A Tamil serial for the Youth

I watched all ten episodes of Balaji Mohan’s web-only serial As I Am Suffering From Kadhal on Hotstar, and it left me confused. I shall elaborate after a summary. The show follows the stories of three couples and one single parent:

Meera and Santhosh, who after having been in love for a few years, find themselves to be warring parties after incidents of infidelity.

Tanvi and Raghav, one of those irritating young couples whose saccharine sweetness and extreme happiness makes us throw up a bit when we stalk their social media feed.

Divya and Badri, who are living together; a well-adjusted couple that does not believe in marriage.

Balakumar, sharing custody of his daughter, after falling out of love with his wife and going through a divorce.

There used to be a time when I watched Tamil serials with my family, during the glory days of Marmadesam and Alaigal – Venu Aravind’s terrible treatment of women did not seem to deter us. I haven’t been able to watch Tamil serials for a while now, and the Hindi serials dubbed to Tamil only make the situation more bleak. Balaji Mohan’s characters, however, are urban(e) and young. We do not usually get to watch them in Tamil serials. They have interesting jobs (wedding planner, movie reviewer, stand-up comedian), and it is important to note that men and women engage in alcoholic and carnal pleasures without the camera judging them.

But there is a sameness that pervades the characters. They speak in English as though reading off dialogues from a script, secretly a bit smug that they could include as many lines in English as they wished. They exhibit a great fondness for swear words, in the manner of children who suddenly discover there is a hidden category of words out there for them to use on their friends without fear of rebuke from adults. As soon as a scene veers into a territory with meaningful drama, we are pulled right back with some inane comedy. There is a strong Friends hangover to the series, from the way the characters talk to the furniture in the apartments; it doesn’t feel rooted in a Tamil context in spite of the numerous references to popular culture and Fully Filmy paraphernalia on display. I also couldn’t shake off the feeling that the director considers himself to be a kind of Love Guru – there is much explaining that is done about love and its disappearance in relationships.

I am curious to see where this space in Tamil digital media goes from here. There are too many stories that need telling, and we cannot expect cinema to do all the heavy lifting.

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