Once upon a time, a dysfunctional family in Indian content was as common as a polar bear in the Sahara desert.
Exposed as we were to the big, fat, happy joint families perpetrated by the Karan Johars, Sooraj Barjatyas and Yash Chopras of the film world, and their syrupy family dramas – and in a trickle-down effect, on mainstream television too – dysfunctional was something we would hardly associate with the word family, even in our wildest dreams.
That is, until now.
Ladies and gentlemen, hold your jaws, lest they drop – for here comes a family drama, featuring a family so dysfunctional that it makes the Simpsons look like babes in the wood. Presenting The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family, Ekta Kapoor’s nouveau offering on Alt Balaji, which tells with tale of a family (so, what’s new?) that is gloriously dysfunctional (gasp….come again?).
Taking its cue from Karan Johar’s 2016 masterpiece, Kapoor& Sons, The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family is the story of the Ranauts, a family that is nuttier than a squirrel turd and wackier than a wombat.
And do we love them for it? You bet! In a spectacular departure from the usual boring, insipid, saccharine sweet family dramas – the bane of Bollywood and TV-land, The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family is a web series that is sharper than a razor’s edge and as on point as an ice pick.
The story centres on the unhappy relations simmering just below the surface of the Ranaut family. Scratch the surface and the bitterness spills out in a bittersweet comedy of dysfunction. Set in dusty, small-town Coonoor, the story takes the audience on a tumultuous ride of secrets, betrayals and infidelities, sucking us into a dark vortex of shocking revelations, before culminating in a deeply moving climax that makes us clap in glee, as it pulls back the fractious but endearing family from the brink of falling apart.
The characters, as eccentric as they come, are fleshed out with obsessive attention to detail. Each one has a skeleton in the cupboard, with the result that every episode ends with a startling revelation. The series moves ahead at scorching speed, from establishing characters quickly in the first five minutes itself, to hurling surprises at us at blistering pace.
As we go deeper into the series, we fall in love with the adorable idiosyncrasies of the Ranaut family. There’s the always-high matriarch of the Ranaut family, Premlata Ranaut (Swaroop Sampat). Premlata’s is a character brimming with infectious joie de vivre. She gets high on her daily cuppa – spiked with weed –which her trusted aide, Vimmi, makes for her. Along with the spiked tea, Vimmi also plies her with dope on whatever is going on within her crazy family. Swaroop Sampat gets into the character with effortless ease, putting in a spirited performance that reminds one of her Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi days.
Elder son, Vikram Ranaut (Kay Kay Menon, making his digital debut), is a frustrated, angst-ridden ex-army officer, who was forced to quit the army because of a debilitating leg injury he suffered in the line of duty. That incident has left him bitter, cynical and simmering in perpetual anger. He goes through life with a sullen face and a keen readiness to bite everyone’s head off. Kay KayMenon outdoes himself in this role, putting in a memorable and towering performance as the sullen-faced ex-soldier.
The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family is a story of hope and despair, of falling apart and coming back together again, of blood that runs thicker than water
Vikram’s wife, Geeta Ranaut (Shriswara Dubey), is tasked with the thankless job of smoothing feathers ruffled by her morose husband. She goes through the motions in a quiet and restrained manner. Her primary concern is her mute younger child, Mridul, whom she cares for with love and patience. And yet, beneath all that quietude, Geeta bears an abysmal secret, one that has the potential to tear apart her already-tattered-at-the-edges life.
Samar Ranaut (Barun Sobti) is the younger son of the house, who had fled to Mumbai, partly to escape from being forced into the army by his elder brother, and partly, because he has a terrible secret to hide. The series begins with his return home after 8 years, with wife, Sonali (Eisha Chopra), in tow. Vikram makes no bones about his hatred for his ‘bhagoda’ younger brother, and contempt for Sonali, something he conveys often, with the help of caustic one-liners.
BarunSobti has put in a convincing performance as the mild-mannered younger sibling with a questionable past, making his legion of fans vastly happy in the process. Eisha Chopra is a self-assured performer, and her turn as the confident restaurant-owner grabs attention. She holds her own amongst the stalwart ensemble cast, a commendable feat.
Lastly, there’s Aditi (Sanaya Pithawalla), Vikram’s daughter, a rebellious teenager, and more importantly, a lesbian. Some of the best scenes are the ones that deal with Aditi’s sexual orientation. It is a sparkling role, one that conveys a lot in very little. In a seminal scene, Vikram takes Aditi to the psychologist in the hope of curing her of the ‘condition’, Aditi asserts that she’s a lesbian, and nothing can change the fact, to which Vikram bursts out in anguish, “You’re not a lesbian. You’re my daughter!” And she replies quietly, “Papa, I can be both at the same time, can’t I?” It is a heart-rending scene, enough to give one goose bumps.
Sanaya Pithawalla has put in a brilliant performance, shining in her scenes and leaving a lasting impact on her audience. She’s definitely one performer to watch out for in the future.
As secret after secret is laid bare, the bickering increases, tensions escalate and come to a head. But tucked away amidst all the hurt and the sharp one-liners, is a family that yearns to find one another again, to relive the joy of togetherness, to make matters alright again.
Peppered with glittering one-liners and brilliant scenes such as the one where Aditi gives back to a guy trolling her on her lesbianism with an outstanding piece of stand-up comedy; and terrific performances from every member of the cast, this is one web series that is not only worth a watch but worthy of a re-watch and a re-watch and a re-watch. And each time, it’ll throw up a new facet to the story and the performances.
Rajlaxmi Ratan Seth wields directorial duties with a whole lot of panache, imbuing the story with a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek humour. Producers Tanveer Bookwala and Ekta Kapoor deserve brownie points for having the gumption to go ahead with this one, a tour de force, off the beaten path.
The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family is a story of hope and despair, of falling apart and coming back together again, of blood that runs thicker than water. It is a bittersweet comedy that makes you laugh at the antics of the protagonists; yes, it does. But more than that, it makes you introspect. It makes you look inwards within yourself. It catches you off-guard with its fervent intensity and searing realities. It makes you reflect on the contemporary way of living and makes you yearn for times gone by.
Do watch it guys, and yes, you’re welcome.
IWMBuzz rates The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family a 4/5.
(Written by Rashmi Paharia)