Serial Chiller: On watching LOL, or why even the worst piece of art serves a purpose for someone

Ranjani Krishnakumar

Apr 01, 2019 14:13:16 IST

Serial Chiller is Ranjani Krishnakumar’s monthly column about all things Tamil television. Read more from the series here.

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A little over two years ago, I left the city I called home for over two-thirds of my life, and moved to Chennai. You see, I've always had friends, relatives and business in Chennai. I even visited pretty often. I figured it wouldn’t be so hard to make a new home here. Boy, was I wrong!

I don’t mean to be ungrateful. I had the sympathy of several of my aforementioned friends, who met me once in a way, spent a Saturday afternoon together or watched a movie one time or another. But being the one to make these plans each time, coaxing them to meet me, and dealing with cancelled plans can be quite crushing. It put me in my place — I knew where I belonged. Or didn’t.

So, I kept to myself. One day, I was tagged in a conversation with strangers about the Simbu film Poda Podi — god knows why. I said something allegedly funny and stayed out of it for the most part. The conversation went on, me still tagged in it. They all made plans to meet and watch the film together. By then, I’d grown to never expect to be invited. I silently went to bed.

Next day, there was a DM. “Would you like to join?”, a stranger asked me. I agreed cynically, even reluctantly. I showed up, mostly out of fear that if I didn’t, I would grow old and become a lonely cat lady, what with the already greying, frizzy long hair I had to go with the image. But something changed in me that evening.

I was truly inducted into kvlt Chennai pop culture. Together we saw what is unarguably the most entertaining love story I’ve ever seen: a short film called Yennam.

Yennam is all of six minutes, but it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions like nothing you’d have ever seen. That evening, I was among the chosen few to be introduced to the film. I finally felt like I belonged.

Why am I telling you this, nearly two years after this happened, you ask?

Because today, I watched something that brought rushing back to me the memories of the first time I watched Yennam — the day I stopped feeling like an abandoned pizza crumb.

Today, I watched LOL (Lots of Love), an 8-part web series on MX Player about several men and women falling in and out of friendship and love. Each episode is not more than 12-15 minutes long, in fact, opening and closing credits are longer than the episodes in most cases.

Watching LOL is like going to a BYOB party where you know no one: you can reasonably guess what’s going to happen, you will be mildly amused, out of alcohol, bored, and will leave without knowing anyone any better.

For instance, there is a Karthik. I remember his name only because in the first episode his girlfriend says his name more times than Chinmayi (who dubbed for Trisha) did in all of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya. That is saying something! Along with Karthik, there is a nerd, a street-harasser (who thinks of himself as a flirt), a ‘local’ from Coimbatore, a coy woman in love with her school crush, a fashion designer from Trichy and a boutique owner who is feeding and cleaning up after men.

If you’re looking for soggy cardboard cutouts of human-like existences, LOL is where you’ll find it. The writers don’t even bother with character establishment scenes and such. They just straight up write the ASL of each person on the screen, for you to know them — well, it’s marginally better than the hero’s soliloquy in a Gautham Menon film but I’m digressing.

In fact, the series is devoid of absolutely any connection with the audience that one of them says, “Ippo ellam ivan konjam different-a behave panraan illa?” (isn’t he behaving oddly these days?) to tell the audience that something has changed with the nerd-boy. But trust me, no one would have noticed any difference without that dialogue.

The only thing that keeps the series going are tropes that we have seen before and are conditioned to react to in a certain way. So many of them, too boring to count. In the four-or-so love stories, absolutely nothing is remarkable.

The self-loathing smoker gets pulled out of his abyss by a woman volunteering to mother him. He hates himself so much that he dumps her. But he cannot contain his admiration and realises that he loves her, when she shows up... wait for it… in a sari.

The big group of friends take happy-to-be-single boutique owner on a spontaneous trip to Goa after she has a meltdown because a client called her to his ‘farm house’. Her secret admirer, on the other hand, stalks her all the way to Goa. In his proposal, he tells her, “I will set up a big shop for you in Coimbatore, come with me”. She readily agrees.

Nerd boy is pissed because a girl spoke like she was smarter than him. So, he follows her to her house and mansplains. She, in turn, dumps the job of finding her childhood crush on him. He finds the crush and drinks his evenings away because he’s fallen in love with her in the meantime.

Street harasser hits on every woman in sight, and yet people speak of him as being harmless — they say and I quote, “flirt pannuvaan aana romba nallavan” (he flirts, but he’s a nice guy).

The synecdoche of the abyss that is LOL is the birthday party scene in the final episode where self-loathing smoker’s ex-girlfriend returns asking to be taken back. The editor perfectly, even if inadvertently, captures the horribly staccato nature of the series in that one scene. It is almost like he’s trying so hard to find the least offending frame. He fails. He might have chosen the least awful, but it’s awful anyway.

Yet, sometimes, art, music, novels, film and television are not about themselves. They are about what they mean to the audience. LOL took me back several months, the turning point in my life when I believed it’s possible to rise out of my abyss. LOL is the closest thing that I’ve watched to Yennam.

By the way, have you watched Yennam?

Ranjani Krishnakumar is a writer, obsessor and a nascent Chennai-vasi. You can reach her at @_tharkuri

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Updated Date: May 30, 2019 16:01:07 IST