"Hasmukh" (Netflix series)
Cast: Vir Das, Ranvir Shorey, Ravi Kishan, Manoj Pahwa, Amrita Bagchi, Suhail Nayyar, Raza Murad
Direction: Nikhil Gonsalves
Rating: * * and 1/2 (two and a half stars)
Vir Das goes for a double with "Hasmukh", a black comedy in 10 episodes that lets him play out a role in a fictional set-up, and yet remain a stand-up comic.
On the first count, this must be his most layered character yet as an actor and he does a fine job. Secondly, although Vir Das plays a stand-up in the story, his protagonist hails from smalltown UP -- which means his brand of comedy demands a drastic overhaul. Here, he steps out of his comfort zone of posh wisecracks to belt out heartland-hued humour.
Vir Das co-creates and writes this show with Nikkhil Advani, and the premise is quirky. Every comedian, we are told, has a special something that he falls back on to get into the groove, before taking the stage. For the otherwise bumbling Hasmukh Sudia (Vir Das), the special impetus happens to be murder.
Peculiar as the idea sounds, it grabs your fancy right away. A struggler and an understudy to the seasoned funnyman Gulati (Manoj Pahwa), Hasmukh discovers that murder is his mojo for humour by chance. He finds a manager in the crafty Jimmy (Ranvir Shorey), who realises Hasmukh's 'secret' but is okay with using it.
After initial successes in and around hometown Saharanpur, the duo heads off to Mumbai, where Hasmukh's dual knack at gigs and kills will not surprisingly let him thrive.
Director Nikhil Gonsalves does adequately while changing mood and tone of the story as the locale shifts from the early smalltown milieu to big bad Mumbai, a city that would seem like a ready hotspot for comics as well as killers. However Gonsalves struggles while trying to maintain the narrative's tempo as the change of venue happens.
You realise soon enough that "Hasmukh" need not have played out over 10 episodes. Although each episode has been locked at around only half an hour -- give or take a few minutes -- the pace of storytelling begins to slacken after a brilliant start. The fault here lies with sloppy writing, and a screenplay that should have been wrapped up in about seven or eight episodes is stretched needlessly.
A big challenge for Vir Das is the transformation of image as a comic that he needs to undergo in order to become Hasmukh. Semi-intelligent husband-wife jokes, which mostly define Hasmukh's brand of smalltown humour, are clearly not the turf of Vir Das the comedian. There are the odd political digs of course, but those seem out of place for Hasmukh. Still, the actor reveals ample screen presence to pull it off despite the rough edges in scripting. In fact, Vir Das along with most of the cast, remains the only reason one might recommend this series. He morphs from a tongue-tied fumbler to a cold, manic killer to a budding comic sensation with ease.
Ranvir Shorey as the sly Jimmy and Ravi Kishan as the lecherous TV channel boss are in perfectly cast. Manoj Pahwa as Gulati revels in the black hilarity his character goes on to assume while Raza Murad, although essaying a familiar trope as Jameel bhai the gangster who controls Bollywood, is a formidable presence. Suhail Nayyar as Hasmukh's rival comic KK is an important prop, and so is Amrita Bagchi as the ever-helpful executive in the TV channel hosting a comedy contest where Hasmukh seeks ultimate glory.
"Hasmukh" lets down its impressive cast, if only because it fails to surprise despite an unusual idea. Like Hasmukh Sudia trying to tell a good joke without resorting to murder first, the show itself is a lame shot that fall flat.