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Netflix’s Decoupled: The 'haves' don't have it all together in this urban comedy

Netflix’s latest series takes an incisive look into the lives of the privileged and their intellectual exploitation of the stories of the poor in the most humorous way.

Somi Das
Jan 03, 2022
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What if we lived in a world where the biggest problems we encountered were of the most trivial kind - Is avocado truly vegan?, is that viral dress blue or black in colour? or should using pineapple as pizza topping be punishable by law? 

Some of you may yawn at my proposal, for there are already some raging debates online. We already inhabit a world where these issues excite a lot of serious, emotionally charged debate. 

The only problem is these debates which are conversation starters for many millennials do not matter to a majority of people across the world, who we like to identify as the "underprivileged", "poor", "backward", or "economically deprived".

So, when I say I wish we lived in a world of trivial problems, I mean equality of the ethical dilemma and choices we face on a day to day basis. While the central conflicts in a privileged person's life is largely ethical in nature lately - what is good for the environment, was an animal harmed while making this product; the poor continue to struggle at the survival level. 

A large number of children in India don't even meet the daily nutrient requirement standards for an average human body, while the government's egg, no-egg in mid-day meals policy is decided by Brahmanical notions of purity and religious sentiments. 

By true ethical standards, in a world where people continue to die of starvation and suffer from malnourishment, debates around what is vegan and what is not, or whether eggs in mid-day meals hurt religious sentiments shouldn't exist.

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Why am I talking about such heavy issues while discussing a romantic comedy, Decoupled, currently streaming on Netflix? Because it very intelligently weaves hypocrisies of the upper-caste, upper-class Indians who live in luxury townships in a modern urban comedy format. In the show, the sample size is taken from Gurgaon. 

Insufferable, shallow, pretentious people live in these guarded societies. Given the priorities in their life, they should never leave their homes. Interestingly, when they do, they take care to stay within the limits of their privilege. 

Possibly only once, Arya, the intolerable protagonist, ventures out of his comfort zone and travels to the hinterland searching for his driver, without whom he can't navigate the routes in the city. His buffoonery, as usual, gets him in trouble with the villagers and he is rescued like always by his driver. In this sequence, for the first time we see them sitting face to face, in which the driver mouths one of the pithiest aphorisms: "Anyone in this country who is unaware of his caste, is usually an upper caste".

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The show is replete with such references. The drivers and the maids are never shown as people without agency. They can be beautiful and make the venture capitalist maalkin (Surveen Chawla who plays Shruti) insecure. They can also give a tongue lashing to their maai-baap preventing a Parasite-like bloody climax. Both in Parasite, and its desi- Hollywood hybrid version - The White Tiger, we see the driver being used as the symbol of class/caste divide and in both films, they unleash the repressed anger on their oppressors in the climax. 

Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy also uses the same device. She said in an interview with film critic Anupama Chopra, the idea behind filming the song, "Kaisi yeh doori hai" was to bring alive the class divide between Murad (Ranveer Singh) who is driving his employer's daughter - a young heart-broken girl crying in the backseat. He can't console her even though he can see her cry in the mirror because they are divided by class.

Decoupled operating in the rom-com world uses the same divide in an irreverent way. The driver doesn't shy away from saying: "aap humein insaan hi nahi samajhte". In another sequence when the driver poignantly asks: "Sir, what is my surname", Arya Iyer quips back, "What is my surname"?, immediately taking away the tension of power hierarchy.  

Humour is a great equaliser and it's empowering. The driver also delivers the best speech in the finale episode, showing how intimately he has known the separating couple and their journey. A tear-jerker of a moment, handled with great care — not making it an overtly sentimental scene.

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In Veere Di Wedding, a battered maid is used to establish the fact that Sonam Kapoor is a feminist lawyer, and within minutes the scene takes a comic turn forgetting all about the plight of the poor maid. She is merely used as an instrument to show one of the protagonists in good light. Not so in Decoupled

It is always the rich who come across as pathetic. When Shruti's therapist starts to give out intimate details about her maid being a victim of domestic abuse, Arya asks him, "Do you have her permission to say all this?"

Inclusivity doesn't always mean, "include me". Sometimes it means, "don't patronise me, don't invite me where I might feel awkward, don't tell me what to do and what choices I should make, or just let me be, and respect me as an individual separate from you". 

Decoupled, very slyly, within the entertaining world of a broken marriage of a rich successful couple, launches a searing critique on the performative inclusivity of the elite, their intellectual exploitation of the state of poverty in the most humorous way.

(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)

About the author: Somi Das is a columnist. Her write-ups lie at the intersection of culture, politics, and human psychology.


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