What holds It's Not That Simple together is the cast; performers who frequently rise above their stodgy lines to bring something personal to the table, notes Sreehari Nair.
In Voot's new show titled It's Not That Simple, we are introduced to a set of Yuppies who dress to impress and sound like Confucius.
These are Yuppies discussing everything from success to heartbreaks.
These are Yuppies in collision.
Yuppies mulling over subjects such as compromise, retribution, and bhindi ki sabzi.
Here's Yuppie-in-chief Mira Verma (Swara Bhasker) about relationships: 'Chemistry blurs the line between healthy and unhealthy.'
The above piece of dialogue can be viewed as a stand-in for nearly every dialogue in the show.
The lines are all this jocose, with everyone talking in throwaways and banter.
Consequently, nobody, it seems, is attempting to have a real conversation.
What is one to make of a dialogue like: 'To err is human; to repeat it is stupid'?
It is supposed to be witty, but it isn't; worse, it holds no dramatic tension.
I got the sense of being trapped among a set of Corporate Torpedoes, with nothing 'human' about them.
There they were -- just busy disemboweling each other's pretenses using a series of self-help statements and smart quips that had perhaps come to them randomly and which they had scrawled over tissue papers for future assertions.
15 minutes into the first episode, I was ready to give up. But, but, it's not that simple, I guess.
What saves the show is that its people, although soppy-sterns, are placed inside an interesting narrative structure.
The show, in a way, begins at an 'ending'.
Swara Bhasker's Mira Verma -- a single mom who is trying to get her plan for a real estate project approved -- runs into a gang of three (Sumeet Vyas, Mansi Rachh, and Vivan Bhatena: mentioned here in order of their acting abilities); ex-friends, who it is suggested had, not so long ago, stabbed Mira in the back.
The story then hints at a dalliance that Mira is having with Angad Shergill (Purab Kohli).
From this point on, the narrative cuts to a time past when the three backstabbers were Mira's close companions and Angad, an arch enemy.
We, the viewers, having been presented with an end and a beginning, are forced to then conceive of the 'excluded middle'.
And so we start writing the story in our heads, constantly holding up our version against that of the writers.
This is where It's Not That Simple turns into something a little more interesting.
Swara Bhasker, despite being limited by dialogues that ring of hollow self-confidence, gets better as the show goes along.
The actress has a lot of fourth-wall breaking to do, and that's when she seems 100 percent Swara and 0 percent Mira.
In the flashback scenes, it's the tension between Swara Bhasker the actress, and the character she plays, that jazzes up her portrayal.
Also, she holds her own against fine actors.
There's always more going on beneath Sumeet Vyas's eyes than what his lines contend, and here, those steady eyes hide a sort of new-age loutishness.
Karan Veer Mehra playing Jayesh -- Mira's ex-husband who lives with her as a 'friend only' -- has been hired to play a jester, but he brings a lot of feeling to his character: In particular when he looks at Mira longingly after seeing her off to the door, holding the shot for juuuuust those few extra seconds.
Purab Kohli's face has started registering the weary look of talented actors, who know they haven't gotten their due yet. This shades his Angad.
I was not quite sure who Angad is in exact terms, but outwardly he seems to be a business guru with Buddhist underpinnings.
What holds the show together is the cast; performers who frequently rise above their stodgy lines to bring something personal to the table.
When Vivan Bathena's Rajeev calls Mira a 'cock-tease,' he adds a cream of style to the remark. (Bathena, there, is more than just an actor trying to utter a cool-sounding expletive.)
When Mansi Rachh's Natasha has a lesbian moment, she dials down any effort to make it 'revolutionary' and instead adds to it 'tenderness'.
If this cast had written their characters themselves, they might have written them better.
But that's not the case, of course.
It is Danish Aslam and his writers who are responsible for these characters, which characters are all pitched as Uni-Souls (one aim, one attitude), who don't wish to have deep relationships with anyone other than themselves.
But what in these characters -- their self-confidence and colourful vocabulary, notwithstanding -- expresses the magic of our private thoughts? What in them honestly conveys the spirit of our age? If the show has any answers, I am yet to get there.
As with our old television serials about the rich and famous, we watch the people in It's Not That Simple from a safe distance.
In fact, Swara Bhasker's Mira Verma is not very different from Renuka Shahane's character in Imtihaan. Mira too is struggling to keep her walls from falling away, just that she does so while clinging onto her preferred brand of cocktail.
It's Not That Simple is, at its core, a speeded-up, foul-mouthed version of shows like Shanti and Swabhimaan -- those Doordarshan soaps where business magnates had secrets that only their slavish butlers knew about.
The butlers on this show are just as loused up as their masters, and their tongues just as acidic.
But we are still, never quite, inside their heads.
The people may be generally less tidy, but the shortcoming is all the same: It's not that Real!