Rasbhari review: Swara Bhasker's Amazon Prime Video series fails to deliver on its noble intentions
A bold, praiseworthy initiative on paper, Rasbhari takes a miserable fall in its implementation
Adult comedies have always had a tough run within Hindi entertainment, with no clear distinction between sex comedies, scatalogical or situational comedies and downright soft porn. Some mainstream Hindi films have all three. And so, Swara Bhasker’s latest attempt with Amazon Prime Video’s Rasbhari, has all the right intentions but an equally unfortunate execution – like the demonetisation of A-rated comedy shows in India, if you will.
Writer Shantanu Srivastava builds on a quirky tale around small towns in Northern India, that function on a heady cocktail of superstition, patriarchy, hypocrisy, and the undeniable humour that seeps out of it.
Bhasker’s Shanoo Bansal, the elusive protagonist of the series, has an effortless charm on the men of Meerut, with the district’s policemen, local cable guys, paan shop owners mesmerised with her sensuous smile and mischievous ways. Yet, her public image stands in acute contrast to the persona of Shanoo, a loyal, doting wife and an able English high-school teacher.
Shanoo is quick to make staunch enemies out of the women in the city, as their spouses’ determinations melt away in her presence. She attracts the conjoint female ire and soon becomes the town’s favourite “kulta” (witch).
Amidst her fast-growing reputation of a deadly seductress, is the show’s other protagonist Nand Kishore Tyagi (an inimitable Ayushmaan Saxena), a teenage tinderbox of testosterone, threatening to explode at any given moment. Nand, a student in Shanoo’s new class, is a high-school ‘catch’. His friends idolise him for his boyish smile that has its way with girls, and oozing confidence. Overly keen and mentally ready to have his first sexual experience, Nand is awed by Shanoo’s appeal and quickly declares her the mother of his future children on their first encounter in the classroom.
He ignores the romantic overtures of his classmate Priyanka (Rashmi Agdekar), bribes servants, stalks trails, and spies on Shanoo obsessively to know the truth behind her allegedly promiscuous ways despite having a strong bond with her husband Naveen (Pradhuman Singh).
After failing to reach any concrete solution, Nand ventures on further, assured that he could win Shanoo’s favours quickly. When his audacious attempts are met with a literal smack-on-the-face, the bubbling hormones comes to a jolting halt. What unravels next is a peculiar series of events that bring forth the actual mystery behind Rasbhari, the titular character.
Saxena is a delight to watch on screen. Spewing expletives and hurling offensive dialogues laced with problematic tropes is never an easy job, always at the risk of evoking revulsion. But the young actor shoulders the role with aplomb. You laugh at his cheeky responses and adore him for his coming-of-age consciousness.
Rasbhari is a feminist narrative, steeped in folklore, heartland delights, bewitching stories of enchantresses – the perfect recipe for an intriguing watch. The series delves deep into the conformities of gender and how deeply enmeshed within our society the disparity is. While erotic fantasies of adolescent boys are a subject of “cute” humour, a girl-child’s provocative dance moves are seen through hooded eyes and embarrassed half glances.
The series highlights the absurd fixation behind virginal beauty of girls and how it is bolstered by systemically de-sexualising the woman as a sedate homemaker, only available to satiate the needs of her man. At every juncture, her abilities like educational qualifications, hobbies, and even opinions, relegate to the background while the heads of the household go on many' a merry stroll to test greener pastures.
Rasbhari's character is an unapologetic ode to such inequalities. More than a figure, she may well be considered a concept – unabashed in her carnal desires (gender notwithstanding), refusing to be sequestered for her needs.
A bold, praiseworthy initiative on paper, the show takes a miserable fall in its implementation. Bhasker is surprisingly one-tone, with a contrived desi accent and inauthentic acting. The show has sparks of brilliance which get promptly clouded by a stumbling plot and shoddy editing. The first four episodes feel like an excruciatingly long introduction to the main crux. The screenplay also suffers in phases, essentially distancing the viewers and almost forcing them to not invest in Shanoo’s struggles or Nand’s adventures.
Rasbhari seems like the first draft of a show that could have considerable potential. At a time when the wonders of local milieus, smeared with the essence of rustic narratives take centre-stage on both digital and 70 mm screens, this show could well have been a winner. But alas, it lands far from it.
Rasbhari streams on Amazon Prime Video.
(All images from Amazon Prime Video)
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