Decoupled: There is always room for well-written insufferable characters but Arya Iyer isn't one

  • Decoupled: Manu Joseph and Hardik Mehta's new Netflix show has got the internet divided about the acceptability of insufferable know-it-alls.
R Madhavan and Surveen Chawla in Decoupled.
R Madhavan and Surveen Chawla in Decoupled.
Updated on Dec 22, 2021 09:10 PM IST
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Decoupled, Netflix's latest series, shows curiously little about the ‘couple’ at the centre of it. A comedy about a husband and wife going through a split but keeping up the pretence of being together for the sake of their daughter, Decoupled cannot be bothered to deal with matters of the heart. Its focus, instead, rests on being a train-wreck of an attempt at satire. 

And a satire on what exactly? Directed by Hardik Mehta (Kaamyaab) and written by Manu Joseph (Serious Men), Decoupled targets all from watchmen, waiters and drivers to members of the ‘trauma industry’, women with big butts, unshaved armpits and Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite, of all things. The opinions are controversial when not downright abhorrent. But that being said, there is always space in the world and definitely on streaming platforms for stories of abhorrent, insufferable people. If the success of Succession is any marker, people really dig watching rich people being horrible. But one of the many things that sets Succession and Decoupled apart is ultimately what the show and the minds behind it are attempting to say with it. With Decoupled, I was not always sure what the intentions were, as it meandered through offending the very people it set out to defend.

In Decoupled, doling out lessons in futility of ‘boring’ jobs, therapy and body positivity is show's misanthrope in-chief, Arya, played rather well by the real life ‘great guy next door’, R Madhavan. Arya is the second best writer in the country, after Chetan Bhagat (who has clearly won the biggest loot with the show, appearing as a crazier version of himself and having a ton of fun with it). He whips out his phone to log a voice note whenever he witnesses anything amusing about people in mediocre jobs or to check the period app to know if his estranged wife is ovulating yet. Also part of his posse is a sex guru who always has quotable quotes to churn out (such as ‘love is blow job without a condom’) and lessons for women on how to orgasm better. Joined with a nervous filmmaker with an idea for a Netflix show, the three sit around in cafes and golf clubs of Gurugram, harassing waiters and planning how to get their friend laid.

In the very first scene of the show, Arya and his wife Shruti scrunch up their noses at the stench of their driver. She speaks in English so he doesn't realise what she has said. It is apparently used as a comment on Parasite but I am clueless as to what exactly is the aim here. A few episodes later, a rich South Korean boss, too, is unable to ignore the smell and Shruti lets him know that she has watched Bong Joon-Ho's film and that he is ‘safe’, perhaps from being murdered by the driver. Even later still, Arya and the driver finally speak about the stench in the room and the former is given a humble lesson in the ‘smell of the earth and hard work’. It appears that the show has finally done right by the small man. But another episode later, it all comes crumbling down. Looks like Arya had learnt nothing from whatever happened in the last few episodes at all. At an art exhibit, trying to get back at his pretentious neighbour's art piece about the rich man's avocado and the poor man's banana, Arya brings in his driver for cheap kicks, only to get him humiliated and heartbroken.

Arya, almost gets his just deserts, but not for the right reasons, in perhaps the most torturous episode of the series to sit through. As his ex-girlfriend comes visiting, he decides to make his wife jealous by showing her off. There is one big problem though: her big butt. He goes through multiple hurdles, turns off the lights, wonders if he should put her in a wheelchair just so his wife cannot witness her bad choice in women. But at the end, all plans fail and Arya is made to feel ashamed, not because he was horrible to a woman who did not fit his ideas of beauty but because it is finally revealed that his ex has a big butt. 

Also Read: Aarya 2: Sushmita Sen finally breaks bad, but takes 7 long, boring episodes to get there

Of course, there is fun to be had in witnessing thoughts that you've always had--about snaking through police nakas on a busy Gurgaon road, futile security checks, men who guide you in parking lots, waiters interrupting conversations, women's obsession with pristine bathrooms--getting represented. And usually, these are also some of the highlights of the show, ones where the grumpy, cynical Madhavan shines the brightest. But then it also disappointing when he sets out looking for a pretty 'maid' in his neighbourhood and only finds women who look like all the ones that work in our homes, or when he says trans women he's just met (which were actually cis-women house helps) are prettier than ‘half the women he knows’. 

While Arya is the one spewing hate on therapists and environmentalists of the world, it was perhaps Manu Joseph or Hardik Mehta's idea to show a newspaper headline about Me Too movement after Arya's less-than-perfect night with his girlfriend and another about a virus spreading through South Korea after Shruti's date with her Korean boss. Yes, doling out moral lessons is not a writer, director or a series' job but grabbing onto such low hanging fruits has never been considered intelligent writing.

Then there is the lure of still being a great dad that Arya and his writers fall into. Such a critical, cynical eye in matters of the world, but it all goes out the window when the daughter comes in frolicking with her iPad. When Succession's Logan Roy is horrible to the world, that temperament doesn't suddenly vanish when it comes to his kids. It becomes worse. I wonder what Arya might say or do when his daughter gains a bit of post-puberty weight on all the ‘wrong places’. 

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Soumya Srivastava is Entertainment Editor at Hindustan Times. She writes about movies and TV because what else is there to life anyway.

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