Director: Akarsh Khurana, Nipun Dharmadhikari
Writers: Gazal Dhaliwal, Aarsh Vora, Sunayana Kumari
Cast: Prajakta Koli, Rohit Saraf, Rannvijay Singh
Streaming on: Netflix
Netflix India's latest original series Mismatched is based on Sandhya Menon's YA (Young Adult) romance novel When Dimple Met Rishi. I haven't read the book, but its title suggests it's a light, frothy, feel-good teen love story. A promise on which the series adaptation only partly delivers.
17-year-old Dimple (an extremely watchable and endearing Prajakta Koli) has ambitions of designing an app and becoming "the next Bill Gates". Her focus is her career (you know, typical 17-year-old problems) and we're constantly reminded that she prefers Java, HTML and machines to people. The only problem is her stereotypically pushy mother who wants nothing more than to have Dimple conform to what 'good girls' do – find a suitable boy for marriage (I repeat…she's 17). Luckily, Dimple gets into a renowned three month app development course in Jaipur which takes place in a fort. (I'm assuming the majority of the 1.4 lakh fees goes towards the fort's upkeep considering the facilities are pretty basic and their faculty consists of all of one teacher). Little does she know that her meddling mother has already found a potential match for her to meet during the course.
The boy in question is the thoughtful, mild-mannered and almost annoyingly considerate Rishi (the always earnest Rohit Saraf). Rishi is 18 and he's ready for marriage, so he asks his grandmother to help him find the one (I'm pretty sure I wouldn't trust 18-year-old me to buy a toaster and this dude is going all in on matrimony and serious life decisions). In an incredibly weird scene in the opening episode, Rishi excitedly sifts through pictures of girls on a matrimonial app with his grandmother. He chances on Dimple's profile and it's love at first swipe. He finds out that she's attending said course and, in a spectacularly stalker-ish move, decides to go fort and conquer by enrolling himself on the same course to get to know his 'future wife' (you know, based on that one picture of her he saw that one time).
It's not exactly the typical rom-com premise we're used to – he came looking for love, she came looking for… an app to kick start her business empire. But over six half-hour long episodes, romance blossoms, butterflies happen and feelings are felt. And despite his initially creepy antics, the sweetness and simplicity of watching them fall for each other and seeing Dimple come out of her shell and open up to the possibility of people, makes you root for them. Mismatched follows them and the lives of other students on the course. Friendships are formed, attraction simmers, there are popularity contests, unrequited love, hook-ups, break-ups, bullies and much drama.
There's a distinct comfort in this kind of predictable feel-good romance. But the series isn't content with that. Instead it tries to be more than it needs to by attempting to be a Sex Education-style meaningful coming-of-age portrait of young adults. It's clearly inspired by that show, right down to specific characters and tracks which feel far too familiar, such a same-sex romance arc about a girl falling for her friend or an obnoxious character who's wheelchair-bound. But unlike that show, Mismatched lacks depth and some much-needed humour.
Mismatched also constantly had my 'adults trying to make a show about teenagers' senses tingling. It feels like a distinctly outsider's perspective, unlike the young adult shows from Dice Media (Operation MBBS, Firsts) or TVF (Hostel Daze, Kota Factory) which, even when they don't work, never feel inorganic. There's a sweetness and innocence in the DNA of those shows that's missing in the writing here, from Gazal Dhaliwal, Aarsh Vora and Sunayana Kumari.
The developing-apps-in-a-fort course is taught by Sid Sir (a well-cast Rannvijay Singh) who's the deceptively laid back 'I'm too cool to care but deep down I really care' teacher (think Woody Harrelson's in The Edge of Seventeen). As for the fellow students, they feel more like ideas than people. There are gamers and geeks and social media influencers, rich snobs, gym bros and NRIs, most of whom occupy a space that's one notch higher than stereotype but lower than lived-in characters. But there are some gems amongst the crowd. As Dimple's colourful, zany roommate Celina, Muskkaan Jaferi is a joy to watch, as is Vidya Malvade as Zeenat, the 41-year-old student amongst the kids who's trying to build a new life. Though, after a point, the show doesn't do much to explore her background and what her story is.
As the series unfolds we watch the students develop their app ideas with the winning team set to get a dream internship. But instead of staying the course (pun intended) and crowning a winning app, the show pivots to make the finale about a weird gaming showdown and popularity contest aimed at having Dimple put a bully in his place. It's an 'explosive' finale which breaks the show's appeal of predictable comforts by opting for unnecessary dramatic twists and a random cliff hanger it doesn't earn. presumably to set up a season 2, the idea of which doesn't excite.
When it works, Mismatched proves to be a sweet, breezy, light watch but one that would've benefited a great deal from keeping it simple. There's an app metaphor in here somewhere. Something about one that's fun to use but weighed down by a whole bunch of fancy functionality which is pointless and takes up a lot of space. I'll leave it for greater minds to find.