Call My Agent: Bollywood Review: An amateurish series that puts fun on hold

Call My Agent: Bollywood Review: An amateurish series that puts fun on hold

Four talent agents bug their clients ­— and us — in this Netflix series
Rating:(1.5 / 5)

Netflix India has been banging away at a genre it thinks is ultra lucrative: the film industry comedy. It’s a tough sell. On a bad day, Hollywood’s idea of self-deprecation ranges from Edward Norton stepping out of a toilet in The Dictator to Bill Murray getting shot in Zombieland. That’s usually the level we are up against, and it takes an occasional AK vs AK to top it. Released last year, Vikramaditya Motwane’s film poked ample fun at our entrenched star culture; the platform’s other titles — Masaba Masaba, Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives — only seemed to affirm it. To the second list we can now add, and instantly forget, Call My Agent: Bollywood.

Director: Shaad Ali

Cast: Rajat Kapoor, Soni Razdan, Aahana Kumra, Ayush Mehra, Suchitra Pillai

Streaming on: Netflix

Adapted from a French series, this is a show about four talent agents trying to keep their company afloat after their boss unexpectedly dies on a foreign sojourn. These are the silent puppeteers, the unseen hustlers, who keep Bollywood buzzing. As Amal (Aahana Kumra) explains — “We bring acting jobs, endorsements, and negotiate contracts.” They also run around stars and ensure no one taps out of a project because someone’s cast their rival. It’s a silly, underexplored world to tap into, except the show also maintains a wary distance from its subject matter. Like the worst of agents, it prevaricates instead of telling the truth.

Take the first episode, which is built around actor Dia Mirza landing a Hollywood gig. The producers, afraid she might be too old for the part, move to replace her. Dia’s agents intervene; the role is reoffered to her but on one condition: plastic surgery. It’s encouraging to see a popular female star back a track like this, someone who has spoken out about ageism in Bollywood before. There’s even a funny moment where she hides her disappointment by clicking a selfie with a fan. But director Shaad Ali turns it into a self-aggrandizing act, with a triumphant Dia walking out after refusing to go under the knife.

The other episodes follow the same, simplistic loop. A crisis presents itself; the agents collude, cajole and somehow save the day. There are tracks for bickering co-stars (Lillete Dubey and Ila Arun), bickering families (Akshara Haasan and Sarika Thakur), bickering lovers (Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha) and bickering colleagues (Jackie Shroff and Nandita Das). A Bollywood prayer meet scene is so hurried and awkward it reminded me of impromptu school presentations. The show also seems to exhaust its roster of guest stars, with co-writer Hussain Dalal filling in as an impatient director at one point.

The main characters, too, are wholly uninteresting. Rajat Kapoor plays a grizzled whizz, his fashion sense unchanged since Dil Chahta Hai. Up-and-comer Ayush Mehra does a fine job of a clichéd part; his scenes with Aahana needed more spark. The most intriguing presence, by far, is Treasa (Soni Razdan). She’s a veteran who prefers to go by ‘star maker’, and has a puppy called ‘Pankaj’ (it’s named after her ex-husband). Disappointingly, and in an insult to Razdan’s talents, Treasa is sidelined throughout the series, observing rather than owning the hustle.

There are B-plots slapped on as filler. Merenla Imsong stands out occasionally as a driven receptionist. In a neat idea, the show is set in South Bombay, and not the film industry hubs of Andheri and Versova. This leads to a shot of Treasa and Amal crossing the CST square, wearing shades and trading bygone gossip. The office scenes, meanwhile, are hard to look at, staid and lifeless save for the Tesla poster on Ayush’s wall — it has electric eyes!

Late into the show, an assistant is selling a director on a project. Web shows, she tells him, play three times wider than blockbuster films. Her pronouncement is echoed in the final scene, a voiceover assuring us there’ll be a season 2. These agents need critics… someone to tell them they aren’t any good.

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