With caramel popcorn and dark coffee, you’re settling into the seat at the multiplex and the Dolby Atmos sound system gets cranked up. The 3D countdown makes you believe you are entering a new world (or multiverse), and with the opening sequence, you are ready to believe and root for the cheesiest of heroes saving his world.
At home, though, we are armed with a remote and we the audience are less forgiving.
That said, I watched Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi with great curiosity. Because the opening credits say something new: Showrunner (Naren Kumar). If you’ve lived in Shonda Rhimes’ world as long as I have, you know that the person with that title runs everything: from the production to the writers room to well, everything. He’s Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen.
So, let’s watch Nirmal Pathak (Vaibhav Tatwawadi) going back home to his village in Bihar. Is this going to be in the vein of Mohan Bhargav of Swades fame?
Within a minute you know it’s not.
He’s trying to sleep on the train. Why is he on a train? If he wants the great Indian train experience, there is an hourly train from Patna to Buxar and it costs only Rs 120 and the journey takes about an hour and a half. Why is he taking the train from Delhi?
He has video calling on his phone, but does not use Google… Sigh! Lazy writing is evident from the first scene. If he’s an NRI, he wouldn’t be able to sleep on the train at all, he’d spend most of the time taking pictures and being doted upon by aunties who would share food. He wouldn’t be so crotchety… The whole teacher eating ‘chiniya badam’ (after the Instagram hit, it was fun to hear this very local name for peanuts) schtick also seems to be old unless someone says (and they do!) that the whole train is open house for daily travellers as soon as it is morning.
The loss of the luggage and wallet is as old as the hills - and predictable - and I am outraged for Bihar. And when the hero claims that it’s okay to lose a laptop (with the luggage), it made me scream at the TV. Even though writers have stories on the cloud, but the laptop?! It has everything…
So the hero is Nirmal Pathak who has lived away from the village home because his father was kicked out of the family home when Nirmal was a baby. Nirmal is now coming home for his cousin’s wedding.
But wait, how did Nirmal get invited if his father was estranged? Why is the cousin Aatish (Akash Makhija, who comes from the ‘overdo every scene’ school of acting) so enamoured of this brother whom no one has seen? I’m not saying the younger generation cannot forgive and forget, but he’s not Kareena Kapoor’s Poo bringing Hrithik Roshan’s Rohan into Shah Rukh’s home in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, no? Everyone in the village is expecting Nirmal home and they think it’s a good thing. Everyone except the uncle who kicked his older brother, Nirmal's dad, out of the ancestral rural home.
Speaking of rural, my tummy approved of the food laid out before Nirmal which included Thekua (made at home and only in Bihar). Plus, the village looks very picturesque and very green. The camerawork is good because you like it when it is steady, letting you enjoy the sunset - the silhouettes of the children coming back home after eating malpuas is great.
But why does Nirmal look so pensive when eating freshly made malpuas? He's mostly morose because he has his dead father's ashes. There's an attempt to address caste in the show. The local leader ‘Neta-ji’ and his cronies do the casteist and patriarchal thing very well.
Pankaj Jha, who plays the younger brother Aatish’s dad, is a fine actor. He made my stomach curl with his anger against the ‘ye log’ (the underprivileged are often not considered human).
Vineet Kumar is a seasoned baddie and every time he shows up on the screen, you can expect something awful. It’s okay for him to say to Nirmal, ‘Had I met you before, I would have got my daughter married to you and not Aatish.’ And just when Aatish looks confused, he even dares to advise Aatish: Be careful of him. His name may be Nirmal, but he has enough barood (explosives) inside him to blow up the whole village.
That’s the line that made me believe in the possibility of the show, But the lad called Nirmal is not written that way. He’s mostly morose and rather dumb. Why does he take the ashes out of a perfectly okay backpack and hide them in his jacket? That leads to the reveal, but so badly done!
They had a great idea when Nirmal’s mother wants to open his backpack to wash the clothes, they could have had a more dramatic reveal than how everyone gets to know that Nirmal’s father is no more.
Alka Amin plays the mother who was left behind (still cannot wrap my head around the father leaving with a little baby when he left home, Main Hoon Na did a better job with Lucky hating his missing father) and made me weep with her constant vigil for a husband who she believes - even after all these years - will come back for her. Her disbelief at the reveal that her husband is dead is well written. So is the character of Nibha, Aatish’s younger sister who does all the chores at home without complaining. I wish they had fleshed out the lovely aunt called Genda (she has a mostly absent army guy for a husband who produces a child at every furlough) and even the character of Nirmal’s chachi more than the pretty lame romantic track with the schoolteacher. The righteous anger and fear that Rina displays comes too late into the season.
It’s only in the fourth and the fifth episode of the five episode season that the story begins to look really interesting. Too much time is wasted in the fluff with villagers and kidnapping and selling stolen goods in a bazaar…You will hate that Aatish hacks a tree in anger (we need trees!) but love his changed attitude towards his brother when he calls Nirmal ‘mehmaan’ (a guest). I watch the end credits with dread. The NRI brother Nirmal is seen on the train with the runaway Rina. Is season two going to be a Virasat (Anil Kapoor, Tabu) story repeated? Nirmal comes back to save his mom and Nibha from the village and ends up marrying Rina because he inadvertently left the village with her?