Die Trying review: Kenny Sebastian's first web series is admirable, but too similar to his YouTube sketches
If Kenny Sebastian wanted Die Trying to be an easy watch for someone who's lying around in their bed, he absolutely succeeds.
Amazon Prime has been stepping up their game in India, and a slew of web series created by well-known Indian stand-up comics is a part of it. Before Kenny Sebastian's Die Trying, there was Biswa Kalyan Rath's Lakhon Mein Ek, Sumukhi Suresh's Pushpavali, and Varun Thakur's Shaitan Haveli.
Amazon, which recently garnered more subscribers in India than Netflix despite entering the Indian market a year late, has been focusing on creating as much content as possible for the Indian audience.
Stand-up comics usually deflect to television and movies after they've toured the comedy circuit extensively. Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman, Mindy Kaling, Larry David — these are just a few names that have created some of the most critically acclaimed shows in television history. Many would argue that comparing a show by an Indian stand-up comic to a show like Master of None or Louie will be unfair, and it is, because they are not at all on the same level.
Die Trying revolves around the lives of Kenny and Rohan — two aspiring musicians living in Bangalore. It's the year 2004, and they are in a band (which comprises just the both of them). The show starts with the duo making fun of another band by pointing out the obvious stereotypes of Indian 'musicians' who play English music. Kenny says that the other band will definitely play 'Hey Jude' by The Beatles, and he is right about that. They point out the obvious banality of Indian bands — that they cover generic songs, have no original compositions, and lack any real opportunities. Kenny, who basically is playing himself in the show, uses his usual nice, middle class guy persona to woo the viewers. Rohan, on the other hand, is sort of a womaniser who rants way too much about what real music is and how everyone but him is a sellout. This forms the basic premise of the show.
As far as the writing goes, there's nothing that'll truly hold your attention or captivate you. The jokes, and all the scenes, seem like a casual discussion between not-so-close friends over lunch. The themes explored in the show take you nowhere and don't compel you think. Though the show is based in 2004, it doesn't seem like it. Nothing makes you feel like the characters are living in the very nascent stage of the twenty-first century; not even the clothes they wear.
Kenny is likable. So is Rohan. They don't come across as off-putting or boring or intolerable. They seem like genuine slackers, but that's all they appear to be. The characters lack serious depth. The plot doesn't demand your attention. At no point during the show will you feel like you missed something important and want to go back and check what it is. It falls into the YouTube category of entertainment; something you watch when you're alone and bored at home with absolutely nothing better to do.
But maybe that's what it's meant to be. Maybe, and I'm assuming that's the case, Kenny Sebastian wanted the show to be an easy, one-go watch for someone who's lying around in their bed struggling to figure out what to do. If that's the case, Die Trying absolutely succeeds. The most enjoyable character on the show is Jason — a soundcheck guy who knows people in Bangalore's local music scene. Jason, played by Adarsh Gourav Bhagavatula, delivers some of the funniest moments of the show. His character feels natural in the things he says and does. Similarly, Rohan's grandmother, who they affectionately call ajji (played by Vasudha Puranik), is a delight to watch. Die Trying in no way is a bad show; it's just not impressive.
The web series format is new to India. When we think of the kind of television shows the Indian airwaves have been jammed with for years, anything like Die Trying seems like a gift. But the debate of mediocrity should rage on. While Amazon helps create shows like Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in India they seem to focus on just creating as much content as possible. Between inking deals with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions and Mukesh Bhatt’s Vishesh Films, or gaining exclusive access to air Salman Khan’s titles, there seems to be a lack of innovation. Shows that delve deep into their characters or present an engrossing plot-line is secondary to pushing out as much content as humanly possible with the same formula of roping in big Bollywood names.
Kenny Sebastian's first attempt at writing a web series is admirable. It has provided us with better content compared to what floats around on Indian television. It's worth watching for anyone who wants more homegrown online content, but it doesn't separate itself from a YouTube sketch (like a longer version of 'Things every guy who's in a band says') and, in the process, loses the essence of being a web series.
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