BOTTOM LINE: Vir Das Shines in a Show Doesn’t Live Upto Its Potential
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Comedy|
Skin and swear: Contains minimal skin show, brief lovemaking sequences with regular utterances of expletives
What Is the Story About?
A small-time comedian Hasmukh in Saharanpur is frustrated living under the shadows of his mentor and veteran performer Gulati, a household name for comedy in the State. An unexpected retaliation and confrontation with his master paves the path for Hasmukh to kickstart his comedy career with aplomb. Jimmy, his sidekick and secret-keeper, gives a good push to his ambitions. A byte of one of his popular shows lands on Youtube, which ensures him a ticket to Mumbai and be a part of the country’s biggest standup show on television. Does he have enough fire in his belly to make the best use of the opportunity? What does his conscience say?
Vir Das returns to acting to prove how the Hindi entertainment industry has grossly underutilised his talent. While it’s obvious that the standup comedy portions come rather naturally to him, Hasmukh gives him a layered character to tap his sensitive side too – so effective is his earnestness and maturity as an actor that it reflects in the way he handles guilt of the character, fights his inner-demons and even manipulates a viewer to empathise for him despite his notoriousness.
However, it’s hard to imagine the show without the liveliness in Ranvir Shorey’s performance. He shares great on-screen camaraderie with his co-star and his character’s graph is more consistent than Vir Das’. Despite the inherent darkness in his characterisation, there’s a great joy in witnessing a character who supports his protagonist no-matter-what, lending more value to the underdog victory.
Manoj Pahwa cast in a fine role as Hasmukh’s mentor is more or less the latter’s alter ego – the character is a bitter syrup that foretells what Hasmukh has in store. It’s fitting that the show too ends with his words. Ravi Kishan is superb in a role as a television channel’s creepy CEO, though the character loses its fizz sooner than you would have wanted it to. Amrita Bagchi, Inaamul Haque, Suhail Nayyar, Raza Murad and Santanu Ghatak pitch in with crucial performances that help the show
Like how a Bollywood musical uses its songs to take its story forward, Hasmukh is a first-of-its-kind attempt in the Indian digital space to utilise standup humour as an effective storytelling tool (Four More Shots Please did it recently as well). Doing this doesn’t only establish the profession of its protagonist more authentically, but also helps the narrative be economical in its approach and save precious screen-time. Vir Das, the actor-turned-standup comedian has chosen a delicious project that suits him like a T – helping him capitalise on his strengths and proving that he’s a lot left to achieve in the entertainment industry as well.
Jimmy, the protagonist’s sidekick says murdering someone is your Viagra to pump you up before a performance. Little do they know that it’s a drug that keeps haunting them. The murders symbolically represent the protagonist’s bruised ego – he needs something to pull him down before his jokes land with the perfect timing. What makes the character fascinating is his conscience – he’s extremely self-aware about the loss of his identity. Jimmy and Hasmukh share great chemistry along with the deepest of their secrets as they savour fame and simultaneously pay the price for their deeds.
The vicious hierarchy of the television industry, how it traps home-grown talent through contracts, a subtly woven theory on karma amid the backdrop of an investigative thriller are an essential part of Hasmukh. The premise is fascinating, but one gets a sense that the makers were too tempted to sanitise the image of its lead character by the end of the show. Expectedly, the Saharanpur (UP) portions are shot with greater flavour and quirk. As the backdrop shifts to Mumbai, the subplots become a lot about the television industry, professional jealousy, underworld mafia and the reality show.
The drama gives good fodder for the show to progress, though it’s nowhere close to where it could have gone. This been-there-done-that vibe of identity-loss in a big city robs the show of the originality that was evident in the initial episodes. The small town-big city clash is an integral element of Hasmukh – the standup humour becomes a sensitive tool to express that. It neither romanticises nor demeans the big city (in this case, Mumbai). Though the show becomes less interesting, more obvious by each episode and the tonal consistency goes for a toss, it still manages to keep you entertained.
It’s interesting how the director doesn’t make Hasmukh’s rival Krushna Kumar a mere antagonist (though he’s very close to being one) – the character merely serves as a reflection of what Hasmukh could become if he doesn’t stay true to his conscience. Hasmukh is ultimately a story of a boy who gets his hand dirty in the big-bad world where humour presents him an opportunity for self-reflection. The novelty in the storytelling, however, falls prey to an identifiable template.
Music and Other Departments?
There are many layers to the story that challenges a composer with the texture of the score – the harmony between the thriller portions and the feel-good underdog story strikes a good balance in Neel Adhikari’s music. Akash Agarwal, who depicts rusticity with a charm in the earlier portions also revels in presenting Mumbai with all its quirks. The writing is interesting though it isn’t consistently impressive. Kavish Sinha’s casting decisions bring in a much-needed authenticity to the show’s setting.
Loses its direction midway
Tries too hard to sanitise the protagonist’s character
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
Yes, despite its issues
Review by Srivathsan Nadadhur