Industry review: Navjot Gulati's show on the Bollywood dream is raw, familiar yet rooted, lived-in | Web Series - Hindustan Times

Industry review: Navjot Gulati's show on the Bollywood dream is raw, familiar yet rooted, lived-in

ByDevansh Sharma
Jun 20, 2024 06:04 AM IST

Industry review: Some may call Navjot Gulati's five-part series a sasta Luck By Chance, but it's a much-needed lived-in update on the Bollywood dream fable.

Industry review: Navjot Gulati's Bollywood fable begins and concludes its five-episode run at the same place – opposite Mannat, Shah Rukh Khan's palatial bungalow at Bandra Bandstand in Mumbai. It's the ultimate symbol of an outsider's dream – to make it so big that you can once own a sea-facing home in the heart of the Maximum City. Scores of fans gather outside Mannat every day to get just a glimpse of the Bollywood star spreading his arms from the balcony.

Industry review: Navjot Gulati's update on the Bollywood dream
Industry review: Navjot Gulati's update on the Bollywood dream

(Also Read – From Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan to Taapsee Pannu: 8 actors who played older roles on the big screen)

The singular opening visual of an aspiring screenwriter facing Mannat while standing across the road tells a story worth a thousand words. But what happens next defines what kind of show Industry is and wants to be. An auto rickshaw enters the frame, protagonist Ayush (Gagan Arora of Tabbar-fame) enters, and leaves the site. Unlike Zoya Akhtar's 2009 directorial debut Luck By Chance, Shah Rukh Khan doesn't just show up to give a pep talk to the protagonist.

For anyone attempting to tell a story of the Bollywood dream fable, comparison with Luck By Chance is inevitable. It's the definitive film of this subgenre. When viewed through that lens, Industry also has certain parallels to the film – a morally ambiguous protagonist; torn between two women – a glamorous actor, who represents seduction of fame/success, and a sincere fellow hustler-cum-friend, who represents humility; a loud producer (Rishi Kapoor's Romy Rolly there, Chunky Pandey's Rakesh Raman here); and the peculiar ways in which the Hindi film industry functions.

However, the industry is interested in something other than narrating a nuanced but quick cautionary tale about the forbidden fruit that Bollywood is. It wants to spread out the everyday struggle into hours and hours of screentime, representing the arduous and eventful journey of every outsider in Bollywood. There's no luck by chance, no waving of a magic wand, or no happy coincidences. Life is a slog, but a hopeful one. This gaze somehow dilutes the magic of movies and buoyancy of dreams, but as the narrative progresses, one gets more invested in the routineness than the highs, since it's relatable, rooted, yet never mundane.

We're told that Ayush has already been at it in Mumbai for 8 years. It's an interesting phase to be in – he has success stories all around him, but isn't one himself. His flatmate works at a leading mainstream studio, Karma Productions (yeah, no prize for guessing); his friends like Abhishek Banerjee and Hardik Mehta have gotten their breakthroughs with Pataal Lok and Roohi respectively. He's in touch with Guneet Monga, fresh off her Oscar win. He also goes to movie premieres with Sumit Arora, the dialogue writer for Jawan. While they're all his cheerleaders, they and he realise that his journey is his own.

Gagan Arora is very effective and effortless in communicating a struggling screenwriter's aspirations and vulnerabilities. Notice the change in his body language when he goes from pitching his script to a production house to mentoring a screenwriter just starting out – he takes all the pent-up angst and turns it into dominance. His blinkered vision keeps him going against all odds but also consumes him completely. He receives friendly gestures as romantic moves, as if he's the protagonist of a love story he's writing.

Gagan is supported by two terrific co-actors – Asha Negi as Sanya Sen deals with what Soha Ali Khan coined as the “perils of being moderately famous.” She's an established TV actor, but is going broke by actively refusing offers to focus on the big Bollywood break. Ankita Goraya as Gayatri, on the other hand, is a determined, progressive screenwriter, but no one takes her seriously because she looks more like an actor. Chunky Panday is having a lot of fun and represents the gaudy, exaggerated circus that Bollywood is.

But the Bollywood of Industry isn't restricted to movie premieres, late-night parties, and film sets. In fact, it shines a light on the spaces very far from film sets – informal writers room of two at the Blue Tokai in Aaram Nagar, Interval snacks from Candies, Bandra, and meeting rooms of production houses where MBA officials test film narrations and think of Premchand and Manto as hiring candidates. All of these lend a lived-in texture to the proceedings. Only screenwriters on the precincts of the industry – Navjot Gulati, Shreyansh Pandey, Shreemi Verma, and Girish Jotwani – could shape a screenplay that's more amused than traumatised, more observant of than bewitched by Bollywood.

For instance, my favourite character from the ensemble is Rocky Wadhwani (played to the hilt by Lakshya Kochhar), a star kid struggling to make it big in Bollywood. The son of a producer-father and a film critic-mother, he wants to be in the spotlight, but also craves for flattering reviews. He's an entitled brat, but also heartbreakingly sincere. When he reads about being kicked out of a project in the newspaper, the despondence on his face eclipses his privilege. It takes writers with a keen eye and an empathetic gaze to not paint everyone with the same brush, whether they're of their ilk or outsiders.

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