Tag Archives: Desi TV Shows on Netflix

TV Review: Indian Matchmaking (2020)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Indian Matchmaking on Netflix

Indian Matchmaking took Twitter by storm as soon as it premiered on Netflix. Perhaps Delhi Belly actress Poorna Jagannathan summed up the early reaction best with her tweet: “#IndianMatchmaking was horrifying. Also, #Netflix, how soon can you drop season 2 (asking for a friend)”.

Indian Matchmaking features Mumbai-based professional matchmaker Sima Taparia trying to find suitable partners for singles in India and the United States, setting them up on dates and bringing in experts like a life coach, astrologer, and face reader when necessary.

The series is quick to get through, with most of its eight episodes clocking in at under forty minutes. The first episode introduces three characters who are effective hooks: likable Nadia from New Jersey; Texas lawyer and excellent reality TV villain Aparna (who at one point says, “You know how I hate comedy”); and Mumbai jewelry designer Pradhyuman, who would rather be anywhere else than on this show and is cringey to watch as a result.

But Indian Matchmaking has some serious issues, often because of what goes unchallenged by the show. Yashica Dutt wrote a great article in The Atlantic about the show’s inherent casteism. Taparia frequently touts potential prospects’ “fair” complexions, but the show doesn’t address the obvious colorism in her remarks.

Part of the problem is that Indian Matchmaking — a Netflix Original series — was made with no input from Netflix India. It’s an American creation from Los Angeles-based filmmaker Smriti Mundhra, who was apparently the only South Asian involved in the production, according to Variety.

Besides the show’s social and cultural problems, there’s also the fact that it’s just not that well made. Mundhra received awards for her 2017 documentary A Suitable Girl, which also deals with arranged marriage and also stars Taparia. But a 90-minute film is different than an 8-episode series, and Mundhra doesn’t nail the transition from one medium to the other.

Casting is an issue. Over a hundred potential subjects were narrowed down to eight people willing to have their romantic lives scrutinized on TV. Of the eight, the only reliable content generator is Aparna, who appears in five of the show’s episodes. Nadia is gone after three episodes. Pradhyuman’s exit in Episode 5 overlaps with the introduction of the series’ most tragic figure, Akshay — another rich Mumbai guy who wants even less to do with the show than Pradhyuman, but whose overbearing mother Preeti is so desperate to show the world how wealthy her family is that she happily sacrifices her son.

Akshay features in four episodes, as does Texas school counselor Vyasar. Delhi fashion designer Ankita stars in three, while single mother Rupam is only in two episodes. The eighth and final single is a woman whose name I don’t even remember who is introduced in the last ten minutes of the series.

If Mundhra intended for each cast member to get his or her own episode, that clearly wasn’t going to work. Besides the two cringey guys who didn’t want to be there, a couple of the women realized during filming that there were either better ways to meet available men or that they weren’t as interested in marriage as they thought they were.

To make up for that lack of usable material, Mundhra stretches storylines in some places and recycles them in others. Episodes 5 and 6 both end with Vyasar mentioning his need to have the same important conversation with his date, Rashi. If that conversation ever happened, it didn’t make it into the show.

Almost every character’s story ends with them on a positive date, but with no clear closure to their storyline. Aparna does goat yoga with a nice guy named Jay, and then she’s just gone. I guess we’re supposed to assume that they lived happily ever after? (The LA Times, Oprah magazine, and Esquire wrote follow up articles about whether any of the relationships formed on the show succeeded.)

Beyond the more serious negative cultural impact of Indian Matchmaking, bad casting and deceptive editing make the series unsatisfying to watch. I’m sure it’ll get renewed for a second season, but I don’t need to see it.

TV Review: Ghoul (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ghoul on Netflix

Ghoul pulls no punches in its depiction of the dangers of state-sanctioned religious intolerance. The show’s monsters are scary, but not as terrifying as the vision of the future presented by writer-director Patrick Graham.

The miniseries comprises three episodes, each with a runtime between 40-45 minutes (excluding closing credits). In all, Ghoul is about as long as a feature film. I appreciated the built-in breaks, which occur at logical points in the plot. This is a perfect kind of storytelling format for a streaming video platform, and I won’t be surprised to see it become more common as filmmakers adapt to changing audience viewing habits.

Graham keeps the scares to a minimum in the first episode: “Out of the Smokeless Fire,” establishing a world where every day is a nightmare for those on the wrong side of new societal divisions. A fascist Indian government cracks down on homegrown terrorism by outlawing certain religious texts and practices, burning books and whisking away citizens believed to harbor anti-nationalist sentiments for “re-education.” The only people targeted in crackdowns are Muslims, although the show doesn’t specifically identify the government as Hindu nationalist.

Naive patriotism inspires Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) to enlist in the military, despite being the daughter of an Islamic scholar (played by S.M. Zaheer). She’s convinced that the government’s harsh tactics truly are about national security and not religious oppression, as her father believes — so much so that she turns in her own father for re-education. Soon after, she’s posted at a secret government prison to aid the interrogation of notorious terrorist Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj), who is captured in the show’s opening, half-dead and surrounded by the corpses of his followers. But why would the military assign Nida, a junior interrogator, to such a high-profile case?

The last two episodes draw from any number of horror films in which the characters are trapped in a remote location with a monster, their terror turning them against one another when their survival depends on them working together. Few of the soldiers and prisoners get any meaningful character development other than Colonel Sunil Dacunha (Manav Kaul), whose idea it was to bring Nida in, and Lieutenant Laxmi Das (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee), Dacunha’s skeptical second-in-command.

Although the relative anonymity of the other soldiers signals their expendability, it also highlight’s the shows message that any agent of a fascist government is liable for its crimes. Not every soldier in Dacunha’s prison personally tortured prisoners, but all of them knew about it and did nothing to stop it. The jail’s cremation room is a stark visualization of the parallels to Nazism present throughout Graham’s screenplay.

When Ghoul‘s namesake creature finally appears, the story becomes quite scary, playing on the fears of those within the prison. Several of the soldiers, including Dacunha, are haunted by the way engaging in torture has warped their sense of morality — not enough to stop torturing people, unfortunately — allowing the monster to play on their guilt. The scares in Ghoul are more psychological than surprise driven, and there’s a considerable amount of blood.

Nida is plagued by her own guilt, and she has no allies in her new surroundings. Apte is compelling in the lead role, showing both Nida’s grit and vulnerability. Bravely, the series doesn’t downplay her commitment to the totalitarian government. She’s willing to follow orders until the moment she’s absolutely convinced that she’s been duped. Nor does Ghoul try to make Dacunha more sympathetic than he should be. Kaul depicts Dacunha as conflicted, but unquestionably a bad person. Ghoul knows which way its moral compass points, and it’s not afraid to show it.

Links

Streaming Video News: June 4, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of two movies that released in theaters earlier this year, each starring a stellar lead actress. The thriller Missing — starring Tabu and Manoj Bajpayee — is now available for streaming, which is cool since it only released theatrically in India, not in the US. Rani Mukerji’s Hichki is also now available (and well worth watching). Thanks to Gaurav Arora for giving me the heads up about Hichki!

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a newly announced expiration date. You’ve got until July 3, 2018, to catch all thirteen episodes of the 2015 TV series Adrishya. This is part of the purging of shows produced by the TV channel Epic, which were only under contract to air on Netflix for two years. Six shows just expired on June 1, and we can expect to see Ekaant and Siyaasat hit bricks in September.

Interview with “Brown Nation” Star Omi Vaidya

Few Bollywood outsiders skyrocket to fame with their very first Hindi film, but that’s exactly what happened to Omi Vaidya when he played Chatur “Silencer” Ramalingam in the hit movie 3 Idiots. After a few years and several more Bollywood films, the Los Angeles native returned home to raise a family and resume his Hollywood career. His latest project is the Netflix comedy series Brown Nation.

Omi graciously answered some questions via email about Brown Nation and his documentary Big in Bollywood, which makes its Netflix debut in December. He also had lovely things to say about his Jodi Breakers and Players co-star Bipasha Basu, because, well, Omi’s just a doggone nice guy.

Kathy: How did you get involved with Brown Nation? Was it already a Netflix project when you came onboard?
Omi: “I met the director, Abi Varghese, in 2011 when my documentary, Big In Bollywood, won the audience award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. We hit it off and in mid-2014, he approached me to play the role of Balan in a new sitcom he was creating called Brown Nation. This was an independent TV show with a cast of minority characters speaking in English, Hindi, and Gujarati and financed by private investors–not by a studio or TV company–which meant it may never have been picked up. But it also allowed the show to not be limited by the typical stories and cast of characters you see on American or Indian TV.”

Kathy: What do you like about the cast of the show?
Omi: “When I started shooting, I was astounded by the amount of talent that was on the set. The cast was selected over many months and the actors that were chosen perfectly fit the roles. Many of them also had a wealth of acting experience and some were veterans of comedy and improv. It’s really the level of talent that elevates Brown Nation to a great show you want to binge watch.”

Kathy: Where are you finding the best opportunities right now: India or America? Are you more partial to one storytelling format over another?
Omi: “I am finding great opportunities in both India and America. Both countries are having media revolutions in the kinds of stories they are telling, so it’s exciting to be able to partake in both! I especially like it when the lines blur between the two like they did in Brown Nation. I prefer the efficient storytelling and comedic sensibilities of Western cinema, however there’s an exuberance and excitement to Bollywood that you just can’t get anywhere else. Plus Bollywood stories hit on topics that can be more relatable to South Asians so there’s value in that as well.”

Kathy: After working steadily in India for a few years, what made you decide to come back to America when you did? Was there ever a time when you thought your career might keep you in India permanently?
Omi: “There was definitely a time when I considered living in India permanently. Fame and fortune can be very enticing. But moving to different country solely for career opportunity has its limits. After 3 years of continuous work in India, I had huge professional growth but little personal growth. That’s when I consciously chose to move back to America, because it is the place I was born, grew up, and understood more completely. Although I have a huge fanbase in India, most of my family is in America, and it’s a great place to raise my son who is now 16 months old. My wife, Minal, is also finishing her post-doc at the National Institute of Health. We have a great life, and I still get to do what I love. I strive for a well-rounded life where I am challenged everyday. So in that way, I am blessed.”

Kathy: Having worked in comedy in both the US and India, what do you see as the major differences in comedic styles/preferences between the two countries?
Omi: “I am making generalizations here and there are always exceptions. But in general, comedy in America can be more low-key and subtle and ironic,  while in India the jokes can be over the top and less sarcastic. India still has a rich tradition of using puns or wordplay in comedy or jokes being steeped in innuendo or double meanings. In America, pun or wordplay humor is not as common. Neither comedy style is superior to the other and both really reflect the audience tastes.”

Kathy: Apart from the classic 3 Idiots, which Hindi film are you most proud of?
Omi: “I’m somewhat proud of my work in Madhur Bhandarkar’s, Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji. Although it wasn’t a major hit, my story in the film was realistic and relatable and I got to play a Maharastrian–which is what I actually am! Using my own experiences and some of my mother tongue in the film was extremely satisfying and allowed me to cross an item off my bucket list. Actually, it’s made me add another item to that list: Someday act in a Marathi film!”

Kathy: What are the plans for the release of Big in Bollywood?
Omi: “Big in Bollywood, the documentary that shows my rise to fame in India, is releasing on Netflix by the end of the year. It’s the true story roller-coaster of a film that follows a struggling actor who hits it big, and the perils of a meteoric rise to fame. Please follow me on Twitter @omionekenobe to find out more about the film and it’s release date.” (Since our interview, the Netflix release date for Big in Bollywood was announced as December 31.)

Kathy: Bonus fangirl question: I love Bipasha Basu, and you’ve worked with her twice. Do you have any good Bipasha stories?
Omi: “Bipasha Basu is a great woman and person. Many of the actors in India come from film families, and therefore they come to the set with a chip on their shoulders, as if it’s their right to be famous and respected. But actors like Bipasha and Madhavan came from middle-class homes, and they have retained that modesty and down-to-earth nature. Bipasha has presented a strong, smart woman figure to young Indians who may be looking for someone to look up to. And she’s beautiful too! When we shot Players in the northern-most city in Russia, Murmansk, it didn’t matter who was a star or not. None of the cast was recognized by the locals. But it didn’t matter what restaurant we went to; all eyes went to Bipasha. Even if she dressed like a bum, Russian men would still try to make conversation with her. They would say, ‘You work in Bollywood?’ ‘I know Raj Kapoor!’ ‘Awara Hoon!'”

Thanks so much, Omi! Check out Brown Nation on Netflix right now, and watch Big in Bollywood when it debuts on Netflix on December 31, 2016.

Streaming Video News: November 22, 2016

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with several new additions to the catalog. Three Bengali movies by director Qaushiq Mukherjee, aka Q — Gandu, Ludo, and The Land of Cards (“Tasher Desh“) — join two of his Hindi titles already available for streaming: Brahman Naman and X: Past Is Present. Also recently added to Netflix is the new series Brown Nation. This 10-episode comedy about a dysfunctional New Jersey IT firm features Bollywood veterans Omi Vaidya of 3 Idiots fame and Delhi Belly‘s Shenaz Treasurywala.

Streaming Video News: September 24, 2016

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. 1920 London is now available for streaming, following a brief theatrical run back in May. If you need to catch up on the first film in the horror series, 1920 is available for free on Amazon Prime.

In other Netflix news, three Indian TV series were recently added to the service: Ekaant, Mumbai Railway, and Siyaasat. Three other TV series — Adaalat, C.I.D., and Maharana Pratap — will expire from the service on October 15, exactly one year after they were added.

For everything else new on Netflix, check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: June 2, 2016

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with several more additions to the collection. Yesterday’s catalog update also included the addition of six Hindi television series, both fiction and non-fiction. Thanks to Instant Watcher for alerting me to the newly added shows, listed below with genres in parenthesis:

In other Netflix news, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is set to expire on June 8. The movie is 90% great, but the bad 10% is right at the very end.

Streaming Video News: October 15, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with some new additions to the catalog. 2014’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania is now available for streaming. I thought it was really cute.

The big news is that Netflix just added three Hindi-language TV shows to its catalog. The crime dramas Adaalat and C.I.D. are now available to stream, as is the historical drama Maharana Pratap. The twenty-six episodes of each of the crime dramas plus more than fifty episodes of Maharana Pratap add up to 50+ hours worth of entertainment. That helps to offset the pain of Netflix’s ever-dwindling Bollywood movie catalog.

Since we’re on the topic of TV shows, let me throw out links to two of my favorite Korean TV shows on Netflix: Boys Over Flowers and You Are Beautiful. Both shows are fantastic.

For everything else new on Netflix, check Instant Watcher.