Hasmukh review: Vir Das' Netflix show has a promising premise but fails to be gripping
Vir Das is watchable and capable of carrying a show like Hasmukh on his shoulders. But the sloppy writing never lets him be in complete control of his craft.
After collaborating with Netflix for three stand-up specials, Vir Das returns to the streaming platform in a fiction show developed by him. Like fellow stand-up comedians like Sumukhi Suresh (Pushpavalli), Biswa Kalyan Rath (Laakhon Mein Ek), and Anirban Dasgupta (Afsos), the show is not merely an extension of Vir's stand-up comedy, but packs in much more.
Having said that, Hasmukh does not have the philosophical gravitas, artistic depth or emotional heft of any of the shows mentioned above. In fact, it remains perennially confused what it wants to be tonally — an underdog story, a whodunit (with suspense = nada), a satire on the film and reality show industry or a rags-to-riches cautionary tale.
All of these elements never come together to make a sumptuous whole, like say a successful commercial potboiler does. This struggle to find a voice can be attributed to the volume of the writing room, which may not have worked in the favour of the show. Along with Vir, Suparn Verma (Janasheen, Love Story 2050), director Nikhil Gonsalves (P.O.W. Bandi Yuddh Ke), Amogh Ranadive (Jestination Unknown), Neeraj Pandey (not the Special Ops-fame), and producer Nikkhil Advani (D-Day, Batla House) are credited as writers of all the 10 episodes. This may have made for a classic case of too many cooks spoil the broth.
Loosely, the show revolves around an Uttar Pradesh-based struggling stand-up comedian Hasmukh who discovers his success formula and is subsequently invited to Mumbai for a top reality show, only to discover he is losing grip on himself. It is the exact template of a small-town migrant coming to Mumbai in order to achieve his dreams. But what makes Hasmukh refreshingly different and immensely promising on paper is the pre-performance ritual Vir's character has to complete in order to pull off a satisfying gig.
As the trailer suggests, every performer has a viagra. In Hasmukh's case, it is committing a murder by strangulation minutes before he goes on the stage. Now, as deliriously fascinating and amusingly twisted that sounds, the way he discovers his crutch and the way it is subsequently treated throughout the show turns out to be extremely disappointing.
Firstly, it takes Hasmukh exactly one episode to discover he needs to commit a murder immediately before he goes on stage in order to put his best foot forward. He reasons that he feels like he is living his final moments after killing someone, and thus performs to his optimum capacity. That is some very quick introspection towards discovering one's process, especially for someone who acts on a whim rather than posing like a cold, calculating murderer. Thisurgency never leaves the show. The pace of the narrative could be appreciated here but even the bits of introspection are in flashes.
Vir Das is watchable and capable of carrying a long show on his shoulders. But he does not seem as in control of his craft like say, a Sumukhi Suresh from Pushapavalli. He has proved his mettle as a supporting comic actor in films like Abhinay Deo's 2011 black comedy Delhi Belly and Raj and DK's 2013 zombie comedy Go Goa Gone. Hasmukh may be the most of Vir Das the audience has seen so far but it is certainly not what he will be remembered for, given his witty stand-up comedy sets and effective smaller parts in big films. He could have gotten more scope to perform in the hands of a more able director and a less limiting script.
Though he gets to display his range here, his small-town act feels contrived in parts, particularly when he shares the screen space with Ranvir Shorey, who plays his manager Jimmy (The Maker). Shorey is effortless as an Uttar Pradesh man and can carry off his character with as much conviction as he does his "18-carat" gold incisors in the show.
Hasmukh is certainly not a vanity project. Given his ownership over the craft, Vir does not give the vast supporting cast the shorter end of the stick. Each member of the ensemble has ample elbow space. Most of them are adequate, including veterans Manoj Pahwa, Ravi Kishan, and Raza Murad. The moral compass of the show however is Promila, played by Amrita Bagchi. Last seen on Netflix as the female lead a year ago in Sarthak Dasgupta's romantic drama Music Teacher, Amrita continues to grow leaps and bounds as a performer as she excels in her part of a determined, self-respecting TV executive.
All the technical departments are serviceable and stand out only in flashes, similar to the few significantly meaningful portions of the show. The biggest travesty of Hasmukh unfortunately is it does not make you laugh, through either dark humour or lighthearted comedy.
Hasmukh can be described as the cinematic equivalent of a joke gone wrong in a live stand-up gig.
Hasmukh is now streaming on Netflix.
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