Decoupled Series Review: Madhavan, Surveen Chawla impress in this take on urban relationships
The self-awareness in Decoupled is so high that it can either come across as smart writing choices or the cinematic equivalent of clickbait
At one point in Netflix's latest release, Decoupled, Arya Iyer (Madhavan) says something to offend someone. At another point, Arya says something else to offend someone else. And at one completely another point, Arya says something to offend someone else altogether. In any other series, one might expect a couple of examples to be doled out to exhibit why the characters are offensive to a fault. But then, in Decoupled, we don't really need to fixate on one singular event because the Hardik Mehta-directed series is all about Arya offending everyone with his seemingly acerbic wit. Writer Manu Joseph uses Arya as his mouthpiece to dole out all his inner thoughts about every single thing in the world around him.
Director: Hardik Mehta
Cast: Madhavan, Surveen Chawla, Sonia Rathee, Atul Kumar
For people acquainted with the writing style of Manu, Decoupled might just come across as the scaled-up extension of his columns. For others, Decoupled, which has the potential to be both refreshing and disturbing, might be polarising for sure. But then, this was no doubt the makers' intention because we wouldn't have scenes like... well... like the one with... I mean... every scene. What can one ask of a series where the lead characters say lines like "Love is like a blowjob without a condom." This line might have not landed with the expected thump, but Decoupled revels in the offend-a-minute space with no qualms whatsoever.
Decoupled is a series filled with some of the most obnoxious of characters, who very well know that they are insufferable. And that's what makes Decoupled stand out. It is irreverent, politically incorrect, and is unironically unassuming and purposefully pretentious at the same time. It is a tightrope walk, and Decoupled unabashedly decides to go down this path with has its share of highs and lows. The self-awareness is so high that it can either come across as smart writing choices or the cinematic equivalent of clickbait.
One of the major highs of Decoupled is the casting, which is on point. While Madhavan and Surveen Chawla who play Arya and Shruti, are brilliant as the out-of-love elite Gurgaon-based couple, full points for the casting of the secondary characters who deliver some of the best lines of the series. Be it the newly formed Guru (Atul Kumar) who doles out not-so-sagely advice to his band of boys, or Mayank (Aseem Hattangadi) the arthouse filmmaker wanting to go mainstream, a Netflix senior executive Reema (Dilnaz Irani), the couple's car driver Ganesh, an economist Dr Basu (Mir Afsar Ali), each of these characters are played to the gallery without any apprehensions. The gallery in question, however, is one with limited seating. And it is not just because the series is predominantly in English. The series was marketed as a take on elite urban relationships, but for the longest time, Decoupled doesn't focus on this aspect at all.
The problem with not focussing on the central conflict is that Decoupled robs us off more effective scenes involving Surveen's Shruti. In fact, Shruti is mostly reacting to what Arya did rather than doing anything out of her own volition. She gets angry at Arya. She is exasperated with Arya. She laughs at and along with Arya. She does troubleshooting after Arya gets into trouble with his belief that people shouldn't have to think before saying things. This writing choice positions Arya as the only character that gets to do things. His affair with an airhostess gets more airtime than Shruti's. Despite being a grade 1 you-know-what, there is nothing wrong that happens with Arya, who only suffers slight inconveniences like being put on the no-fly list or being placed on the second rack of Indian best-sellers... after Chetan Bhagat, who is fascinatingly impressive in a cameo in Decoupled.
While the show mainly works on the humour generated by the life and times of Arya, the real heart is at the exploration of the marriage between two obnoxious people who, in many ways, deserve each other. Keeping aside the layers and layers of mirth and condescension, the subtle and poignant moments shared by the couple are heartwarming. Despite staying together only to hide their impending divorce from their young daughter Rohini, the writing and performances nudge us to the happier times Arya and Shruti. Their shared half-smiles, approving nods, an effective running gag of shows of one-upmanship between them, and even the breakdowns in each other's company or otherwise, Arya and Shruti paint a pretty grim picture of the "happily-ever-after" institution of marriage. We understand that the jabs, jibes, barbs and conflicts are a front for two broken hearts making peace with what was once most important for them. This aspect of the show comes into its own in the final couple of episodes, and by then, it becomes the classic case of 'too little, too late.' We do, however, see fleeting hints at them reconciling but both Arya and Shruti are as intransigent as they come, and both use humour, of the offensive kind, as their defence mechanisms of sorts.
Decoupled is a series that wants to take a dig on everything, and it is clear that the makers had a checkbox of sorts. Although the series might portray itself to be an "I will offend everyone" troll, it is anything but. More than being the punching-up or punching-down kind of humour, Decoupled is just smart about deciding what to punch. Yes, it touches upon and rains offense on the MeToo movement, caste, gender inclusivity, sexual rights, feminism, body image, and even... agriculture, Decoupled is smart in the way it stays away from anything that might get it into "real" trouble. The butt of its jokes are issues that will result in social media retaliation by write-ups and be trending for a few days, but it will be long enough to get Netflix to sign the team for the sequel promised at the end of the final episode.