Director: Sameer Saxena
Cast: Vishesh Bansal, Ahan Nirban, Mona Singh, Akarsh Khurana, Prasad Reddy, Ruhi Khan
“Summer is not a season, it’s a festival,” declares 13-year-old Harshu (a likeable Vishesh Bansal) – an average student, and average son to an average family in an average-sized town – on his first day of summer vacation in Jaipur, 1998. In the first few time-capsule minutes of Yeh Meri Family, the TVF template is clear: Nostalgia is not an emotion, it’s a business.
We hear the radio sing praises of a 24-year-old Sachin Tendulkar the night after his ‘Desert Storm’ innings, we see a large air-cooler being fitted back in and worshipped like a religion, a boy pouring Rooh Afza into his milk while speaking on a cordless phone, an Esteem VXI parked in the bungalow garage, posters of Andre Agassi and Shaktimaan sharing wall space, and the teen-aged protagonist resisting Hindi tuitions from a teacher who is known to hand out lower grades so that parents seek his private classes. Aslam and Shibani Kashyap’s Ho Gayi Hai Mohabbat gives Harshu all the feels – he is blind in infatuation, mirroring the blindness of the music video’s fluffy-haired hero. All that’s missing is a sputtering dial-up connection, Yahoo chatrooms and ICQ pop-up messages.
The Indian web landscape, much like contemporary Hindi movies, has begun to turn the “senti ‘90s” into a full-blown cinematic genre. Phantom cigarettes and WWF trump cards elicit not just untarnished memories, but an uncomplicated feeling that becomes all the more relevant in these angsty times of cellphones, virtual validation and social media. This sudden mining of the country’s definitive post-liberalization decade is also a reminder of the maturing – coming-of-age, if you will – of the generation that cushioned its impact. The ‘90s kids’ are now the ones taking over the arts – and therefore giving us a peek into the transitional culture that built, and in some cases broke, them. So on one hand, we have ‘survivors’ like standup comic Biswa Kalyan Rath aim at academics, peer pressure and the crippling coaching-class culture in Laakhon Mein Ek – the world he succumbed to, and eventually escaped, to make a career out of ‘hindsight’.
On the other hand, we have the storytellers from TVF, who choose to remember the nicer things – the carefree phases before the endless circularity of engineering-medical rat races corrupt innocent souls. That’s not to say these environments are totally sanitized – there is even an air of tragedy about Harshu’s aimless giddiness. Unlike him, we know what lies ahead. There’s a sad finality about every lazy day he wants to while away. The makers construct it with hints of an unavoidable future, and in a way that prompts us to recognize that this may just be his last pressure-free summer, and their last summer as a ‘real’ family. For instance, his brother is shifting away to an IIT-coaching institute soon, and he is entering his board year in a region that is the epicenter of brainwashed childhoods and commercial education.
After not quite hitting home with FLAMES, TVF’s Yeh Meri Family is a better, well-rounded snapshot of the 1990s. Mostly because creator Sameer Saxena doesn’t burden his material with unnecessary texture – it’s just one summer, and one family of five, and Jaipur might have been any other non-metropolitan Indian city
Even though there is the temptation of making the dad (Akarsh Khurana) a little more ‘liberal’ – he has his moments: “sports builds character; let them play” – he still sends his older son away for the two-year Kota slog, conforming to rules rather than defying them. There is the temptation of making the exasperated housewife (Mona Singh) a little self-aware – “children don’t know it yet, but there are no such things as mistakes when you’re young” – but she remains consistently loud and pushy in the house. It’s like the makers aren’t quite course-correcting their childhoods as much as reflecting on them; most scenes are equipped with an expository voice (Harshu breaks the fourth wall, of course) that tells us what they should have been thinking at that moment rather than what they actually were.
As a result, everyone is a little more expressive, a little more dramatic and wise, almost as if they were designed by folks who wish they had felt a few things differently back in the day. Harshu even has a nerdy best friend who speaks like an adult, and says the kind of startling truths (“This is an intolerant era for love; bio teachers still skip those two chapters, and Monica Lewinsky is still mocked the world over”) that we imagine had retrospectively frustrated the now-adult writers.
ALSO READ: AKARSH KHURANA ON SHOOTING WITH DULQUER IN KERALA AND HIS NEW TVF SHOW
After not quite hitting home with FLAMES, TVF’s Yeh Meri Family is a better, well-rounded snapshot of the 1990s. Mostly because creator Sameer Saxena doesn’t burden his material with unnecessary texture – it’s just one summer, and one family of five, and Jaipur might have been any other non-metropolitan Indian city. There is no “plot” or character graph as such, though the show is clearly segregated into moral-of-the-story themes across seven episodes – they could have well been titled ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ ‘elder brother’ and ‘little sister,’ given Harshu’s chapter-wise resolutions with each of them.
The makers do get carried away – what with the inelegant integration of the sponsors (Mutual Funds) into the father’s personality, and the odd 33-minute-long episodes. But they stick to the motif of dramatizing moments in accordance with a 13-year-old’s vivid mentality. For instance, a cricket match with slow-motion and a tense background score, and kitschy pop music dotting his birthday moods, might seem like “creative decisions,” but they are very much an indicator of how a fresh teenager digests his surroundings. Kids that age visualize situations differently, influenced by films and comic books and a sense of grandeur – the kind that is only derived from still being in a (physical) position to look up at people rather than meet their gaze.
The only problem is Saxena’s over-simplified language. Just short of thought bubbles, he insists on highlighting that Harshu is growing up with every experience. It’s probably the boy’s most important summer, but various aspects of his life seem to be crammed in to explicitly demonstrate that the camera is always on the ‘black sheep’ of the family. In that sense, Yeh Meri Family becomes a series that doesn’t demand our complete attention. It occasionally counts on the fact that we can drift away, recall similar observations from our own heydays and seamlessly return to the household as an organic extension of those memories.
Most shows these days seem to “suffer” from nostalgia. They compensate for a lack of originality by serving as glorified throwbacks to fonder times. Nostalgia might be a business for Yeh Meri Family. But going by the sweet, soothing nothingness of the series (disclaimer: I was 12 in 1998), even business can be quite personal.
[All 7 episodes are now streaming on TVFPlay]