Bhaag Beanie Bhaag Web Series Review: A pleasant stroll through Indian comedy
The Netflix series, starring Swara Bhasker as an underconfident stand-up comic in Mumbai, takes a while to find its voice—but that’s alright
All stories need a template. Directing Gully Boy, for instance, Zoya Akhtar drew heavily from iconic rap movies like 8 Mile and Hustle & Flow. It’s a perfectly natural way to look at a subculture which, like the film itself, has grown out of influence. The trick, then, ‘is not where you take things from but where you take them to’ (as goes a very original quote).
Bhaag Beanie Bhaag, a new Netflix series about a female stand-up comic in Mumbai, concedes its singular source of inspiration in its opening episode. Beanie (Swara Bhasker) is not a ‘comic comic’, happy in a relationship and alternating her MBA job with the occasional open-mic. But then she has an epiphany, triggered on the very day of her roka to Arun (Varun Thakur). And so Beanie bolts, calls off her engagement, quits her job and descends dramatically at a showcase. “I’m a stand-up comic,” she tells the crowd, her shiny bridal dress the least obvious nod to Midge in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Yet this borrowing, however plain, does not grate. Directors Abi Varghese, Debbie Rao and Ishaan Nair are frank about where they are taking their stuff from. What’s less apparent is where they are taking it to.
After Beanie bombs disastrously at the showcase, her confidence takes a hit. She’s almost ready to quit when Ravi, an NRI comic navigating the Mumbai scene, convinces her not to. Ravi, played by Indian-American actor Ravi Patel, is hilariously morbid even as he mentors his new friend. Hunched inside a loo, he gives a pep talk about stage fright and staying the course. “You might be bombing into your 30s…” he drones on... “You’ll get diabetes …. You’ll want to jump off the roof…”
Elsewhere, Beanie’s parents fill in the laughs as they grapple with their daughter’s ambitions. They visit an astrologer, then a therapist. Girish Kulkarni is funny as her dad, a man all too eager to ‘break the FD’ for the silliest of things. “Swiss…” he comments on an expensive watch, framing the country as a superlative. There’s also a contrast drawn between their bumbling middle-class ways and the swankier folks of Arun (Comedy Couple, on ZEE5, also milked this for laughs). Beanie’s mother (a warm Mona Ambegaonkar) is firmly supportive even though she worries her daughter isn’t funny enough. These scenes struck me as the show’s weakest link, neither amusing in themselves nor revealing about tricky family dynamics.
The show has an equally bad habit of spelling out its lessons. “Just follow your truth,” Ravi tells Beanie as she struggles to write her material. Her best friend, Kapi (Dolly Singh), is an influencer: "Do what you love,” warns a wall in her house. Late in the series, Beanie, now a step ahead in her career, is invited to perform at a wedding. The bride casually reminds her not to say anything political or offensive—beyond that, of course, she can ‘have fun with it’. The way the whole thing unfolds, I expected Beanie to go on stage and swing it hard. Instead, she actually pares it down, expressing what she has to while also not alienating her audience. It’s a smarty done scene—a look at the everyday adjustments stand-up comedians make—and it’s wonderfully sold by Swara, catching the light as she finishes her act.
The show comes alive every time Beanie and Ravi are together. “The comedy scene here is just exploding,” he says of his decision to move to Mumbai, as they sip chai and stroll down the street. “I had fun tonight,” she smiles as he’s about to leave. “Wasn’t expecting it.”
“Maybe that’s why it was so fun,” he nods back.