Remember the 2001 film, Malena, that put Monica Bellucci on the global map? Looking beyond the voyeurism and titillating adult themes, Malena was a brilliant social commentary about sexuality, empowerment, sex education, and double standards.
In many ways, Rasbhari, the newest addition to Amazon Prime Video, can be thought of as an Indian version of Malena, but it leaves a lot to be desired, pun intended.
Set in Meerut, Rasbhari begins with protagonist Nand Kishore (an effortlessly good Ayushmaan Saxena) narrating a juicy anecdote from his life.
He is a high-school student, and is seen as a casanova by his closest friends, and a ‘brother’ by girl classmates.
He is sex-starved and wants to lose his virginity before finishing school. He has a complicated equation with his classmate Priyanka (a wonderfully confident Rashmi Agdekar). His unattainable goal, though, is his English teacher, Shanoo Bansal.
The small-town humour, the current toast of OTT entertainment, is here too. While it isn’t consistently good, the laughs are still fairly frequent. The empowering themes, however, are too subtle to land a punch.
A very young Shanoo being sexualised, by her own family and friends no less, is quite disturbing. Such overt sexualisation stops some of the series’ sensitive portions from being as powerful as they should have been.
While Swara Bhaskar sells the sex siren role, the one-note definition becomes monotonous as the series progresses.
More than Swara’s Rasbhari/Shanoo, the character arcs of peripheral ones is what we found more invested in. Nand and Priyanka’s love is beautifully written.
Even the women, who are portrayed as ‘villains’, add colour to the proceedings with some delicious politically incorrect humour. However, these wonderful side arcs get trampled by the central conceit of the show—an exposition of society’s double standards—which comes way too late in the series.
More than two decades since American Pie spawned a successful franchise, Indian content is still trying to catch up. Rasbhari has its moments, but gets caught up in trying to be a good adult comedy.