Mithya review: Huma Qureshi-led web series should have been a ninety-minute thriller
Mithya review: Murder follows when Huma Qureshi’s Hindi professor locks horns with her student played by Avantika Dassani in this six-episode hill-station mystery streaming on Zee5.
Rohan Sippy-directed series Mithya, streaming on Zee5, should have been a film. It should’ve been a tight little naughty 90-minute mystery. Instead, Mithya’s stretched to almost 180 minutes, nearly the same length as that of Cheat, the 2019 British miniseries Mithya has been adapted from by screenwriters Anvita Dutt and Althea Kaushal.
One of the ways to build a mystery is by trying different tricks to obfuscate obvious truths. When written poorly, this tactic can produce a bloat, as a viewer of bare minimum intelligence can figure out that the writers are wasting time, most likely to stick to a contractually obligated runtime.
This is what Mithya made me feel.
Set in Darjeeling, it’s a hill-station mystery, much like Netflix’s Aranyak, also starring Parambrata Chatterjee. Aranyak’s scope was bigger, combining local legends, murder mystery, politicians, drug trade, domestic drama, and a vast array of characters.
Mithya, in comparison, is more compact. There’s a Hindi professor Juhi (Huma Qureshi), who has a chip on her shoulder. She is the daughter of eminent writer Anand (Rajit Kapur). As such, she feels a need to prove that her achievements have nothing to do with pedigree. She is no different from her student Rhea (Avantika Dassani), daughter of a powerful businessman (Samir Soni), who happens to be a trustee of the college where Juhi teaches.
In a different kind of screenplay, Juhi and Rhea may have been drawn to each other.
Juhi has been trying to be a mother for a while, with her husband Neil (Parambrata). The romance in their relationship has fizzled out. Juhi probably needs an escape, which she finds in an affair with her colleague. Rhea, whose mother died when she was a child, needs someone to look up to.
But trouble begins early in episode one when Rhea turns in a well-written essay for her assignment, but Juhi suspects Rhea plagiarised it. Why? Juhi doesn’t have an answer. It’s just her instinct talking. This is only one among several bizarre writing decisions in the script. Maybe, Juhi has an axe to grind with Rhea? Maybe, Juhi doesn’t like her boots and chokers? Maybe, she hates millennials and zoomers like our editors? Who knows?
Anyway, Rhea, an intense and tempestuous young lady, won’t let Juhi’s accusation go unavenged. She sets out to ruin her life, drawing Neil and both of Juhi’s parents into the vortex. A murder happens, of course. There’s an investigation. There are a pair of cops. The senior cop is not good at his job. His deputy, a young woman, is the more sensible one. Genre tropes all the way, nothing new here.
The sad part about Mithya is that it had a lot of interesting themes to work with: teacher-student relationship, parent-child relationship, infidelity. The fact is that the writing is not up to the mark to say anything substantial about these themes. The bright spots are few and far between. Meanwhile, you have a pulpy mystery to take care of. It’s a tall order.
Sippy’s direction is at its most overwrought here, his worst since his directorial debut Kuch Naa Kaho (2003). Sippy’s strength lies in directing clever material, like Bluffmaster! or Dum Maaro Dum. Anything with emotional gravity is going to drag him down. There are some tacky creative choices Sippy makes, for example, the black-and-white bits with Juhi and Rhea, both wearing white, standing across a partition in a prison in the beginning of each episode. They are verbally sparring, mouthing inane things about truth, lies, responsibility, justice, the works. The idea is to make the viewer guess who’s the murderer, which is revealed in the final episode. These parts felt Sippy is going for a very sophomoric tribute to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.
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Maybe, he did not think of Persona, maybe he did. I don’t know. But it reminded me of Persona. I think I secretly wished the story took a different direction, as I already mentioned once before.
What makes Mithya somewhat watchable are the performances.
Twenty-three-year-old Dassani is aptly cast as the volatile young woman, her cracked voice adding to her shifty quality. Chatterjee is reliable as the underconfident husband, with an edge. Rajit Kapur really delivers the goods. Qureshi’s role carries a lot of complex themes, but it’s a poorly written character, and she is stuck with a unidimensionality she cannot fight with histrionics and posturing as she previously did with her performance as Bihar’s chief minister in Sony Liv’s Maharani.
Web series: Mithya
Cast: Huma Qureshi, Avantika Dassani, Rajit Kapur, Parambrata Chatterjee
Director: Rohan Sippy