‘Smonday’ – that twilight period at the end of a Sunday when it stops feeling like a Sunday, and the anxiety of a Monday kicks in. A young man is furiously at work on his laptop. It’s raining outside. The mobile pings with a message from HR: a part of the office building has collapsed due to torrential rain, and the office will be indefinitely closed, with all meetings for the week rescheduled till further notice. Anyone who has ever lived and worked the corporate life will have had this fantasy or a variant thereof at some point. And therein lies the inherent charm of Cubicles – its ability to zero in on the everyday struggles of the Everyman and provide aphorisms in easy-to-digest bites which make harsh truths palatable.
It’s a formula that TVF (The Viral Fever), the producers, have perfected with their shows’ Pitchers’ (a group of friends dealing with the pitfalls of developing their own start-up), ‘Kota Factory’ (a group of friends dealing with the pitfalls of the exam coaching industry) and now in Cubicles (a group of colleagues-cum-friends dealing with the pitfalls of becoming part of the corporate rat race).
Over five episodes of approximately 30 minutes each (the best part of the series is that it knows when to stop and how not to stretch its episodes beyond a point), the director and his team of writers create an enjoyable snapshot of corporate life with a cast of likeable characters.
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Piyush Prajapati (Abhishek Chauhan) is now an employee with an IT firm in Pune. There’s Piyush’s room-and-next-cubicle mate Gautam (Badri Chavan), who seems obsessed with weight issues and dating apps when not obsessing about appraisals. There’s Shetty aka Gambhir (Niketan Sharma) — just in case you missed ‘Gautam’ — who is obsessed with applying for paternity leave There’s the newbie Sunaina Chauhan (Ayushi Gupta), obsessed with proving her mettle even if it comes at the cost of running down her teammates (she has CMC – Chuko Mat Chauhan – tattooed on her wrists and emblazoned on her desk as a motivational tool).
There’s Angad (Shivankit Singh Parihar), the IT guy, obsessed with (apart from getting a hair transplant) cutting costs and snitching on employees who use office bandwidth for personal purposes. There’s RDX (Jaimini Pathak), the elderly employee well past his utility, obsessed with ‘Shawshank Redemption’ as a metaphor for the workspace, when not going back in time to recount his misadventures as a misfit in the corporate world.
As you might have guessed – all these are types. And each episode – titled ‘Monday Blues’, ‘Code Phat Gaya’, ‘The Bell Curve’, ‘The Pink Slip’ and ‘Error 404: Cubicle Not Found’ – addresses one type through an issue the organisation has to handle. Everything is rendered simplistic, made palatable, through Piyush’s words of wisdom on every aspect of life in a office: the first smiles on a Monday morning do not come till 11.16 a.m.; the constant references to the organisation-employee relationship as a marriage with the lure of another job an extramarital affair; layoffs and retrenchments (‘creative economies run on destruction and their greatest weapon is downsizing – we are all in this together, but there’s always room for one less’); or the redundancy that comes with age (‘an action hero over 60, a 38-year-old fast bowler, a 12-year-old dog or a three-year-old mobile phone’ are all past their sell-by date’).
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Beyond a point, the simplistic dumbing down does tend to grate. ‘Broken Crayons Still Colour’, we get to see in a reference to RDX! We never get an idea of what it might feel like to be told that your services are no longer required. These rough-edged issues are all papered over; everything is resolved with voiceover spiels. Before long, it begins to feel like one of those lazy one-size-fits-all self-help books. But the makers are smart enough to keep it short and pull the plug in time. And the actors are easy on the eye, with each one a perfect fit. And when it’s not spelling out homilies on corporate life, it scores well enough in the underplayed exchanges, say, for example, between Piyush and RDX.
I used the phrase ‘an enjoyable snapshot of corporate life with a cast of likeable characters’ earlier in the review. In the words’ enjoyable’ and ‘likeable’ lie both the show's strength and its weakness.
Title: Cubicles, Season 2
Cast: Abhishek Chauhan, Badri Chavan, Ayushi Gupta, Niketan Sharma, Shivankit Singh Parihar, Nidhi Bisht, Jaimini Pathak
Director: Chaitanya Kumbhakonum
Rating: 2 and 1/2 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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