Dil Bekaraar is watchable, but not quick-witted enough to binge watch, feels Sukanya Verma.
Adapted from Anuja Chauhan's novel Those Pricey Thakur Girls, Dil Bekaraar, directed by Habib Faisal, is a 10-part Web series centred around a large Delhi family in the late 1980s when India was still crawling into transition.
Yet to come under the grip of globalisation but advanced enough to admit the reach of marketing, it's at the crossroads of the familiar and comfortable as well as the bold and rebellious.
Yet for all its social and political climate imprinted by the influences of the ideals of buland Bharat, Bappi Lahiri's disco ditties and the beginning of Bollywood's Khan invasion, at heart it's a Jane Austen meets Basu Chatterjee-Hrishikesh Mukherjee brand of universe inhabiting a sprawling corner of Lutyens' Delhi.
Back when family planning and Nirodh campaigns were still in nascent stage and it wasn't unusual for a husband and wife to raise half a dozen kids, the retired judge L N Thakur (Raj Babbar) defiantly jokes about his five daughters named in the order of A, B, C, D and E to his faithful court piece playing companions. Better half Mamta's (Poonam Dhillon) only desire is to see them married off to a rich, suitable boy.
Anjini (Sukhmani Sadana), Binodini (Anjali Anand), Chandralekha, Debjani (Sahher Bambba) and Eshwari (Medha Shankar) are all as different as chalk, cheese and chewing gum.
If Chandralekha, the estranged one remains out of sight and country, attention-seeker Anjini is constantly in the pursuit of something unconventional.
Binodini is still resentful of her 'Hindi medium' rearing after her parents bundled her off to Agra due to health issues. Apparently, Delhi's pollution problem was as severe in the 1980s.
There's Debjani, the darling of the Thakur family and recently turned celebrity news reader (a fictional mix of Salma Sultan and Neethi Ravindran and Minu Talwar) for a government broadcasting service (Doordarshan becomes Deshdarpan) and her opinionated, school-going teenage sister Esh. Both insist they want nothing to do with romance, but that's exactly what defines their arcs.
Chandralekha is a Voldemort-like presence, any mention of her is frowned upon.
Anjini bonds well with her husband's firstborn from his first marriage but hankers for a test tube baby.
Binodini demands a share in her parents's property and help her good-for-nothing husband to start a business.
Her Chacha and L N Thakur's shady younger brother has an axe to grind with him over similar matters.
But it's his blatantly cheating of foul-mouthed wife Bhudevi (Padmini Kolhapure) with the domestic help that grabs eyeballs in the story.
They have a son named Gulgul but he's too much of a mouse to take a stand which is played up to make an unconvincing take down on toxic masculinity.
While on gender games, Debjani and Eeshu engage in their respective Mars-Venus equation around boys they cannot make up their minds about.
Coming to the other family in the series -- the Shekhawats -- L N Thakur's bestie Sahas (Tej Sapru) and Juliet (Sonali Sachdev) ran off and got married like the leads in Raj Kapoor's Bobby and address each other by the same name.
They have three sons, but Dylan (Akshay Oberoi), a journalist whose whistleblowing pieces in print, refusal to take television media seriously and ardour for Debjani hogs the limelight.
Considering Those Pricey Thakur Girls is changed to Dil Bekaraar, it's the Lizzie-Darcy chemistry of this 80s style Pride and Prejudice couple that keeps the drama going.
There's tons going on in this ambitious adaptation of an already busy narrative with numerous sub-plots and emotions to mesh into a whole. Not all of it comes together but there are moments of pure sparkle, especially when Habib Faisal channels the sweet simplicity and disarming wit of Basuda-Hrishida's cinema to create an air of familial bonhomie.
Raj Babbar and Poonam Dhillon complement each other perfectly as a harmonious, lived-in couple and appear steadfast and genuine in their portrayal of parents to five daughters.
The girls are equally confident and heartfelt in individual capacity as well as the inimitable Thakur sisters.
It's a pleasure to watch a no-holds-barred Padmini Kolhapure's potty-mouthed aunt in her element even as 1980s henchman Tej Sapru as Dylan's dignified daddy springs a real surprise.
A Rekha-Rakesh Roshan in Khubsoorat quality envelops Saher and Akshay's playful banter, and one akin to Khatta Meetha around his younger brothers.
Truth be told, Oberoi bears an uncanny resemblance to the light-eyed actor turned film-maker in Dil Bekaraar. But whenever the episode veers towards his investigative journalism or likens 1980s decision making and phrases to present-day politics, it renders the series an uneven tonality.
Dil Bekaraar tries too hard to belong to its ascribed period.
A corrupt health minister's choice of words ranging from 'surgical attack', 'nation wants to know', and 'anti-national' threats or everyone's constant alluding to 'ache din.'
Or the laziest, overdone trope -- use of popular songs from the decade to drive its retro mood.
Pop culture enjoys an active voice in Anuja Chauhan's peppy writing.
It's not so organic in this erratic adaptation where every attempt to sound and feel like it's the 1980s comes across as laboured and self-aware. Be it Sachin Tendulkar's cricket debut, Deepika Padukone's birth, bottles of Campa Cola, boxes of Cadbury or rattling out news makers and technology of the period as though browsing through ads and archives of an old magazine, the treatment is overt and heavy-handed.
Dil Bekaraar is watchable but not quick-witted enough to binge watch.
There are bits that get tedious and dull but it’s good to see some of the decade's under-rated, neglected stars in fine fettle rubbing off their talent on this generation's young and restless.
Dil Bekaraar streams on Disney Hotstar.