The small town is the new utopic fantasy world of the Indian entertainment industry. The industry has long infatuated the fancy American dream, picturesque Switzerland mountains and abrupt dance sequence in London but the previous decade catapulted the directors back to the native land bringing stories of an ordinary person from a small town in extraordinary circumstances. These ordinary characters are layered and complex. Rasbhari brings to you the same small town world but never tries to delve deep into the character’s psyche.
Set in Kanpur the story follows Nand, a 16-year-old adolescent who is lusting over his school’s newly appointed English teacher Shanu, played by Swara Bhaskar. Shanu, an elegant and simple girl, is the talk of the town among men for her beauty whose husband is generally out of town for work. Nand who is keen to convert his fantasy of getting laid into reality embarks on a ride taking a series of decisions that churn out laughter and drama in this bland script. Nand has a friend named Priyanka who tries really hard to express her liking towards him but his hormones are making him lust over his teacher. While the entire Kanpur is going gaga over Shanu’s lust stories with several men, Nand determines to seek this opportunity of losing his virginity by entering her house for tuition classes, only to find out later about his teacher’s diametrically opposite alter-ego Rasbhari. Rasbhari is more sexually liberated and has a lecherous personality who doesn’t shy away from tempting every man or a woman she lays her eyes on.
Written by Tanveer Bookwala and Shantanu Srivastava, Rasbhari aims at being a coming of age comedy-drama while simultaneously exploring female sexuality with feminism written all over it. Sadly, it rather presents a superficial version. Director Nikhil Datt tells his story with a complete male perspective and hence whenever Rasbhari or Shanu enters the frame, the camera first explores her waist, then the breast and then finally the face. For that moment, a female is just an object of desire. Not only that we also see men stalking her, slut-shaming her or commodifying her with a background score that is trying hard to set the comedic tone of the scene. Even in the Rasbhari’s catchy title track, we see hundreds of men running in slow motion chasing the red saree clad Rasbhari who is walking nonchalantly with the wind blowing her saree’s miles-long train. Not to forget, the representation of female sexuality that the makers boast of has merely been reduced to being sexually provocative or a nymphomaniac. The series for most of its part fails to look beyond voyeurism. Midway through the show, we see the director finally redeeming himself with Nand becoming more respectful towards her teacher and becoming the saviour of a woman who needs to be saved.
Although, Swara plays the titular character and has been given a story about her past, both the characters played by her lack depth which distances the viewers to empathise when she is vulnerable. There was also a moment where a young girl was shown dancing provocatively in front of drinking men which was very unnecessary and uncomfortable to watch though it wasn’t glorified. Other two women in this story, apart from being strong characters, are just uni-dimensional. Their entire actions are a reflex to the existence of men in their lives.
If one views the problematic aspects of this show, then reaching the final episode can become a debilitating task. Otherwise, Rasbhari is a very fun, entertaining but frivolous show with 8 episodes. The length of each episode is around 22 minutes and clever editing wouldn’t let you pause to take a break. The pace is the biggest relief and there are enough humorous moments that bring a smile to your face. There are multiple twists and turns in the story which is enough to engage the viewers. The show is far away from boring and can be binge-watched in one go.
The supporting cast does shine including Neelu Kohli who plays as Nand’s outspoken mother and sceptic wife constantly trying really hard to protect men of her family from the beguiling Rasbhari. She makes the most out of a script which doesn’t match her calibre. Scenes, where she is plotting with her fellow women against Rasbhari, are the most hilarious bits of this show. Ayushmaan Saxena reflects charm and confidence as Nand while successfully delivers what is required of him. He has the ability to perform dramatic scenes but not make it look dramatic at all and is likeable on screen. Rashmi Agdekar as Priyanka also shines in some of the moments and elevates the energy every time she enters a frame.
Swara Bhaskar is a fantastic actress but in this series, her talent has been underutilised and the blame should be given to the writing. In Veere Di Wedding, she played a sexually liberated woman but here she plays a sexually dependent woman. Barring a few episodes, she basically has been used as a prop to appease the audience which is sad for an actress like Swara who is known to break stereotypes through her film choices.
The major problem of this series as a whole is that it picks up too many ideas like sex education, female sexuality, patriarchy, friendship, slut-shaming etc and then drops them abruptly without drawing any conclusion or carrying them forward. If they hadn’t tried really hard to pick up these ideas at all, then nothing would have looked this forced or contrived. It tries and disappoints the viewers. It is nobody’s business to tell what you shouldn’t watch but if you are looking for an easy viewing experience or you are a Swara Bhaskar fan then Rasbhari can make it to your list. You have to keep your expectations moderate.