Is it only me, or have we reached a saturation point with ‘psychological thrillers’ and wannabe noirs dealing with ‘lies, deceit, betrayal’? Barely a week after Gehraiyaan, we have a mountain noir in Mithya and a Mumbai noir in Bestseller. Each has a dead body or two, each has cheating partners at the heart of the narrative, each aspires to the same kind of technical aesthetic (‘moody’ lighting and camerawork, and suitably apt ‘tense’ background score), each has a writer as one of its principal protagonists, and each goes nowhere with its convoluted plotting.
Of these, Mithya works marginally better — at least till about the fourth of its thankfully short six episodes. Juhi (Huma Qureshi), professor of Hindi literature at a college, is battling a plethora of personal demons. Her marriage to Neel (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) has lost its fizz, and she is prone to visualising sensuous scenarios with her colleague Vishal (Indraneil Sengupta) in the women’s restroom. She is straining to emerge from the shadow cast by her Wordsworth-quoting academic-writer father and is putting the final touches to a book she is writing. She has a propensity to make things difficult with her inflexible take on what constitutes truth. And the medication she is having for her infertility issues might be hampering her mental faculties and judgement.
One such possibly rash decision puts her on a collision course with young student Rhea (Avantika Dassani), who has submitted a paper that Juhi deems is plagiarised (though she is working more on a hunch here than proof, a contrivance that keeps rankling and that the show can’t shake off). Rhea, daughter of the college’s trustee, is emotionally distraught and sexually precocious, and nurses secrets that have the potential to upend Juhi’s already fragile world. The charge of plagiarism is just the springboard for Rhea to unleash her brand of mayhem on Juhi. As she methodically goes after the latter’s family, secrets and lies, both old and new, come tumbling out.
Juhi’s father, Anand (Rajit Kapur), it seems, has feet of clay, while her husband Neel is putty in the hands of the devious Rhea, who bonds with him over single malt and some inappropriate sexting involving ‘boner and bubbies’. There’s a sense of a ‘fatal attraction’ between student and teacher (Juhi even has a pet cat named Bhaisaab that meets a fate somewhat similar to the rabbit in the 1987 thriller).
There is possibly one strand too many in Mithya — student-teacher relationship, literary allusions, parenting, sexual dynamics, murder, infidelity — so that one gets a by-the-numbers feel to the events unfolding. In one episode, as Anand and his wife celebrate their anniversary, he likens marriage to winding and treacherous mountain roads that need the judicious application of brakes. It’s something the makers could have done well to pay heed to. Episodes 5 and 6, in particular, are largely redundant and involve the filmmakers taking us (via the characters telling each other) through the whys of the whodunnit.
As the narrative grinds to a halt for all practical purposes, the prickly issues with the series come to the fore — like how easy it is to enter a girl’s room at the hostel, the ineffectual police investigation track, the contrived device of the besotted security guard who facilitates Rhea’s plans, and the repetitive drone of the framing device at the start of each episode.
Of the actors, only Parambrata comes across effectively as Juhi’s weak-fleshed and feckless husband, bringing forth an interiority in the way his Neel succumbs to Rhea’s machinations. Though Huma tries gamely, there’s little growth in her graph, and she seems hard-pressed to convey the complexity of the character. And Avantika, sly smile, smoky voice, arched eyebrows, echoes the 1990s Bollywood femme fatale way too much to be really menacing.
This is at best passably engaging fare. With names like Rohan Sippy and Anvita Dutt in the credits, this could have been, should have been, so much more.
Cast: Huma Qureshi, Avantika Dassani, Rajit Kapoor, Parambrata Chattopadhyay
Director: Rohan Sippy
Rating: 2 and ½ stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)