BOTTOM LINE: Diatribe Against Male Entitlement In The Garb Of A Sex Comedy
|Platform: Amazon Prime Video||Genre: Comedy, Drama|
SkinNSwear: No skin show, a few swear words, a couple of masturbating scenes, a lot of sex talk and full of sexual innuendos
What Is the Story About?
Nand Kishore Tyagi (Ayushmaan Saxena) is an 11th standard student, obsessed with a singular aim – losing his virginity. The story is set in small-town Meerut, bang in the middle of the Hindi heartland. Not only Nand, but everyone in town seems to be preoccupied with sex – the women discuss it in their kitty gatherings, the men crave it on the sly, and pubescent teens, like Nand and his friends, are fascinated with it.
Into the melee arrives Shanu Madam, Nand’s new English teacher. The lady oozes sex appeal and sensuality, and — in an interesting plot device — has a sexy alter ego, Rasbhari. Rasbhari is as debauched as Shanu is prim and proper. She’s a sex-crazy nymphomaniac, who will make out with any man who asks her, “Aur koi seva ho toh batao madam.”
Pretty soon, the entire male population of the town – Nand’s father included – is salivating to be noticed by Shanu Madam, or errr… Rasbhari. Nand makes it his mission to lose his virginity to his sexy new English teacher.
So then, what next?
Though given a meaty role with a lot of juice to extract from it, Swara Bhasker fails to sink her teeth into it to the bone. By the end of the eight episode-series, what she manages to get is a mere few juicy bits of the meat. She begins well, flitting between the righteous Shanu Madam and the raunchy Rasbhari with seamless elegance. But midway into the series, her act loses steam and coalesces into a listless, half-hearted portrayal of a decidedly interesting character. I wonder what a Kangana or a Vidya would have done with Rasbhari. Vidya Balan’s The Dirty Picture outing is still the gold standard when it comes to depicting a debauched sex symbol. And Kangana’s bipolar personality act in Judgemental Hai Kya is brilliant, to say the least.
To come back to Swara in Rasbhari, we would say she’s put in a decent enough performance, but could have done a whole lot more. The difference in her portrayal of the two markedly different characterisations is not stark enough to raise it to above average levels, leave alone brilliant.
Ayushmaan Saxena has put in a great performance as Nand. He gets the bafflement with his teacher’s blowing hot/blowing cold personality right, as also the Meerut dialect. The supporting cast, mainly the teen brigade, leads the way in giving the series a leg-up in the performance department.
Rashmi Agdekar’s performance as Priyanka is eye-catching. She’s got the sassy Meerut girl act perfectly right. Akshay Batchu as Bhalla is a riot, while Akshay Suri and Sunakshi Grover are passable. Sunakshi Grover made a mark in the TVF series Flames, but is not as good here. Most arresting is everyone’s grasp and rendition of the Meerut dialect. It is spot on, and none of the characters lets it slip even once. Chittaranjan Tripathy is his usual reticent self as Nand’s father. His poker-faced dialogue delivery is always a joy to watch. Neelu Kohli is a tad bit loud in her outing as Nand’s mother and wary wife.
At the outset, you realise that Rasbhari is a story with only one agenda in mind – to smash age-old patriarchal stereotypes to smithereens. In the garb of a sex comedy cum coming of age romantic story, writer Shantanu Srivastava and director Nikhil Bhat grab the collar of every patriarchal trope out there and give it a good shaking. Every situation that arises due to Shanu Madam’s unbridled sensuality reeks of patriarchy in all its inglorious infamy. It is the kind of patriarchy that is notoriously prevalent in our society and is accepted without so much as a squeak.
On its surface, Rasbhari is the story of a young pubescent lad and his crush on his sexy teacher. Simple enough. But scratch just beneath, and you uncover a mass of issues that are a common occurrence in our male-dominated society – issues that raise a stink worse than rotten eggs, but are brushed under the carpet with impudent regularity, notwithstanding their stinky status.
If a man strays, it’s his privilege —men are like that only. But heaven help a woman who goes down the same route. She is branded a slut and a wh*re, and given the choicest Hindi names – kulta, kulakshini and what not, along with being shamed in public.
A woman who works in a call centre is branded ‘loose’ – it’s as if the domain goes with sleeping around. But if a man takes umpteen ‘business trips’ to Bangkok, poof – out pops the same old reasoning – men are like that only; their brains reside in their pants. Everything a woman does – the clothes she wears, her outgoing demeanour, her friendly smile – gets dissected in the petri-dish of misogyny and patriarchy. And worse – the perpetrators of the slut-shaming of women are always other women. Men are shown as mere babes in the wood – naive, easy to manipulate and use.
Every episode begins with a scene in flashback – of Shanu’s confrontations with overbearing misogyny and discrimination in society on the basis of gender. Sometimes it’s her own parents, and at other times, the people around her. Those confrontations shape the woman she is. What doesn’t make sense is her craving for sex; no one is spared – the cable guy, the student, the co-teacher at school — heck, even the kaamwali bai. Yes; Shanu, or should we say Rasbhari, is shown as bisexual. The series is blatantly raunchy, without the need to be. Thankfully, the making out scenes are not explicit; they’re rather tame, in fact.
It’s quite apparent that Rasbhari seeks to show a mirror to society and slam home the two-facedness of the people that inhabit it. But instead of going down the wishy-washy sermonising lane, it chooses to take a humour-and-sex-filled route to its intended destination. And therein lies its downfall. The light-hearted, sex comedy path to expose the rot in society seems frivolous and vain. Rasbhari has its heart in the right place, but it is less about the cure, more about the cause, and, ahem – most about the sex.
Once the novelty of the humour and plot device wears off, the narrative settles into a never-ending, and somewhat tedious, repetition of sequences – of Rasbhari’s seductive sexcapades, wary wives strategising against Shanu Madam’s charms, and the like. In the end, though, we’re none the wiser about why Shanu behaves the way she does – like a sex-crazed nymphomaniac.
All said and done, Rasbhari is a well-intended series that doesn’t quite live up to its plot device and premise. The ambiguous ending leaves scope for Season 2. The success of this season will decide whether it gets a green signal or is chucked for good.
Music and Other Departments?
The writing of Rasbhari is spunky and snarky. Shantanu Srivastava leverages the typical colloquial Meerut language to come up with dialogue that makes you smile. The screenplay could have done with more teeth. The production design of Rasbhari is quite average, as are the editing and cinematography. The title song ‘Rasbhari’ is catchy though forgettable. The background music is passable – nothing to write home about.
The rather intriguing plot device
The short episodes – any longer would have made it a tedious watch
Unable to leverage the plot device
Repetitive sequences, that lead to tediousness and ennui
Amounts to nothing at the end
Did I Enjoy It?
I found it an average watch
Will You Recommend It?
Watch it if you have time to kill and nothing better to do
Rasbhari Web Series Review by Binged Bureau
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