-sucking lawyer, a sleazy superstar (whose latest film is rated 0 by Rajeev Masand), a bearded writer (I feel personally attacked), a greedy TV executive. Mumbai is also where all the cleavage and ball-talk happens, as if it were a Madhur Bhandarkar film called Reality Show. On paper, it should have worked: The big city brings with it more scrutiny, smarter cops, wider eyes. Yet, the narrative expands into a clustermuck of futile sub-threads: A feminist Film City gangster (Raza Murad) who has a legacy of gouging out the eyes of his enemies, the reigning comedy champ and rival called KK, an inspector who keeps rhyming pension with tension, the long-drawn and cringe-worthy show finale, Jimmy's romance with an assistant. It's all so exhausting and uncomfortably acted that the primary premise of Hasmukh becomes a mere footnote. At one point, the script makes KK drink in a room for two straight episodes so that it has one less storyline to deal with. At another point, a cocky child artist uses the words "babe" and "bitch" and "dude" while addressing his producer after he has been accused of molesting his on-screen mother.
I am left with many questions. Why is Vir Das' accent so inconsistent? Why does the series not trust him enough to focus solely on his misadventures as a serial-killing comedian? Why is it that whenever someone switches on the television to check out "breaking news," the anchor is always conveniently at the beginning of the report?
I am left with many questions. Why is Vir Das' accent so inconsistent? Why does the series not trust him enough to focus solely on his misadventures as a serial-killing comedian? Why is it that whenever someone switches on the television to check out "breaking news," the anchor is always conveniently at the beginning of the report? Why do none of the good-looking people look groggy when they are woken up from a deep slumber? Hasmukh offers no answers. And it offers even less to smile – or think – about. Now if you'll excuse me, I must find a potato to murder so that I can cook a killer tomato soup.