Manu Joseph on Decoupled: The show is about behaviour, torture of love, and clash of rich and poor
“I don’t fully buy the prevalent belief that marriage is some kind of a cultural invention. Something about it seems very innate,” says Manu Joseph, creator and writer of Netflix show Decoupled
Decoupled starring R Madhavan and Surveen Chawla is a story of a couple stuck in a dysfunctional marriage for the sake of their daughter. The couple is not able to decide on the course their unstable marriage should take and the story seems to take many twists and turns through their journey. In an interview, Manu Joseph, creator, and writer speaks about the series, his take on marriage, if there will be another season, and much more. Excerpts:
Decoupled is unlike anything we've seen on the OTT platform, or for that matter anywhere on any platform. What was the takeoff point for the plot?
The American writer David Foster once said of another American writer John Updike, “Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?”
I am one of those guys who do not have a single unpublished thought. Between novels and journalism, I find ways to fully express myself. And everything I write, one way or the other, has always been about human behaviour. But then there has been a type of things that did not fit in journalism, and I have no interest in using them in my novels. And that was the genesis of Decoupled. It’s really is about human behaviour and absurdity and a very loose biography of a marriage.
Your protagonist Arya Iyer is a motor-mouthed frank speaker whom you've allowed to say any and everything that comes to his mind? Is he your embodiment of that freedom of expression which we have been guaranteed by the Constitution but which we seldom exercise?
Like the birds were meant to fly, we were meant to speak, yet we don’t speak our minds anymore. And speaking the mind need not always be about grand things. Arya Iyer does not even comment on politics or race or even gender or politics. If you look at it, everything he says is about minor things. These are things people have thought but they didn’t know that they can say it aloud.
There are some very wince-inducing comments on several sacred institutions and ideologies. Do you feel such no-filter outspokenness is possible only on the digital platform?
I don’t agree Decoupled does anything more outlandish than what’s possible in Indian journalism, literature, and niche cinema. Look, we are a difficult country for uncompromising observations but there is a type of observation that you can get away with. Writers use their writing for many wrong reasons — to promote an agenda, to hurt, to be sensational. I feel that in India if your writing begins from the wish to just write, or from a good-natured place, or in a naive quest to capture truth, let’s say in an anthropological way, you can travel deep into people’s minds and survive even though it disturbs people. By the way, comedy, at least comedy that interests me, is always anthropology.
Now that you have exposed the illicit unhappiness of other people, here is my question: Do you feel being happily married is an oxymoron, a moronic myth?
I find marriage extremely interesting. I don’t fully buy the prevalent belief that it is some kind of a cultural invention. Something about it seems very innate. What I’m saying is that if this world is fully destroyed and rebuilt, we will still do two things: we will arrive at around 35% as he pass-mark in math and science; there will be monogamous marriage.
How much of Arya Iyer is you? Did you have a hard time convincing Madhavan to get on board?
What has fascinated me about this story is that when I wrote it, I thought I would have to persuade people, defend it, argue, and fight. But all along it divided people into two. Either they didn’t get it at all, or they just immediately grasped the soul from the first minute. This is what happened with Madhavan. I sent him just the first episode, and he got back immediately saying he loved it. He just got it. Madhavan and I were a bit worried that he might be very politically correct but then I realised he is a lot of fun; he is a natural Arya. A man who speaks his mind because he is morally confident of his decency — that is Arya, and that is Madhavan.
What made you choose Hardik Mehta as a director? Nothing in his past work indicates he could handle this.
Oh, there is a work which totally does. His documentary Amdavad Ma Famous is one of the finest documentaries I’ve watched. It is about a boy who is good at chasing kites. What I liked about it is the drama it creates without grandstanding — from the little things. The way I see comedy is that it should have only one lie — everything else has to be authentic. And I felt a filmmaker who is drawn to realism, even though he is a big fan of fantasy, will pull off Decoupled.
I suspect Decoupled 2 is on the way? What are your plans for the future?
Today, I have received tremendous reactions to the series — mostly from people who are not in the arts or journalism — the real world for whom art and journalism claim to toil. And I am beginning to feel that people have got it. So I hope there is a season 2 because I already have material for five seasons. What is Decoupled about — it is about behaviour, the torture of love, and the clash of the rich and the poor. So I want to keep on doing this. Also, I plan to adapt my books myself as films or series. So that too is on. But I am inescapably a novelist, so there is that too. My only interest in life is to write and to be of use to the people who say they like me.
Decoupled is streaming on Netflix.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.
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