Taaza Khabar (Disney+ Hotstar) is so content with having a lead who enjoys a following of millions, that it refuses to make any additional effort.
Last Updated: 06.54 AM, Jan 06, 2023
This is #CriticalMargin, where Ishita Sengupta gets contemplative over Hindi films and shows.
In an ideal world, Hussain Dalal would have taken a break after Brahmāstra. Credited with furnishing dialogues for the first part of Ayan Mukherji’s 2022 magnum opus, Dalal achieved the impossible: he brought into focus the oft-overlooked job of a dialogue writer and then, by adhering to the shoddy end of the spectrum, reaffirmed why Hindi films need better writers.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, so here we are, at the start of another year, watching another show, where Dalal reprises his role. If your question is, ‘Has he gotten any better?’, my answer would be, ‘He should have taken a break, and prioritised some introspection’.
Teething problems abound in his latest work, Taaza Khabar, a six-episode series on Disney+ Hotstar. Dalal’s written words sound too stagey and manufactured. It is as though you’re witnessing how a writer imagines a certain strata of the society behaves, rather than making an attempt at authenticity. Sample this interaction between two lovers: “Hum kidhar chal rahein hain?” “Aukaat ke bahaar”. This synthetic design is an instance and culmination of lazy worldbuilding, characters depicted as stand-ins of tokens (a good Muslim, a lazy Christian, a sex-worker girlfriend, and an ill-fated protagonist); the makers are content with embellishing the surface rather than delving deep into what they have in hand. Which is, an interesting — if disingenuous — premise.
In a world fraught with fake news, the foresight to recognise the truth can be deemed as a superpower. Taaza Khabar, however, goes a step ahead and frames the story around a man whose life changes overnight after he assumes the superpower of knowing what can happen in the future. Vasant (Bhuvam Bam) is a sanitation worker. His days are spent sitting and watching people do their business. His profession also defines his position as a bystander, who is restricted to watching life pass him by. His father is an alcoholic and his mother is a domestic help. His girlfriend is Madhu (Shriya Pilgaonkar), a sex worker, and his best friend Peter runs a Chinese food stall. In the colony, there is a good-hearted Muslim man, Mehboob (Deven Bhojani) who runs a bakery with his daughter. Things change when Vasant (meaning “spring”) helps an old woman and somehow, gets a “vardaan” (in Taaza Khabar the word “vardaan” is what “Shiva” was in Brahmāstra — it is repeated 100 times) of knowing the future in the form of news bulletins. His phone beeps with updates and Vasant knows what will happen a day in advance.
Prior to this, the creative team (director Himank Gaur included) had collaborated in Dhindora, Bam’s first series (2021), which is streaming on YouTube. In many ways the seven-episode show was an attestation and extension of Bam’s popularity; the YouTuber, true to his brand of comedy, played as many as 10 characters himself. Much like his other other videos, the production value was deliberately dented to assuage the comedy of the skit he put up for show. For instance, a man has a paunch that is, even from a distance, very obviously a prosthetic. It is all designed. Above everything, Dhindora was a terrific showcase of a creator being completely aware of the world he has created and seeking to expand it.
Lack of such clarity is among the more nagging problems of Taaza Khabar. Most of the series unfolds on a set, almost like one of Bam’s skits. It is a telling decision because it says everything about the creators’ inability to understand if their intent is to appease Bam’s existing fans or craft an independent project. And that Taaza Khabar is the latter only highlights their dishonesty for making those decisions while hampering the show.
This non-committal creative stance defines the vapidity of the series. Across the six episodes, each approximately 30 minutes, Taaza Khabar opts for a different narrative route every 15 minutes. It starts out as a story of a devoted son wanting to give his mother the world and then artlessly ventures into the world of betting where Vasant, with his superpower, rakes in millions by wagering on the outcome of cricket matches. In between it also sneaks in a subplot of a jilted lover (JD Chakravarthy really deserves better). In short, Taaza Khabar wants to be everything — a love story, a domestic drama and a spectacle of a man who descends into moral depravity by confusing himself as the magician when all he possessed was a unique power. If the series ends up being nothing at all, it is because the writing is neither smart enough to maneuver the inflections nor compelling enough for us to overlook the discrepancies. For instance even after Vasant makes enough money, he displays zero urgency to go home and meet his mother. His family remains absent from the plot for two straight episodes.
In fact, for a show pivoting on news and including characters from different faiths, Taaza Khabar remains frustratingly santised. The news bulletins that Vasant sees on his phone start out as largely generic (a flyover collapsing) and then narrow down to serving only him. If that was the point of his vardaan, neither the old lady nor the writers gave us the memo. All episodes (save the last first one) open with flashbacks and yet are nowhere mentioned when the proceedings are unfolding. It is a pressing point because news is a manifestation of time and if the story is rooted in the new India, Vasant, Peter and Mehboob staying together is the story and not an incidental detail.
That Taaza Khabar circumvents these crucial nuances only underlines its agenda of wanting to become a franchise without committing to basic storytelling. As the series nears the end, its expressed purpose becomes all too clear. Vasant devolves into a self-absorbed man with a God complex. The transition is so rapid that it can be best described as a jolt. Suddenly he transforms and the only way the show chooses to depict this is by making the character don a scar on his face (Joker) — to signify his lost soul — and spew expletives. If one were to draw Vasant’s arc, it would be a straight line. On his part, Bam does nothing to elevate the role. He essays it with a fixed one-note tonality — like he is stuck in one of his sketches.
It is one thing to cater to someone’s popularity and another to misuse it. Taaza Khabar, unravelling as a distinct piece of mediocre storytelling, capitalises on Bam’s fame. The show is so content with having a lead who enjoys a following of millions that it refuses to make any more effort. That Bam himself has produced the series, makes him complicit in this shared smugness.
One doesn’t need the ability to see the future to foretell that it is a bad move to take adoration for granted — and this news flash will never get stale.
Taaza Khabar is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.