Live Telecast review: Disney+ Hotstar horror series is all Kajal Aggarwal's plastic act, Venkat Prabhu's stale humour
From workplace sexual harassment to the voyeurism of the TV viewing public, Live Telecast's handling of important issues exposes its absolute lack of critical thought.
A TV crew is stuck in a haunted house — Venkat Prabhu builds a somewhat entertaining web series of nearly four hours with just that. It is not just the idea that’s stale, but a lot of the staging, tropes, and even jokes feel pre-loved. Venkat Prabhu knows this. In fact, he cherishes this, making multiple characters talk about American and Korean horror genre, Conjuring, even Kanchana for good measure. “Winning formula,” one of them describes this.
In Live Telecast, Venkat Prabhu makes no pretence of giving you anything new, just something that’s harmless fun. Here lies the series’ biggest problem.
Live Telecast is the story of Jennifer Mathew and her crew of television professionals. When a grossly inappropriate episode almost puts them out of a job, they make a desperate attempt to resurrect their careers by doing something worse. How bad does it actually get makes the seven episodes.
What Venkat Prabhu does well is to stick to the point. He doesn’t populate the horror story with godmen, rituals etc. He takes his time to even establish the ghostly elements, slowly drawing the sceptics to his side. He doesn’t moralize. It is also mildly heartening to see as many women as men on screen, all of whom have jobs, dreams and backstories. Jennifer herself is rather brave, regularly throwing herself in danger to protect her colleagues.
There are some trademark Venkat Prabhu moments too. Like the fake ghost that the team stages, in case the real ghost doesn’t appear on camera. Throughout the film, the fake ghost hangs around with the television crew as the real ghost haunts them. It takes us a moment to realise that she looks like a ghost but isn’t. Each of these instances is a small awakening of sorts, tickling the viewer to concentrate. At one point, the fake ghost weeps in fear, at which one can’t help but chuckle.
There is also a scene where the camera pans across multiple bottles of alcohol, like Venkat Prabhu is making the best use of the time until web series will also need to blur them out. Premji Amaren appears in a couple of scenes, joking about their clique in a self-flagellating mockery sort of way.
Other than a handful of moments like these, most of the series is carelessly written. The first episode is a waste of 30 minutes — a party, some voiceover, text on screen reiterating the dialogue and flashbacks that are meant to establish characters, but don’t. Do we really need a flashback to show that Vaibhav, in a Venkat Prabhu film, is a flirt, whose girlfriend is suspicious of his philandering ways? Do we need to see Jennifer reject a man’s romantic interest to know she’s an ambitious career woman? The whole episode is filled with inanities like this. Jennifer herself describes this episode best, when she says, “enough of the fucking bullshit, let the party begin”.
Kajal Aggarwal, with all the ill-punctuated swearing and smoking, looks just as out-of-depth as all her film roles: Trying hard, but eerily plastic. While she is the known face among mostly unknown actors — the director says he chose her for her “pan-India image” — except perhaps Vaibhav, she does not have the screen presence to keep us hooked. Nor does she have the emotional range to make us believe in her vulnerability. It’s awfully disappointing that she lends nothing more than star value to the series.
The worst part of Live Telecast, though, is that Venkat Prabhu has no sensitivity regarding what his creation means and does. For instance, in the second episode, a ghost rapes a woman. In and of itself, it’s a story among many others in the series. However, what Venkat Prabhu is inconsiderate in how it’s written and filmed. We see more of the woman’s bare legs on stilettoes than we see her face. In a short span of 10 minutes or so, the camera pans slowly from her feet to her face thrice, if not more. There is also an elaborate sequence where she bathes, the camera staring at her legs while she’s undressing. While the story here is that of crime, Venkat Prabhu can’t help but titillate. In Live Telecast, that sexual violence is simply a curio, a plot point that needs no care.
As it progresses, the show’s absolute lack of any critical thought laughs at our face. Workplace sexual harassment, voyeurism of the TV viewing public, violence against women, extra-judicial killing by the police — all of them come and go, superficially, without thought or any serious exploration. A cop kills men who allegedly raped and murdered a 17-year-old girl; this story is used only to offer build-up for the murderous police officer.
In fact, the story of the woman molested by the ghost never gets reconciled. Jennifer, who shows her boss the middle finger for harassment, thinks that an unexplored case of ghostly molestation is “bold, but international”.
Live Telecast squarely fits into Venkat Prabhu’s oeuvre of ‘harmless fun’ films. Except, what’s harmless here is also mindless. He flounders the opportunity to make something layered and meaningful, settling instead for stale humour. In the end, he offers us a gut-wrenching epilogue. By the time it comes, though, we’ve no connection with anyone left.
Venkat Prabhu said to the press recently that this is a story he wrote in 2005. It may have been interesting for that time. In 2021, it’s mouldy cheese.
Rating: 1,5 out of 5
Live Telecast is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
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