For the uninitiated, Decoupled is an Indian web series that premiered on Netflix last month. It is written and created by Manu Joseph, one of India’s most interesting columnists/authors. The show is mostly in English and features Madhavan and Surveen Chawla in the lead. It’s a light hearted take on the life of a rich, urban couple and the struggles with the institution called marriage. But beyond this very common story line, what takes the cake is the way Manu weaves in day today happenings around us, using every opportunity to call out hypocrisies of the privileged and the opinionated. If you haven’t watched it yet, I would recommend it.
Now the overall response to the series has been interesting to see. Almost all the critics or of what I saw, sort of panned the show in unison. When I saw Decoupled, I quite liked it. The series quickly hit the top spot on India trends on Netflix. With whomsoever I checked in my circle, they all loved it. In social media, the series is now being celebrated for its refreshing take on life. Some of the clips and lines from the series in fact have been going viral on WhatsApp, a sure indicator of a show’s success if I may say. In short, common viewers like you and I just loved it while the critics hated it.
In my opinion, the critics hated Decoupled most likely because it was from Manu Joseph. For long now, Manu has been holding contrarian views on issues that challenge the common opinions of expert commentators. And that he could present his arguments in a very articulate and convincing manner that are not so easy to counter, makes him more reviled among his peers. Week after week, Manu in his weekly columns of late, sets the cat among the pigeons with his compulsive, against the flow takes that rattle status quoists on the one hand and instigate what Manu himself calls as asparagus eating liberals, on the other hand. For example, when the entire commentariat was taking on the Modi government for its push on Aadhaar quoting privacy concerns, Manu’s take was and I quote, “Absolute privacy is a right that people have given up when they chose not to live in forests”! So, he has this knack of hitting well pitched yorkers out of the park.
I therefore feel that the image Manu acquired of being this rattler through his columns or non-fictional writing, came to the fore when critics watched Decoupled which is his work of fiction. One of the reviews alluded Decoupled to be “a vessel to communicate creator Manu Joseph’s most divisive thoughts to an audience that normally wouldn’t care about them”. For critics, this was an opportunity to give it back to Manu for what he does week after week through his columns.
Now, this dichotomy is something we are getting familiar with. And a very common parallel to this which comes to my mind is the reaction Narendra Modi gets in India. And this where the twain of Decoupled and Modi Sarkar meet and I will explain how. Majority of Aam admi in India like Modi. But the critics and the liberal intelligentsia hate him from his Gujarat days and for growing to this stature in spite of their writings against him. So whatever Modi does, the liberal commentariat tends to find ways and means to critique them, while the common man keeps lapping them up.
I can quote so many examples in the past 7 years since Modi became the Prime Minister, when the so called experts chose to critique his ideas or find fault but, which resonated well with the people by and large. I found it amusing when this government launched the Toilet construction programme in villages, some critics were asking about water availability! Similarly, when free LPG connections were provided, the question was who will pay for the refills!
In fact in some of the cases, I thought that the ideas were criticized just because they were from the Modi Sarkar and probably they would have been appreciated by the critics if they were from say a Congress government. The whole revamping of the old Parliament building for any logical person, is an idea whose time had come many years ago. Instead of not appreciating this government for taking the lead in creating the New Central Vista, the intelligentsia is only finding holes in the proposal by clutching on to straws of history. I am yet to come across one common man who had any problems with it, though. The same is likely hold true for the latest idea of shifting or merging the Amar Jawan Jyoti as well. The problem is not the idea itself but that it is has been initiated by Narendra Modi during his regime. Just like the problem being not with the web series Decoupled itself but with its writer and creator – Manu Joseph.
We are living at a time when though the message may be right, it will be called out as wrong if the messenger is not liked by some masters. It’s high time that the commentariat realises that its credibility is at its nadir and if this practice of shooting the message depending upon who the messenger is not stopped, it will deteriorate further.
The best part is, in fine arts writers and artists gain recognition from readers and viewers, and not just from critics. And so is in a democracy. All eligible citizens vote and not just the commentariat. Thank God for small mercies.