Pour: R Madhavan, Surveen Chawla, Arista Mehta, Darren Eric Scott, Akash Khurana, Aseem Hattangady, Mir Afsar Ali, Freisha Bomanbehram, Dilnaz Irani
Director: Hardik Mehta
Evaluation: 2 stars (out of 5)
A quarreling couple, neither Bergman nor Baumbachesque, master the increasing heat and prepare for divorce Decoupled, a Netflix series produced by Bombay Fables and Vikramaditya Motwane Andolan. Unfortunately, the show is a bit of a dying marriage. It drifts and crumbles.
Decoupled is alternately silly and empty. It has no chance of ever being spoken in the same breath as the long line of wonderful films (think Scenes from a Marriage, Marriage Story, Shoot the Moon, A Separation, Kramer vs. Kramer and An unmarried woman, et al.) examined divorce and its consequences.
The Hardik Mehta series, created and written by Manu Joseph, is an empty shell of a story. It skims the surface of a relationship that broke under the weight of innate incompatibility and unfulfilled expectations. What’s the big deal?
Decoupled is like a long sentence that winds its way until it finds a paragraph to disappear into, and then is reduced to an insignificant fraction of a monotonous, circulating chapter. To cut the long sentence short, a man and his wife realize that they are not made for each other and are determined to make their separation an even steeper mountain than their marriage.
The joke is weightless and the “battle of the sexes” truths the series seeks to articulate are far from illuminating. There’s not a lot of percent to swimming in shallow water, is there?
The wealthy Gurgaon couple decide to go their own way, but don’t know how to get the news to their 12-year-old daughter and the woman’s parents in Mumbai. Their main concern is isolating their daughter, but they also discuss when to announce their breakup, the change in the woman’s Facebook relationship status, and the steps they need to take to look beyond marriage.
The man, Arya Iyer (R. Madhavan), is a pulp fiction writer always on the lookout for Chetan Bhagat (who, like himself, appears periodically to show the protagonist his place in the pecking order of popularity ).
Decoupled presents “the pecking order”, like much else in the series, in dreary terms. The envious Arya takes Bhagat’s book off the top of a bestseller and replaces it twice with his own book – once in a bookstore in Gurgaon and then at Delhi airport. The second time around, he’s caught red-handed by his rival himself saying something about Arya being an alumnus of BITS Pilani and not in his league.
Arya’s estranged wife, Shruti Sharma Iyer (Surveen Chawla), is an entrepreneur looking for a new injection of capital into her venture capital firm. Their marriage has been on the brink for three years, but she continues to live in the same house as Arya to hide the truth from her daughter Rohini (Arista Mehta). Shruti is soliciting a Korean tech billionaire (Darren Eric Scott) because it’s good for business.
“You are such a disaster,” Shruti screeched after Arya was almost attacked by a bunch of villagers for pronouncing a four-letter word. It really is a disaster. Arya is an extremely unsympathetic guy, but that’s not what’s wrong with the character. Nor is R. Madhavan’s performance responsible for how the role he plays develops. Arya Iyer simply cannot convince as the heroine of an emergency marriage drama.
Granted that Decoupled is a snappy satire and allows you some freedom in the way it etches out one of the two main characters. But was it necessary to turn Arya Iyer into a caricature – a gentleman without a single delicate bone in his body? He invites trouble for himself, be it from a CISF jawan at the airport gate, a man offering Namaaz in a prayer room in the terminal building, his father-in-law (Akash Khurana) or a group of women he considers transgender ways that weigh on gullibility.
In contrast, Shruti, who fortunately is neither a victim nor a villain, is a woman who does not strike up while aggressively cornering her future ex-husband. However, she doesn’t fully develop into a character that is easy to invest in and excite. She just seems to go through the motions – we don’t care one way or another anymore – as the couple grapples with the factors that are responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.
As the two main actors are deprived of the power to drag us into the trials and tribulations created by their failed marriage and impending divorce, Decoupled, in spite of the smart, decisive performances by Madhavan and Surveen Chawla, remarkable background music by Rachita Arora and impeccable cinematography by Piyush Puty, it never rises above the ordinary.
Arya and Shruti are surrounded by a number of stereotypes – a “poverty” economist (Mir Afsar Ali) who, as you guessed it, is Bengali and swears by Amartya Sen, a “festival” filmmaker (Aseem Hattangady), at the prospect of staging a show for Netflix, a flight attendant (Sonia Rathee) jumping into bed with Arya in an inappropriately hurry, an ex-girlfriend (Freisha Bomanbehram) whose hips don’t lie, and a life coach (Puja Sarup) who has favourited advice to Shruti on how to make the most of a bad deal.
Completing the picture is Guru Agni (Atul Kumar), a former CEO of a food start-up who is now a scholar with female followers looking for fulfillment. He maintains orgasm and ovulation with the sharpness of an editing fissure from Chetan Bhagat.
Decoupled tries to turn it all into a casual joke – liberal thinking, anti-intellectualism, climate activism, Islamophobia, the misery of migrant workers, the fear of refugees, and even a woman who has put on weight, over-enthusiastic waiters and a sweaty driver (when it comes to the class separation goes, can parasite far back?).
It’s not much fun to watch (with a largely masculine, privileged look) screwed-up middle-aged men who have sex on their minds because they probably aren’t getting much action and who take it upon themselves to not just determine what kind of women want, but also what they should want. But that’s it Decoupled offers despite the many women, including various abused housemaids, who populate the story.
Take an example. Arya, in the middle of a conversation with a streaming platform manager (Dilnaz Irani) at an upscale club in Gurgaon, thinks he has the right to poke fun at the woman’s urgent need to go to the ladies room. “I know exactly what effect a seven-star toilet has on a woman … it’s like reuniting a refugee with his homeland,” he says. There is no justice here for women, refugees and people born on the wrong side.
That DecoupledConstructed primarily around the chatter of boys in the locker room, it is devoid of depth and riddled with deliberate dissonance, but does not diminish the insensitivity it proudly flaunts.