OTT: Madhavan's 'Decoupled' is breezy; actor holds sexist comedy together
‘Decoupled’, the new web series with R. Madhavan and Surveen Chawla, which started streaming on Netflix on December 17, is light-hearted, fluffy, and entertaining, in parts. If you can overlook the fact that it is offensive and pokes fun at women with big hips, climate change activists, ‘NDTV types’, ‘Me Too Movement’ and class divide. It also takes a dig at intellectualism, Islamaphobia and is crammed with misogynistic jokes (why are women not happy in this world kind of questioning)
Ok, we get that it is meant to be a satire, but it all borders on bitchiness and the “jokes sometimes are just not landing”, as an executive (Dilnaz Irani) from Netflix (yes, Netflix also appears in the series) says in one scene about the pitch the writer Arya Iyer (Madhavan), his friends, an art film director (Aseem Hattangadi) and a guru Agni (Atul Kumar) make to the platform.
The three friends are trying to clinch a talk show between well-known pulp fiction author Arya and start-up entrepreneur turned savant Guru Agni (who is an expert on orgasms, ovulating women etc) on Netflix. It is nice, smart touch giving a glimpse of how the platform works in sourcing content, of course, all in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
The director, Hardik Mehta, (who has made films such as the well-received ‘Kamyaab’, and a national award winning documentary ‘Amdavad Ma Famous’), seems to be letting the story of this series written by journalist-turned-fiction-writer Manu Joseph to dominate and is not really steering it in any particular direction. And, so it ends up being vacuous and irreverent. (The film adaptation of Manu Joseph’s book ‘Serious Men’ is also streaming on Netflix and has been well received).
There are no insights into marriage or a crumbling one at that. Instead, the couple, Arya and his wife, Shruti Sharma Iyer (Surveen Chawla), who have decided to divorce (but are still good friends and live in the same house for the sake of their 12-year-old daughter) are more intent on ensuring they somehow get laid. Shruti also has a friend-cum-life coach (Puja Sarup) who is really keen to fix her up with a young gigolo. So, you get the drift?
Reminds you of the Hollywood farcical comedy, the 2009 Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin starrer, “It’s Complicated”, a divorced couple who are confused about their feelings about each other and try to secretly hitch up again much to the discomfort of their children. But in the midst of all the hiding and fun, Meryl Streep’s inner battle questioning her ‘fondness’ for her ex-husband, who is clearly running away from his responsibilities with his current live-in girlfriend is also explored. Neither does the series come close to films like ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ or the more recent acclaimed Iranian film, ‘Separation’.
In ‘Decoupled’ we don’t understand why Shruti has given up on her marriage except that she cannot handle his openly offensive and mocking behaviour (he hates shaking hands with teenagers because they are always upto something with their hands at that age) with people and keeps getting bashed up in public.
Also, she is this busy venture capitalist, who is on the look-out for a fresh infusion of funds into her company, and is trying to woo a handsome wealthy Korean investor played by Darren Eric Scott. In between, she has to find a way to break the bad news to her daughter (who is very sensitive) about the impending divorce. That is also handled with no sensitivity, maybe because the story gives no scope for that kind of a treatment.
Both protagonists are circled by stereotypical characters – like a muddle-headed, supercilious economist (Mir Afsar Ali), an Amartya Sen fan expressing high-valuting ideas and not much else and a pretty flight attendant (Sonia Rathee) who fawns over the older man Arya and only too eager to slip into bed with him. Arya’s ex-girlfriend (Freisha Bomanbehram) who wanders in as well, and the series meanders at this point with no legs to stand on.
‘Decoupled’ works to some extent because of the actors Madhavan and Surveen who play this affluent, estranged couple. Madhavan plays this sardonic writer, who manages to rile people up by saying all the wrong things, with complete ease and charm. Luckily, though his lines resemble locker-room male talk, he manages to conveys that he is caught in a situation with his wife who he still likes very much and manages to stay invested. While Surveen, who cannot decide if she has to be flippant or serious (facetiously focussed on trying to find a sex partner and at the same time break the news to her daughter who is bound to be traumatised by her parents’ divorce), somehow holds it together.
Cinematographer Piyush Pity has some beautiful shots of Gurgaon, Mumbai and Goa and Sheetal Duggal’s production design is classy and gives the series a glitzy look.
To add some slapstick humour to the proceedings, author Chetan Bhagat, who is playing himself, crops up in the series now and then. Arya and he ostensibly have a running feud with each other since both are competing to be the no 1 best selling author in the country.
Arya even furtively picks Bhagat’s book off the top perch on a bestsellers rack and replaces it with his own book at the Gurgaon bookstore, and then at the Delhi airport. And they keep trying to pull each other down, which is meant to get some laughs. (Reportedly, there are similarities between Arya and the lives of a few bestselling Indian writers in the country). Shruti’s parents (played by the delightful duo of Apara Mehta and Akash Khurana), and the couple’s driver (Mukesh Bhatt) spice up the show (watch Arya tell his father-in-law he needs to wear a condom. Strangely, it is not funny at all).
Arya and Shruti even throw a decoupling party (attended by their daughter) in the end and make it out that divorce is a light-hearted affair. Check it out if you are in the mood for some breezy fare this weekend.