Ms Representation: A comedy for our times
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author talks about the comedy show Better Life Foundation
Remember the 90s when everything was seemingly better? The music albums, the television shows... Sometimes maybe less is more. Nostalgia almost always is about this. In retrospect a lot of the TV shows from the 90s seem to have had better writers, plots and even humour. With increasing shows and channels, content dilution was perhaps inevitable. I have since abandoned Indian television shows (last year’s Bigg Boss Tamil was an exception and the producers have actor Oviyaa to thank for that).
The one show in recent times that has managed to impress with its top-notch writing and self-aware humour is Better Life Foundation, starring Navin Richard and Sumukhi Suresh, among others. Season 1 of BLF, which was shot in the mockumentary style, was launched on Youtube, while Season 2 moved to Hotstar. Each season is only five episodes long.
The women are plenty in BLF – colourful, funny, hardworking, socialites… the whole gamut, but of course, the one who stands out is Sumukhi (who had her own show on Amazon Prime, Pushpavalli, and about whom I have written earlier in this column as well).
Sumukhi is almost a proxy for the viewer, and she is intelligent, cares for the world and is pragmatic. And then there’s the idealistic ‘Head Intern’ Aditi (Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy) and a motley crew of other women who head various other NGOs. However, my favourite part of Season 2 is the character development the office accountant, Anirban, goes through. From selling shady movie DVDs that he downloads on the office internet in Season 1, he turns writer. He writes steamy Hindi novels whose primary audience are women. Even though it’s just a funny sidetrack, and is meant to ring in the laughs, it is neither disrespectful to the adult genre nor to the women to come to buy these books. It is this sort of awareness that makes BLF a non-cringe watch.
Sumukhi is an assertive presence and is no pushover. In fact, she runs the show (as the Chief ‘Executioner’ as one joke goes). Naveen Richard’s Neil Menon is her polar opposite – he doesn’t hang up on a wrong call because that would be rude. Because of the inefficiency around her, Sumukhi almost always ‘has’ to do better and she does too. Sumukhi’s comedy in this show is almost entirely physical and tonal – she speaks her words a certain way or stares at the screen, or squints, and you know exactly what she’s going through. Mostly exasperation. Aditi, the ‘intern’ plays her role with clinical perfection.
BLF is a good example of the kind of comedy that can come when mindfulness is at play. A certain sense of awareness that all of its characters can make the jokes land admirably. However, in Season 2, it appears that BLF has left behind the comedy-only space and has embraced a plot and is following through with it till the end. As a result the laughs aren’t as frequent, but the depth does remain.