Time Out Review: A Web Show Version Of A Superficial 90s Rom-Com, Film Companion
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Director: Danish Aslam

Cast: Tahir Raj Bhasin, Sarah Jane Dias, Sahil Vaid, Mansi Multani

Streaming Platform: Voot

Time Out is the web-show version of those superficial, simplistic and tone-deaf rom-coms that Kunal Kohli was once famous for. Back in the noughties, India’s second most popular Kohli had burst onto the young multiplex scene with his shiny YRF-ing of urban relationships through overrated, bloated productions like Hum Tum and Mujhse Dosti Karoge. His outdated legacy lives on, in the form of early collaborator Siddharth Anand and former assistant Danish Aslam. While Anand continues to remain vaguely relevant for some reason (Bang Bang! was his last film, but he can never be forgiven for Ta Ra Rum Pum), Aslam hasn’t been allowed to direct a movie after the ultra-flimsy Break Ke Baad (2010). But he seems to have found a believer in the streaming platform, Voot. Time Out is his second series I am writing about, after the unfortunate Swara Bhaskar starrer, It’s Not That Simple.

And it’s twice as feudal and half as necessary. Kohli may have gotten away with his archaic interpretation of “newness” because of the transitional era he occupied. But Aslam, with the same language, is being brutally exposed by the ever-evolving internet landscape.

Danish Aslam is to contemporary-marriage portraits what Vikram Bhatt is to supernatural horror sagas. Every incident is a carefully constructed template inserted like episodes into the emotional journey of a warring couple. And twice in a row, he has somehow conned fine actors into playing the protagonists to execute his “risque” vision. After Swara, it’s now Tahir Raj Bhasin – one of the Hindi cinema’s coolest new-age villains (Mardaani, Force 2) – who has felt the need to leave a mediocre digital footprint in an overcrowded medium.

Perhaps Aslam might have seen this review coming, which is why Bhasin is made to immortalize a confused, weak and existential man-child husband named Rahul in this six-episode snooze-fest. Well played, indeed. But there’s really nothing Wake Up Sid about this chap. He occupies a show that believes it is imparting some hard, gritty life truths about love and companionship. Well, 2004 called – it wants its jazzy split-screens, GarageBand background score and twin-personality narrators back.

Danish Aslam is to contemporary-marriage portraits what Vikram Bhatt is to supernatural horror sagas. Every incident is a carefully constructed template inserted like episodes into the emotional journey of a warring couple

The story is as novel as a Karni Sena essay on ravishing Rajput valour. The first episode opens with 30-year-old Rahul locking himself in the bathroom and cussing away like an infant who has just discovered the joy of lip-reading Virat Kohli. His worried wife, Radha (Sarah Jane Dias), wonders why he is having a nervous breakdown. She calls his (insert comic-relief, misogynistic middle-India idiot) best friend, Ashish (Sahil Vaid), who knocks on the door for ten hours and tells him not to act like such a “girl”. He even complains that his wife (Mansi Multani) is a jobless alcoholic and an irresponsible mother – but with “funny” sound effects punctuating his expressions, lest we think this is a serious accusation. Not once do any of them suspect suicide or feel the urgency to break down the door, even when Rahul goes quiet inside. If this were Ranbir Kapoor, they would have been attending his funeral by the next episode.

It is soon revealed that Rahul is going through a midlife crisis because Radha desperately wants a baby, and because he is an overworked, underpaid copywriter (who lives in an immaculately designed Mumbai apartment), and because his parents are separating after it became obvious that his father was having an eight-year-long affair. Later, his father claims it is love, and his character is redeemed because of the purity of his extramarital emotions.

For the next five interminable episodes, Rahul and Radha take turns to display who the more selfishly harebrained partner is, in this quasi-hipster union. In between, we see their loyalty tested through the steady introduction of topless neighbours that randomly walk into their flat and declare their intentions to hit on the calamitous couple. The perpetually horny girl is the reason they embark upon a Ross-Rachel “break,” because a hickie isn’t quite cheating; only full-blown sex (no pun intended) is. At one point this girl decides to redeem herself by telling Radha that Rahul has become a “wet dream” ever since he personified the hot-drifter prototype of being angsty, jobless, stuck in a complicated marriage, edgy and broke. The episode synopsis reads, “Rahul’s hot neighbour Kaya adds fuel to a raging fire!”

Here, coming of age is not a genre but a PowerPoint presentation. The formula is jaded, times have changed, and the writers need to look around and smell the millennial coffee.

Then there is Radha’s dashing boss – an ageing Jugal Hansraj attempting to invoke his inner Rahul Khanna – as well as Rahul’s difficult boss and Rahul’s “rebellious” music career. Apparently, he once wanted to be a renowned singer; at one (melting) point, we see him crooning a rock version of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to demonstrate the tattooed rage of a failing marriage. Then there are the dialogues, that seem to be written by a self-aware Dharma bot – gems like “you can’t eat your cake and f*ck it too” and “psycho is the new sexy” pepper conversations that sound like they are designed by liberal 50-year-old uncles at a college reunion party. The resolution is incredibly daft and blissfully sexist: we hear a wife, kneeling at a beach, telling her unreasonably bratty husband that she has been selfish because he is the one who needs saving. “I am the idiot chick who puts up with all this; forget what I want from life,” she exclaims rather matter-of-factly, to set up a #TimesUp happy ending.

Time Out is pretentious and silly because it tries to appear confident about its decorated sentiments and sanitized sinning. Sometimes, I wonder why I write about shows that could have done without the criticism. Nobody gains out of this exercise. One can argue that it’s better to ignore incompetent content. But it’s important that we call out such nonsense for what it is. It’s important someone like Tahir Raj Bhasin realises that he can be better than this. It’s essential that the makers don’t think they can continue creating myopic Riverdale worlds out of real-life experiences. Here, coming of age is not a genre but a PowerPoint presentation. The formula is jaded, times have changed, and the writers need to look around and smell the millennial coffee.

Rating:   star

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