‘Decoupled’, a new Netflix series written by Manu Joseph and directed by Hardik Mehta, takes the concept of a marriage ending and turns it into a comedy about a man and a woman who are technically separated but are beating around the proverbial bush of their divorce for the sake of their teen daughter. Both characters, played by R. Madhavan and Surveen Chawla are struggling with the inevitable break up but they haven’t exactly taken their rings off. And for the sake of the viewers, I wish they would just do it in Episode 1 to spare us this dud of a show.
There are quite a few good examples of divorce stories in film and TV, what with A Separation, Marriage Story and the more recent Scenes from a Marriage, leading the sub-genre. The premise of a couple tied in matrimony on the verge of splitting is interesting and opens up a bunch of possibilities. Decoupled explores none of these possibilities with any success. It features R. Madhavan as Arya Iyer who is India’s second-highest selling pulp-fiction writer and a man who cannot help but speak his mind, often to disastrous consequences and Surveen Chawla as Shruti, a successful businesswoman who works at a venture capital company.
Arya, a writer who is forced to reckon with the fact that he is second best to Chetan Bhagat, (who by the way, shows up in several episodes as himself) is extremely unlikeable. From insulting airport security and instantly earning a spot on the no-fly list to passing unsolicited remarks at restaurant staff (basically everyone’s a target) to ruining a man’s proposal, the limit to how obnoxious he can get simply doesn’t exist. Apparently, his problem is that he’s way too honest and can’t filter his thoughts which results in a bunch of brutal and sarcastic comments that piss people off. But I’d like to call it a foot-in-mouth condition or just as being plain annoying. We take it that this is the reason why his soon-to-be ex-wife Shruti wants to split up. But the decision was “mutual” in Arya’s unconvincing words. So Arya goes about his life, repelling everyone in his path till he decides to get together with his buddies and make a Netflix show featuring himself and his friend Guru Agni (Atul Kumar) – a spiritual leader of sorts who has his own cult. On their show, they decide to talk about life, love, sex and women. That’s where Decoupled turns into a problematic mess that’s truly unwatchable.
Decoupled has problems that R. Madhavan’s charms can’t solve.
Decoupled is a satire, so we do expect it to poke fun at its characters, but the humorous lines don’t quite land. That’s largely on the writers, but we’ll get to the witless comedy in a while. For starters, the show’s lead couple played by actors who have done some great work in the past just doesn’t work. R. Madhavan still has a separate fan base from his days of being a ‘90s heartthrob to his recent series Breathe . Chawla is known for her role in Parched and none of them has given us enough cause to believe that they are bad at what they do. So what goes wrong in this eight-episodes long series is not their acting chops but the way their characters are written. For the most part, you understand why one would be in a hurry to divorce Arya, but Shruti isn’t the kind of person you invest your time in either. While the show wants to serve a funny battle of the sexes arc, both halves of the couple fail to keep viewers with them which can be a huge problem since they are principal characters. The rest of the cast too is full of stereotypical characters, bearing witness to the drama usually caused by Arya. So between an unbearable man and an uninteresting woman, the show gives us no reason to continue watching.
By all means, you can watch it the way one watches a car crash and finds it hard to look away. But if you do, prepare to watch everything through the male gaze.
Once Arya and Agni start their sessions of mansplaining, the series unveils some really toxic ideas. The showrunners probably think they are being self-aware of their characters’ flaws but it’s really not. From passing sweeping generalisations about women off as facts to being blatantly sexist under the guise of awareness, the show tries to get away with a lot. For example, there is a painful scene where Arya makes fun of the fact that the female Netflix exec who flew down for a meeting needs to urgently use the ladies room at the club due to the lack of clean washrooms on her travels. How is the lack of sanitation facilities for women in India funny? We don’t really get an explanation because there isn’t one. In another scene Guru Agni suggests he can sense when a woman is ovulating and craving sex and when he can’t, he uses an app that lets you track the days on the basis of a woman’s last period. Even class and gender discrimination is a joke in the writer’s book. There is a whole sequence where the men show their ignorance in conversation with a queer makeup artist before Arya goes up on stage and mistakes a group of domestic workers for trans persons. And that’s supposed to be funny. I will leave it at that.
Decoupled is a show about boys turning boy talk into a show about boy talk. It tries to pass off as a satire that cleverly comments on people’s regressive ideologies but all it does is reveals its own flawed concept. Skip this show if you are easily offended or just you know, just to avoid all the mansplaining, bad writing and episodes titles like “Peak Ovulation”.
Decoupled is currently streaming on Netflix.
But there are plenty of other titles you can watch on the streaming platform. Like these Christmas movies – Netflix’s Christmas Movies Ranked: ‘Love Hard’, ‘Single All The Way’ And More
Cover image: Netflix