Damn Netflix and whoever makes trailers for them, because they are getting better at misleading viewers about the quality of their content. Or damn us. Why the fuck are we not learning from our past mistakes? The teaser for the 2021 series ‘Call My Agent Bollywood’ directed by Shaad Ali, looked like a fun ride. It is an official Indian reboot of the popular French show ‘Dix Pour Cent’, which is also available to stream on Netflix. Nothing prepared me for just how shitty this show was going to get.
Plot overview – ART is a sinking talent agency, where four agents scramble to get their actors top money and stop their company from going bust after the owner dies.
The first few seconds of the first episode are good enough, courtesy the pretty visuals of Dia Mirza who plays herself, an actor nearing 40s & finding it hard to get lead roles. But soon, things get chaotic. Aahana Kumra plays Amal, one of the primary protagonists, but she isn’t able to pull off the role of a sassy/bullheaded agent. Except for a few minutes here and there, Amal’s trribly written inconsistent character is a cringe-show. For example, Amal’s assistant quits after being told to ‘shut the fuck up’, and when the crying underling tries to storm out of the office, Amal tries to pacicy her with a crappy line that goes “mujhe pata hai mujhe aaj kal zyaada hi gussa aata hai… tum… tum badam khao, tumhe ussey shakti milegi”. Translation – I know I get very angry these days, you… you eat almonds, they’ll make you strong. WTF? Who comes up with this shit? The interaction keeps getting worse and Aahana feels out of her skin. I almost feel bad for her. But after that I started feeling bad for myself, because I didn’t want to watch the show anymore. But I soldiered on…
Let’s talk about the other three agents, Rajat Kapoor is the scheming/opportunist agent Monty, perhaps the only villain sort of character in the show; but Rajat has his A game on, so despite the negative role, he is the only one agent that doesn’t comes across as a boneheaded moron. Soni Razdan as the oldest of the pack gets very little screen space, almost like a token representation of the ‘old school’ star-maker. And finally there’s Ayush Mehra, he plays a young Parsi agent, and doubles us as a ‘fag-hag’ for the lesbian Amal. Mehra was okay-ish, nothing worth mentioning. It’s in-fact all the actors who keep making small cameos through the series as the ‘talents’ being handled by the agents who stand out. So actors playing themselves offer the bare little entertainment viewers get out of ‘Call My Agent Bollywood’.
Maybe I should’ve done a listicle titled ’20 reasons why this new Netflix show sucks’, instead of a review. The makers don’t know how to use music. For example, some scenes that could’ve been fine with soft notes, instead have an over-dramatic flourish of instruments. And they keep using that piece over and over again, making it annoying… the music is a lot like the trumpet-sort of sound in the song ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’. That choice of instrumental ambience blends well with tragic loves stories, not with a dark satire on Bollywood agents. Or whatever this chaotic show is supposed to be. Because it’s neither funny enough to be a satire, nor dark, and the story flits between being absurdly caricature-like (yet not funny) and too serious.
Things get mildly better in Episode 2, largely because of fun little twist involving older actors Lilette Dubey and Ila Arun who play fictional versions of themselves. In the series, the two are shown as rivals who dated the same man once upon a time. Except for their few minutes, again, the writing is so trite, that instead of being entertained, I found myself rubbing my head to ease away the stress it was causing me (the stress of being aware that I was wasting my time on this and the second-hand embarrassment I suffered over the writing as a writer). The predictable sub-plot about one of the agents having a secret bastard child was completely pointless. Radhika Seth who plays the girl is just blah. Can’t think of a better word, and considering the little effort the writers put into this show, I don’t see any reason why I should go the extra mile to wrack my brains for a better adjective.
I want to blame the writers for the whole mess, but come episode 6, and we have experienced actors like Nandita Das and Jackie Shroff, who play themselves, and despite the lame lines, they pull them off so well, that you cannot help but enjoy their scenes. Even episode 5 was enjoyable in parts because of Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha, who play themselves and have a comical story; it was the only episode where for the first time I laughed out loud at a scene that was intended to be funny. Also, why hasn’t anyone realized that Farah Khan has an extremely annoying personality and is better of doing things off-screen? Her 2-bit cameo was vexatious and an attack on the ears.
The makers fail spectacularly in their quest to portray the entertainment industry as a ‘heartless profession’. You have a bunch of assholes as characters, sure, but they aren’t exclusive to celebrity circles. It’s the era of online trolls, and jerks are by the dozen in every freaking field. I do appreciate the LGBTQ+ representation in the show, although Amal basically plays the female version of the stereotypical toxic male dude who runs at the mention of ‘commitment’ and is a dick to dates. Anyway, it’s probably a good time to mention a few actors who were commendable in their parts, like Merenla Imsong who plays a struggling actor from the north-east; newbie Anuschka Sawhney as Jasleen, Amal’s interest wasn’t impressive, but has great chemistry with Aahana, it’s just her way of speaking that threw me off a little. It was kind of weird. Suchitra Pillai was brilliant in her small cameo as Monty’s wife and one begins to wonder why she isn’t given more roles?
Anyway, let’s move on to the climax. I literally screamed ‘yuck yuck yuck yuck’ at the typical cringe-y scene they try to pull in that last episode, with one lead running after the other and…. yuck. Although, surprisingly, it wasn’t the last scene, there were a few more minutes left, so the ending wasn’t actually as terrible as the rest of the show. For a change, the ‘agents’ loosen up, behave like regular humans and have a fun little drinking session after a shitty day at work. And then to the viewer’s greatest relief – it ends.
Despite having the potential to be a wildly engrossing series, the opportunity is wasted. It’s a 4/10 from me.
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