Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls: How you turn a brilliant novel into a horrible TV show

Rajyasree Sen

Apr,01 2015 23:05:55 IST

If you’ve read Anuja Chauhan's Those Pricey Thakur Girls, you would be filled with mixed emotions at the thought of her wonderfully-written book being turned into a primetime Hindi television serial. A television serial that is sandwiched between a serial called Ganga (about a child widow in today’s day and age who is virtually under house arrest in Benaras or some such place) and another one about a daughter-in-law called Badi Devrani. The trepidation is heightened by the fact that the serial has opted to call itself Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls. No, not "girls", but "gurls". Finally, It’s on the new &TV, which means this serial could go really well or really badly.

YouTube screengrab.

YouTube screengrab.

Chauhan’s book is set in 1988 and revolves around the Thakur family, which includes a judge, his wife and their five daughters who are named alphabetically – Anjini, Binodini, Chandrakanta, Debjani and Eshwari. They live in the heart of Delhi and the film is mainly about Debjani, who lands a job as a newsreader with the state news channel Desh Darpan and falls in love with a very desirable, rakish and driven investigative journalist Dylan Singh Shekhawat – who works at India Post (an ill-disguised Indian Express).

The novel isn’t just about this twosome's romance, which is what makes Those Pricey Thakur Girls such an interesting read. The plot also touches upon the anti-Sikh riots, scams, the perils of reporting against the government, for working at the state media mouthpiece, the emergence and independence of video news magazine Newstrack (called Viewstrack in the book) and the introduction of the anti-defamation bill. Through all this, Dylan and Debjani spar and fight because he is on the side of independent journalism while he thinks she is not interested in rebellion and quite happy mouthing what the government-backed news channel wants her to.

Simply put, Those Pricey Thakur Girls is a fabulous read. But not what you would think would appeal to Hindi primetime TV audiences, which seems to love programmes about child widows, children in captivity, mothers-in-law and extended families.

Which is why the most impressive part of Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls is that someone in the Hindi TV entertainment business actually read this book and then realised it had the potential to be a show that would appeal to audiences. But put a leash on your optimism. In the process of adapting it for Indian television, Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls takes some outlandish and incoherent calls.

For instance, the story that was set in 1988 is plonked in 2015. This is bizarre because a lot of the novel hinges on the pre-liberalisation time period in which it’s set. From the way the Thakur family lives to the ambitions and eccentricities of different characters, Those Pricey Thakur Girls glints with nostalgia. As Dylan enters the plot, your mind imagines him effortlessly: floppy haired, casually dressed, a mix of Anirudhha Bahal and Ashish Khetan’s journalism skills with Shashi Kapoor’s good looks.

That Chauhan’s novel wasn’t going to fare well was obvious from the twist in the first episode of Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls. The writers of the programme must have thought a sister who has eloped and is never seen through the book would not appeal to viewers. So there's Chandru, as a painter. Maybe she’ll elope later, who knows?

The five Thakur “gurls” are shown to us through the eyes of four colony boys who are spying on them. They helpfully name and describe each of the sisters, one after the other. Unlike the Thakur girls in the book, these gurls come across as ditzy and inane – but maybe things will improve over time. Staying true to the novel, Debjani goes to audition for a job with Desh Darpan, the state news channel. While she’s doing some sort of strange vocal exercises in preparation of her audition, we are introduced to Dylan. And here’s where we see some creative license at play.

Clearly, the show's writers feel print journalism has lost its charm, so out with India Post and in with a channel named 360 News, where Dylan is supposedly both star reporter and anchor. He wears a suit and has skin so shiny you can see your reflection in it. The actor is Amir Ali, who looks like a slightly malnourished Ken doll. It’s quite obvious that he wouldn’t know an OB van if it ran over him. Or be able to spell "journalism" correctly.

At the end of the first episode, you see him peeking in on Debjani doing her vocal exercises, with what I think is supposed to be a supercilious grin. If you think this is disheartening, consider the second episode.

It seems the show's writers decided they could write a more interesting story than Chauhan, which would have been forgivable if it was true. We learn in episode two that Debjani hasn’t got the job at Desh Darpan, but she doesn't tell her family this. The family goes to a Chinese restaurant where she has a meltdown after seeing some live crabs. She then goes and stands near an aquarium and starts wishing she was a fish.

(I am not making any of this up.)

Who should be at this Chinese restaurant, but Dylan! And so, Debjani and Dylan replay the aquarium scene with Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes, from Romeo and Juliet. Only there’s no Baz Luhrmann directing this programme, Shakespeare had no part in writing the script and neither actor is remotely similar to Di Caprio or Danes. Basically, it looks ridiculous.

Do you care about the characters in Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls? No. Can the actors act? No. Am I looking forward to the next episode? Definitely not.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a hattrick!

To take a really good storyline and butcher it the way Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls does is simply sad. There was so much potential for this show to be the new Hum Log-meets-Shanti. But what we get is Hum Paanch-meets-Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. I cannot even fathom how they will slaughter the theme of investigative journalism pitted against state sponsored propaganda.

My advice, if you’ve read Those Pricey Thakur Girls or enjoy Chauhan’s writing, or enjoy good acting and screenplays, or have a brain - steer clear of this serial. Instead, hotfoot it to your nearest bookstore and pick up Chauhan’s novel. See what good writing is all about. And then, if you want to experience a slide from the sublime to the ridiculous – watch the serial.

You can watch Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls on &TV at 9pm from Monday-Thursday. Firstpost is owned by Network 18 which also owns Colours that is in direct competition with &TV.

Updated Date: Apr 01, 2015 23:07 PM