Marzi review: Aahana Kumra, Rajeev Khandelwal's Voot Select show favours forced twists over a nuanced take on consent
Marzi, starring Aahana Kumra and Rajeev Khandelwal in the lead, is a he-said-she-said thriller, based on the 2017 American show Liar.
Yet another he said/she said narrative with promise; yet-another show on rape that barrels into the deep trenches of revenge fantasy.
The problem, however, lies in the source material itself. Voot Original show Marzi, starring Rajeev Khandelwal and Aahana Kumra in the lead, is based on Liar (2017), a British television series created and written by BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated producers and screenwriters Harry and Jack Williams.
The Hindi version, adapted by Radhika Anand and directed by Anil Senior, has successfully dialed down the melodrama by quite a few notches, but falls short of delivering a pathbreaking nuanced tale on consent.
Arriving at the heels of Netflix India and Dharmatic's much-talked-about Guilty, Marzi gets its basics right. Unlike the Kiara Advani-starrer, Marzi rests umpteen focus on the lead pair, juggling claims and counter-claims about a supposed sexual encounter.
Narrated in a span of six episodes, Marzi sees Kumra play a school teacher Sameera Chauhan. Having recently broken off her engagement with an old friend Nitin (Rajeev Siddhartha), Sameera accepts a date with a renowned surgeon Anurag Saraswat (Khandelwal). Incidentally, Anurag's son Ayaan is a student at the institution where Sameera works. They bond over their shared sense of loneliness and displacement, both having recently shifted base to Shimla.
All goes well until Sameera accuses Anurag of rape. Groggy and disoriented though, Sameera is convinced she was violated by Anurag.
Everyone around Sameera, from her sister Isha (Shivani Tanksale) to the police officials Subodh (Vivek Mushran) and Rashmi (Pavleen Gujral), to the woman doctor testing Sameera, seem to lack empathy. That she is a heavy drinker and battling depression is used against her to nullify the credibility of her claim. That the culprit is a well-respected member of the society is hammered home to a point of exhaustion. Similarly, the scales are always tipped in favour of the culprit, making it seem as if the show is more invested in delivering forced thriller-like twists that induce more exclamations of "That? really?" than genuine gasps of horror.
Sure, the show grazes the surface of several socio-political dimensions of a sex-related crime, be it victim-blaming, bullying, slut-shaming or gaslighting. But rather than focusing on the concept of consent (the literal translation of marzi) or even the immediate and the long-term ramifications of the crime — the trauma, fear of retaliation, the social stigma — it concerns itself with ludicrous twists and turns in order to perk up the drama quotient.
There is also the issue of the ancillary plotlines. The different strands of the story never really coalesce to justify their presence in the narrative proper. You are never really invested in their conflicts, be it Isha's extramarital affair with Sameera's former fiancé Nitin, her failing marriage or adolescent pregnancy involving Ayaan and another teenager from the school.
For a show that takes place in a post #MeToo universe, with frequent references to the movement, its handling of social media is rather offhand. Sure, throwaway references to the power of social media, the disparaging effects of false accusations; trial by social media are made, but no more than that.
Sameera takes to social media threatening to expose Anurag, which garners immense traction, forcing the local police authorities to reopen her case. Bombarded with hate comments for being the son of a suspected rapist, Ayaan also starts distancing with his father. But his trauma at being bullied online and in school takes a backseat in favour of the modus operandi of the crimes.
Guilty, in its candy-coloured cosmos, attempted to address consent in a similar strain. Perhaps because of its cardboard-cutout characters or because the makers were more interested in its glossy packaging of the movie, the setting of the movie served more as a distraction than a character itself.
However, where Marzi excels is its atmospherics and landscape. Like the New York City of Sex and the City, Shimla assumes a riveting role in the show — it is the Monterey of Marzi. Shimla's reverie-like quietude removes all possible diversions of city life, injecting the terrain with a sense of impending doom. It is a bleak little town, where paths get crossed repeatedly, forcing the protagonists to confront each other over and over. A handful of elite pubs and fancy restaurants sprinkled across the humdrum town become the epicentre for all the action.
It is an unusual phenomenon to witness the protagonists confront each other on multiple occasions after the alleged incident, and the writers mine it for maximum impact. Each time they chance upon each other, their interactions brew with searing tension and a palpable disgust.
But it is the inconsistent tone of Marzi that weighs down heavily on its purpose. On one hand, the makers are refreshingly unfettered to highlight the frustration associated with due diligence in gender-related violence. But when the flesh-and-blood characters descend into campy violence in the climax, it rings insincere.
Perhaps, Marzi was doomed to elicit dissatisfaction, given it is an adaptation of a flawed original. If only its earnest intent could overshadow its shortcomings.
Marzi is now streaming on Voot Select.
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