Senior TV actor Rita Bhaduri is associated with playing the grandmother — a traditional looking biji or baa — in soap dramas. So it’s not surprising when you see her in the trailer of the upcoming web show, I Don’t Watch TV. Sari pulled over the head, she’s smiling with an aura of benevolence into the camera. She’s drawing a rangoli as she is shown arranging a bit of white powder on a table. The next frame sees her tilt her head sideways and bend down. The implied meaning, of course, is that it was no rangoli powder and the grandmother with the halo just snorted a line of cocaine.
This sets the tone for the rest of the trailer.
The web show, slated to launch around the end of March, is marketed as a show about ‘inglorious constipated bastards of Indian TV’. And nothing is like you expect. “I Don’t Watch TV is a satirical take on the daily soap industry, while also giving a peak into the world of film and theatre,” Roshni Ghosh, creative director at Arré, which is launching the show, says.
Meet the cast
The lead role is played by Nakuul Mehta (who is also the producer), who’s known for playing the protagonist in Star Plus’ show, Pyaar Ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyaara Pyaara, which ran for over two years. “The sitcom follows the journey of a TV star who gets thrown out of a serial. “He begins to question his career choice and tries out other mediums like films and theatre,” says Ghosh.
The first season, which will launch end of March or in the beginning of April, will have five episodes. The show features famous names from within the TV industry — Karan Wahi, Kritika Kamra, Drashti Dhami, among others — who play themselves. The trailer shows Kamra smoking and Dhami rudely telling off an elderly lady to quietly eat her food. “Since the actors play themselves, you will wonder if they are actually like that in real life. The show is set in a real-meets-bizarre sort of world,” Mehta says. The show’s director-director, Ajay Singh, describes the show as a Big Lebowski (1998) and saas bahu mash-up, while Mehta terms it like a mix of Andrei Tarkovsky’s (Russian filmmaker) films and the sitcom Tarak Mehta ka Oolta Chashma. The title itself is taken from a line in the cult movie Pulp Fiction (1994).
After some contemplation, the duo gives out their pièce de résistance. They’ve managed to convince filmmaker Anurag Kashyap to star in the season finale – something of a coup for them. “We were after him for two months. Eventually, he saw the trailer and asked what we have in mind for him,” Mehta says.
Real to reel
Mehta and Singh, are long-time friends who’d toyed with the idea of I Don’t Watch TV since quite some time, before going through with it. “We’ve had exchanges about what the television industry is like, and Ajay found it amusing.” Plenty of Mehta’s real life experiences have made their way into the script. “I once got a call from a leading production house. The person said they were making a huge supernatural show. I asked what I would do in it. The reply was, “You’re playing the boyfriend of the creature.” I asked what the story was. I was told, “It’s not written yet. We’ll figure it out but first, let’s get you on board.”
The idea, though, is not to take potshots at television, emphasises Singh. But is Mehta worried the show’s plot might not go down too well with some industry insiders? “Ajay often jokes that I’m not going to have a career in TV after this,” he laughs. “Our intention was clear: we wanted to make television cool. I love the medium and we’re definitely not looking down on it. Ever since the trailer has come out, I’ve got many calls from acquaintances in the industry praising it, and also asking why they hadn’t been called to star in it.”
Industry colleagues aside, there are fans’ feelings to be considered too. “A fan wrote to me saying ‘how could you do this? TV has given you everything’,” he says.
The new-age platform of web shows have never really seen a mainstream actor play a role, much less the lead. The money, fame and exposure are considerably less than the small screen or cinema. And many might interpret a TV star taking on a web series as a sign of not him/her not getting significant roles in television. So what made Mehta take this up? “He had no option,” laughs Singh. For Mehta, it was a matter of creative pursuit: “Making the show has been far more challenging and satisfying than merely mouthing lines written by somebody else.”