Dinner tables have the cinematic capacity to create deep, dark moments of tension. Think first episode of the second season of Fleabag. Think Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Think August: Osage County. I want to add this list Out Of Love, a Hotstar original web-series about how a doctor in Coonoor reconciles to her husband’s affair by spiraling into despair. The dinner table scene in this show, comes at the fag end of the season, and produces the kind of anxiety and discomfort in the viewer where you are thinking of the worst possible thing that could happen, and you are seeing it play out exactly like that. You begin to hate characters you loved and rooted for, and the characters you despised are now seen through a softer filter.
So now, armed with this confidence, you begin to predict how this season finale would play out. But alas, you are tricked into believing that your worst-case scenarios always end up on the screen; the series goes in a radically different direction. It isn’t as interested in villainy as it is in redemption.
The title itself tricks you: It could either mean people being ‘out of love’ with one another, or it could mean the radically violent things people do ‘out of love’ for one another.
Out Of Love is a devious attempt at suspense. Based on Doctor Foster, the series spans five episodes, each with a duration of about an hour. Rasika Dugal plays Meera Kapoor, the doctor, with such fantastic heft and angst, alternating between quiet strength and self-sabotage. There is something deeply disturbing about her character- someone who is almost looking for an excuse to unravel, but is also so deep in the rehearsed love of marriage that she fears the existence of such an excuse- one of those things you both fear and crave.
Purab Kohli plays her cheating husband. There is a refreshing honesty in his portrayal of a man who cheats on his wife not because he isn’t in love with her, or he isn’t moved or aroused by her, but merely because that is who he is- a man with a dad-bod, a drooping paunch and greying hair who lusts abundantly and has no compunctions lying about it. It is heartwarming to hear someone articulate so clearly something most people feel: that you can be in love with more than one person, and loving one more doesn’t mean loving the other less.
The couple has a child who is used a prop, almost a glue to hold them together. He is incredibly perceptive, almost as a warning to parents who feel that their kids are too young to understand the deep truths of life and adultery. (At one point Meera tells him “You’re smart, I am just going through a bad time. I just need a break.” How many parents would be able to muster up such words to their kids?)
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Also part of the family is Soni Razdan playing Kohli’s mother, a cancer patient who is waiting for her life to drain, another prop akin to glue. There are a lot of other supporting characters, an ageing doctor who turns to alcoholism after his wife passes away, young girls in affairs, or into substance abuse, an eerily manicured couple for neighbours, and Meera’s friend whose support for her keeps alternating between comforting and confronting her. These characters rarely perform more than their one line character description, and some play little to no part in moving the story forward.
That being said, there is also an obviousness in the way the series is shot. For example, when they want to show that Meera is perturbed by a strand of hair she finds on her husband’s shawl, they first focus on her, and then focus on the shawl. This happens in the very first episode, almost as a cautionary note: Don’t look for more than is shown. All that is meant is all that is shown. This isn’t an issue, per se. Nuance need not be universal, but part of me yearns for that level of detailing in characters, especially given how tedious such a story can get.
But more than anything, I was afraid of buying into the caricatures of this show. Just because you are in love with more than one person doesn’t mean you are going to pursue all avenues of love. Just because you are innately insecure doesn’t mean you will spiral at the smallest excuse. I almost had to tell myself these things because the web series, like propaganda, nails these uncomfortable caricatures with a sledgehammer into your head. Rarely have I felt the need for fighting back- it is an exhausting but deeply rewarding experience.