The Fame Game review: Madhuri Dixit-led Netflix series is a deceptive mystery
The Fame Game review: Madhuri Dixit plays popular Bollywood actress Anamika Anand who goes missing one fine evening.
The Fame Game delivers on its two promises. Firstly, the Sri Rao-created Netflix series justifies its title. A pulpy take on what it takes to become famous in Bollywood is served up as a twisty mystery surrounding the disappearance of a top actor. Secondly, The Fame Game does right by Madhuri Dixit in her streaming debut. (Also read: Madhuri Dixit talks about her OTT debut with The Fame Game: 'I am always here, any talk of comeback is crazy')
Not that we get to know anything new about the dark side of celebrities. Through eight 45-minute-long episodes, what we get are tropes we already associate with celebrity life: affairs, stalkers, financial issues, domestic problems, troubled childhood, the works. But all of this is wrapped up in an extremely engaging screenplay by Rao and co-writers Shreya Bhattacharya, Akshat Ghildial, Amita Vyas, and Nisha Mehta. Directors Bejoy Nambiar and Karishma Kohli extract top-notch performances from their superstar lead and a bunch of interesting actors surrounding her.
Madhuri Dixit plays Bollywood diva Anamika Anand, who goes missing after an awards function. The episodes move back and forth in time, revealing a little about Anamika’s life in the past, while clouding her present as police officer Shobha (Rajshri Deshpande) investigates the case with a palpable dislike for the Bollywood crowd. Shobha’s antipathy to the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown slowly morphs into a grudging and warm respect for Anamika as she uncovers the actor's past.
But is Anamika really who she wants Shobha – and the audience – to think she is? Initially, her amiable personality is a mystery. She is clearly bothered by her marital life, her problems in the house, her broken relationship with her children, the list goes on. That she smiles and soldiers on is, well, understandable at the work front. But how she hasn’t lost it in private is hard to understand.
It is when her character bares her fangs in the final few episodes, we see why Dixit’s still got it.
The two other major performances of the series are by Lakshvir Saran and Muskkaan Jaaferi, who play Anamika’s troubled, angst-bitten children. Both young performers go one-on-one with Dixit in a bunch of scenes and superbly hold their own.
Saran plays Avi, who has his fair share of legitimate issues, which includes a hot-and-cold relationship with his mother. Avi is an intense, sensitive fellow, and Saran’s performance is really one of the most touching aspects in a series where most characters are devious or out of depth.
Jaaferi plays Amara, whose mommy issues stem from her ambition to be as popular and wanted as her mother, while having to live in her shadow. Jaaferi is quite entertaining to watch as her character moves from being sweet to sinister in a slow-burn manner.
The trauma inflicted on children by their parents’ actions plays a big role in The Fame Game. Much of the story hinges on young Anamika’s relationship with her domineering mother, played by Suhasini Mulay. Anamika’s mother is an absolute shark, who forced her daughter to work in the film business when she was barely an adult. She had control on Anamika’s life and career from an early age, which she is in no mood to relinquish. She is clearly the boss of the house.
Sanjay Kapoor, reuniting with Dixit after 25 years, plays Anamika’s shady movie producer husband Nikhil. Kapoor carries a bit of his character from the superb Dibakar Banerjee short film in Lust Stories. Nikhil alternates between being sincere and slimy. He plays fast and loose with Anamika’s finances, often keeping his movie star wife in the dark about his investments and expenditures. Together, the mother-husband duo is enough to drive Anamika crazy.
Then there’s movie star Manish (Manav Kaul) with whom Anamika was once romantically close. Manish reenters Anamika’s life months before she goes missing and becomes one of the suspects. The divorced, privately brooding actor still pines for Anamika. He happens to also have mental health problems. Kaul really makes Manish a highly watchable, well-rounded character. Makrand Deshpande shows up late in an interesting role, which I’d like to know more about in the second season.
Andrew Orkin and Harini Raghavan’s score is among the best scores I have heard in a web series in quite a while. The bar has already been low, though. Vaibhavi Merchant choreographs Anamika’s dances. It’s nice to see Dixit in her element again, but the dance sequences are small parts of films within the series and are nothing to lose sleep over. As much as Dixit’s star power and charisma, aided by superb supporting performances, carries the show, what ultimately makes The Fame Game work is the writing. It left me wondering what will happen to Anamika, what turns will the story take.
Web series: The Fame Game
Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Kapoor, Manav Kaul, Lakshvir Saran, Muskkaan Jaaferi
Directors: Bejoy Nambiar and Karishma Kohli