The show is filled with the sort of sexist drivel we routinely see in matrimonial columns and WhatsApp forwards. Thanks to Netflix, it’s now on our screens.
Last weekend the pool of cringe TV swelled and expanded to embrace a new English-speaking Indian series because of its special mix of banality, misogyny and smug upper-class conceit.
Set in the richie-rich world of a Gurgaon gated housing complex, Decoupled, as the title suggests, deals with a married couple trying to uncouple.
The eight-part series on Netflix is about Arya (R. Madhavan), a writer, and his wife, Shruti (Surveen Chawla), a startup founder. They have a convenient and cute arrangement. They are emotionally and physically estranged but share the same house, car, and driver, meet for dinner at restaurants and check out potential fling items at the gym together.
There are hints that he may have cheated, but the reason for their separation is never articulated clearly because Decoupled really wants us to like Arya.
Shruti and Arya are treading cautiously towards a formal break-up because they think their school-going daughter is too fragile to deal with ‘divorce’.
This is the overarching storyline of Decoupled. But its heartthrobs for Arya, a narcissist, and the series’ storyline exists only to give his worldview all the space and time it doesn’t deserve.
The series is written by journalist-author Manu Joseph, and the character of Arya draws its traits and drift from its creator. Joseph’s misogyny is quite apparent in his writings. He seems to be under the impression that only he sees, and has the gall to point out, the peculiar Indian idiocies and hypocrisies when he is just using these instances to flaunt his rather petty and sexist worldview.
Arya is a fiction writer, and it is suggested that he may have more literary merit than the reigning No. 1 author, Chetan Bhagat (who stars as himself), simply because we are told Arya uses big English words.
Given the churlish and lazy characterization of its lead character, it’s no surprise that the fake world of Decoupled is made up of caricature characters in contrived situations. There’s a creepy Bengali lefty professor and a pretentious art event, an artist-activist gay couple, overbearing neighborhood mummyjis and the wife’s hot boss. Their only purpose in life seems to be to irritate Arya.
Arya is presented as a sort of truth-talker whose words and actions serve as a running commentary on urban, rich India and its unique stupidities. Except that it all comes to us from a man beset by many phobias involving men’s peckers and underwear, but also women’s armpit hair and bowel movements.
Like random men on streets irritate Arya when they scratch their crotches, he scratches his crotchety mental crotch in public all the time, often to the discomfort of his wife and daughter.
The very first such situation presented in the series is when Arya refuses to shake hands with a young boy because boys, you know, masturbate a lot and don’t wash their hands. Similar phony scenes are concocted and presented as comical to infuse some current flavor and incite anti-national rants. But they are so trite that even my yawning got bored.
In a particularly soulless scene that made me wince, Arya uses his driver to ridicule an art event and the artist.
As the series progresses towards divorce and there is talk about Arya selling his book to Netflix, he gangs up with his `guruji’ friend who runs a yoga ashram for women. This is when sexist boy-talk takes centerstage.
In Decoupled, women seem to have some power and agency. At times it looks like they may be running the world. But there is a running commentary as well, from Arya and his pal, to run them down constantly.
Women are split into two categories — those who are attractive and have sexual potential and those who don’t. Though one group is considered worthy of male attention, neither seem to deserve even basic courtesies.
Men, on the other hand, are presented as simple creatures whose desires must take precedence over their floppy tummies and man boobs.
Though Arya is the one who does most of the whining in Decoupled, it’s the women who are complicated, always unhappy, emotionally needy. Some hot ones are also greedy, we are told.
Pretty maids, Arya explains, make married women insecure, and to prove this, we get a montage of Gurgaon maids. This is despite the fact that we had earlier met Shruti’s very attractive maid.
Decoupled is made up of the sort of sexist drivel we routinely see in matrimonial columns and WhatsApp forwards from uncles. Thanks to Netflix and Joseph, it’s now also on our screens.
Everyone likes R. Madhavan. He is a fine actor and lends more warmth and dignity to Arya’s character than it deserves. Surveen Chawla, who plays his long-suffering wife, is like an island of quiet dignity in glowing skin and dark lipstick shades.
To be fair, a man who sees through urban India’s hypocrisy and stupidity, and is congenitally wired to speak the truth, can be fun. It has also been done before. For instance, Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar and Larry David’s hugely popular Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The problem here, though, is that everything is trivialized, everyone else is dehumanized to allow Arya the wanker a free reign and make us see the world through his eyes.
Decoupled has a lot of in-jokes — at Indian authors who think they are better than Chetan Bhagat but can’t outsell him, and at Netflix for being run by women.
There is definitely a problem with Netflix India, but it has nothing to do with the fact that it is run by women. The problem is that it is run by women who are trained only in the dark arts of saas-bahu serials and Bollywood box-office. On the few occasions when they widen their horizons, all they see is an author with Chetan Bhagat’s banality and misogyny but written in slightly better English.