Mumbai, 20 Apr 2020 23:00 IST
The Netflix series by Vir Das has an intriguing plot and a novel premise but loses its way between trying to be dark and trying to be funny.
Vir Das's Hasmukh is based on a deadly premise that could have led up to a dark, absurd comedy. In some ways it does, but it does not manage to evoke either fear or laughter on the scale that it aims for. The well-etched characters, some dark moments, and a solid premise aside, the series fails to deliver on either the dark or the comic sections of the story.
Hasmukh Sudiya (Vir Das) is a neurotic, stage-shy stand-up comedian who has to suffer the abuse of his megalomaniacal guru, Gulati (Manoj Pahwa). When Gulati refuses to give Hasmukh his big break on stage, the quiet neurotic snaps and kills his mentor, and steps into the limelight.
"What's wrong?" he asks. "Did someone die?" This soon becomes a signature opening line of his act, once he realizes that it was the murder that truly released his creative juices. Gulati's manager Jimmy (Ranvir Shorey) smells the opportunity and latches on to Hasmukh. Once the connection between the comic timing and murder is established, they set out on a trail of evil-doers and kill them as their opening act.
Hasmukh's growing popularity brings to his doorstep the comic reality show, Comedy Badshaho, giving him a ticket to Mumbai. And this is where the series goes overboard.
Directed by Nikhil Gonsalves, the story becomes a mirror to the media industry and the dog-eat-dog world of the comedy reality circus. The setting feels like the right place for this Faustian enterprise to succeed. The addition of characters like KK (Suhail Nayyar), Promila (Amrita Bagchi) and Ajinkya (Shantanu Ghatak) make for an interesting dynamic.
Written by Das, along with Nikhil Gonsalves, Amogh Ranadive, Neeraj Pandey and Suparn S Verma, the writers introduce new characters that play well to add dynamism to the story. Yet, it does not improve either the comedy or the dark absurdity of the show. Once the first few murders are committed, the trajectory of the show becomes quite predictable. There is little experimentation, or even exploration, in terms of the character's inner conflict. Hasmukh remains firmly committed to the goodness of his self while going on a killing spree. The other problem is the apparent simplicity of finding bad people and killing them.
While there are some good performances put in by Shorey, Ravi Kishen, Ghatak and Bagchi, their characters are not etched well and lack depth. Jimmy, played by Shorey, is the character let down the most by the half-baked writing. This is reflected in the lack of a strong sub-plot that runs counter to the arc of Hasmukh's story. Even the romance, which feels lukewarm, leads nowhere in particular. The use of Pahwa's Gulati as the recurring ghost in Hasmukh's mind is also a ploy that does not land well.
Das's Hasmukh feels a part of this problem. Between his day job as a comedian and the night job of being a serial killer, the character seems too tame. Das does well with the part and shows glimpses of his dramatic potential, but the character lacks substance. The on-screen stand-up routine is fairly mediocre and does not have the same sharpness as Das's own stand-up work.
The other flaw is every routine turning into a sermon towards the end, which feels a bit hypocritical coming from a serial killer. On the other hand, the murders feel too easy and hardly have an impact on the audience in terms of thrill or shock value.
With the first murder coming too soon, the shock value of the quiet, mouse-like man turning into a killer is stolen. The rest of the series progresses with a hurry to transport Hasmukh to Mumbai where the story can progress.
Besides Shorey, Inaamulhaque and the veteran Raza Murad deliver capable performances within their limited characters. The sadder aspect is the roles of Amrita Bagchi as the fierce but kind Promila and Deepika Sonalkar as Rhe (Jimmy's love interest), who are limited to being support systems. The other angle of Sasha (Hasmukh's romantic interest) played by Joanna Robaczewska is not explored enough. Maybe the next season will reveal more.
The Netflix series has a premise that could have been manipulated to produce something very interesting. Despite its ambition, however, the series is caught between its two personalities and fails to be either completely humorous or chillingly dark.
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