Biweekly Binge: Taking the mickey out of mediocrity
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Afsos, streaming on Amazon Prime
In Afsos — the Amazon Prime original series from Anirban Dasgupta, Dibya Chatterjee and Sourav Ghosh, directed by Anubhuti Kashyap — Gulshan Devaiah plays Nakul. True to his name, he is a brother who doesn't matter and isn't as important as the other characters in his life. We get mentions of his ailing parents and a brother who doesn't think much of him but that's Nakul in his own words, one who pays a therapist to talk to him.
Devaiah plays Nakul with his typical deadpan, dispassionate demeanour. The therapist Shloka Sreenivasan (Anjali Patil) at one point says that demeanour is everything and a person's state and attitude can be deduced from their demeanour. Nakul's demeanour is that of a man in atrophy. Devaiah's face, limbs and the way he walks, all of them betraying this disinterestedness. The performance is measured to the minutest of details, self-reflexive in a way, as if Devaiah doesn't wish to be in the shot half the time. And it works, because that's what Nakul feels like all the time. We find him attempting suicide in the show's beginning. And we find him doing the same in the end. He regrets being part of the show. And he is really bad at disappearing off the face of the earth.
Shloka makes for a terrible therapist. She gives out platitudes and almost by design, says all the wrong things. She is also a therapist in need of one. Nakul is pictured in his tedious looking middle-class home where time stands still, a picture of domesticity that rejects even him. He contracts his own murder and, on the day, he doesn't indulge in anything outrageous. Nakul is so uninspired that he settles the bills, has ice cream and sits on the see-saw. We are not sure if he has a job but he hates it and he wants to be a writer. He's lost count of the number of times he's been rejected. He believes he must be the author of his story because it is so badly written. There is an irony there that escapes him, he can be dim-witted like that. There is something shiny in this dim-witted person that is relatable, a desire to make life exciting. If impossible then at least create fiction that is exciting. But alas, he neither possesses the imagination nor the experience to conjure such fiction. Like Shloka, he too is mediocre.
Thinking about Afsos, almost every character is written to be terrible at their jobs. Inspector Bir Singh (Aakash Dahiya) from Uttarakhand, wants to do good but he is stuck with a police station in Mumbai that is a suction for mediocrity. He is there in search of Fokatiya (Robin Das), a baba who has massacred his mates in an ashram and is known to be in Mumbai, searching for the immortal man. Afsos is about this bunch of good-for-nothing characters caught in this endless search for immortality and the elixir that deigns it. It's light-weight Coen Brothers, think Burn After Reading, where half the people don't understand what they are after but they are at it anyway because maybe, just maybe, for a while it will feed some joy and excitement into their lives. They all have that afsos - regret. That novel, that loving partner, that big story, that dream police case, that satisfying murder.
Like Ayesha, the journalist, who is after this immortality story. She can only think in terms of headlines and click baits, even without a story in hand. She is one of those terrible journalists, sucked out by the system, a symbol of which is her boss Karthik. Heeba Shah plays Upadhyay, an assassin who is apparently great at her job but has run out of form after meeting these unfortunate characters. Afsos brings these people together, united only in their mediocrity and the inability to make their ambitions come true. They have something in common - none of them has a reason to live, they slowly wither away into oblivion with only the adrenaline of the black comedy keeping them on their toes. In a madly entertaining and beautiful scene encapsulating exactly this, Fokatiya and Ayesha go on complaining about their respective lives, forgetting for a moment that a larger game is afoot.
Afsos doesn't care for too many details. A bunch of retired assassins who lend a hand in suicide? Check. The Kohinoor was really a decoy for the elixir of immortality? Check. A painter who wishes to stumble to his death, like his friend, so that his family benefits through the big-hearted boss? Check. Afsos keeps world-building to a minimum and writing and atmosphere at the maximum. Shloka literally framed at Upadhyay's house, a hilarious video game shootout episode, "repair and puncture" with phone numbers on the wall behind Shloka and Nakul as they contemplate the latter's future. It also weaves in timely social commentary at the most offhand moments, like the painter instance.
Afsos is not consistently excellent but every time there is a lull, a storm gasps and bursts, ending with laughter, a sign of a thoughtfully put together tragicomedy.