• Platform: Disney + Hotstar
  • Release Date: 20/05/2022
  • Cast: Siddharth, Waluscha De Sousa, Plabita Borthakur, Swastika Mukherjee, Sumedh Mudgalkar, Rohit Chandel
  • Creator: Siddharth Kumar Tewary

I am surprised by how the mainstream media is completely ignoring this recent Disney + Hotstar series even though it has enough merits and considerable talents and star power involved. Actors like Siddharth, Waluscha De Sousa, and Jaaved Jaaferi have pivotal roles in a series that deals with one of the biggest issues plaguing the young generation. While I found the series to be entertaining and informative, it does go overboard a few times liquidating the impact that it builds with its effective storytelling and drama. Let us first take a quick look at its story before we dwell further on its positives and negatives.

The story revolves around a mobile app known as “Escaype Live” that is very similar to the Chinese short video app, TikTok. The owners of Escaype Live are shown to be Chinese in the series while it has an Indian managing director, Ravi Gupta played by Jaaved Jaaferi. The app launches a contest among its users wherein the users have to get the maximum number of diamonds and hearts from their subscribers in a stipulated period. The user who receives the highest diamonds at the end of the stipulated period is assured of winning Rs 3 crore. The users must do anything and everything in their power to lure their audiences and this leads to some bizarre situations that not only expose the questionable nature of humans but also beg the question — how far will an individual go before he/she realizes that it was far enough. The series takes us on a whirlwind adventure across different topographies where we see the lives and stakes of atleast 6 individuals triggered by the contest and how each one of them ends up losing something important by the end of the competition.

I had a good time with this series even though the few reviews that are actually out for it are overwhelmingly negative. I liked the series primarily because I was on the same page with its plot and was able to identify with most of the characters that the series sets up through the course of its runtime. None of these characters apart from probably the main antagonist of the series felt over the top. The creators even used some of these characters to spell out some of the most notorious issues plaguing society these days. The creators also used subversion of expectations to their advantage and used it to jolt the viewers from time to time. A character would start off as overly positive but with every episode would get shadier and by the end of it all would turn into a monster. Similarly, a squeaky clean character would be shown doing horrible things only to take a complete u-turn in the end and make you emotional with a display of uncharacteristic warmth.   

The series maintains a constant sense of surprise. With every episode, it escalates the stakes of the different contestants higher and higher leading to some breakneck dramatic moments that almost always culminate in a satisfying release. While the creators are at it, they also make it a point to give us enough time to see these characters in their natural habitat outside the fantasy world that they have created for their respective digital selves. These moments add up to make us care and relate with these characters a whole lot more. This aspect of the series helps in enhancing the tension and thrills in moments where we see these characters in trouble or in pain.

The performances by the actors are what holds the attention of the audiences in this series apart from its effective storytelling and breezy pacing. Almost no one from Assam is talking about the stellar performance of Plabita Borthakur in the series. She plays the character of Hina who faces racial abuse in Bengaluru and is hell-bent on shifting to a different country. For this she needs money and this brings her to Escaype where she takes up the alter ego of a burlesque performer, Fetish Girl, and rules the hearts and minds of her followers. What I loved about her rendition of the character was the stark difference between the character that she is on Escaype and her real-life persona. Plabita is able to effectively convey the nuances of both the aspects of the character making her rendition wholesome, believable, and engrossing.

Rohit Chandel plays Raj Kumar, a good-looking and successful bank employee who has the body of a man but feels like a woman inside. It is very easy for actors to overdo the nuances of a character of this nature, but Chandel enacts both aspects of the character so beautifully and with such grace and poise that the audiences are quickly enveloped in the sense of tragedy and longing that makes up the character of Raj Kumar. It is because of this wonderful rendition that his/her character assumes a great deal of importance in the end and his story arch becomes one of the only uplifting features of the entire series.

Aadya Sharma as a kid Rani, who has a meteoric rise in the competition and whose maternal uncle sees this as an opportunity to make a quick buck, is fantastic. She brings the frustration of a kid who is unable to match up to the top performers on the app wonderfully to life. The frequent conflicts that she lands into with her parents are also extremely well done and add depth to her character and give reason to her extreme actions. Contrary to what Bollywood loves showing, we see Rani’s father as someone who wants her daughter to study and become educated. It is Rani who is bowled over by the dreams of becoming a star and keeps disrespecting her father’s decisions time and again. This bit not only sheds light on the true essence of village life in today’s India where fathers actually want their daughters to study but also shows us how a child enamored by an elusive dream can sideline all good advice and walk a path of self-harm.

Siddharth is terrific in a role that is unlike anything I have seen him doing in recent times. He plays a brooding character that has his own judgment of right and wrong and is often wrong about things that he feels are right. When it comes to his sister, he is not willing to let her even speak to someone from her college let alone be in a relationship but the same person doesn’t mind chasing after a sultry seductress that he has only seen perform on Escaype and is even willing to bypass the protocols of the company to do so. One of the most interesting aspects of this series is how the relationship between Siddharth and Plabita Borthakur develops through the course of the series and this portion wouldn’t have been the same had it not been for Siddharth’s engrossing performance and odd mannerisms.

The ensemble cast of the series does a great job with their respective characters. Waluscha De Sousa and Sumedh Mudgalkar who plays the crazy antagonist Darkie deserve special mention.  

There is another aspect to the series that sets it apart from the others of this nature. The creators were smart enough to show how the app was impacting different individuals differently. The series didn’t preach a one-sided story of the app being an evil thing but instead concentrated on the fact that the app was merely a tool in the hands of the individuals and while one individual used it to let loose and live a life that she couldn’t in a body that God had given her, another individual used it to not only make money by depicting carnage and violence but also belittle and possibly murder a little girl who he believed was his greatest rival. The series also dwells on the moral bankruptcy of the management that runs the app and documents how they could have controlled everything at the click of a button but didn’t as they were more concerned about making profits than saving a child’s life.

For all this and more, Escaype Live is an essential watch. It has solid performances, good and engaging story, and is very relevant in today’s time. While it can go a little overboard in a certain aspect, it remains engrossing enough to keep the audience hooked and the plot smoothly purring along. I watched it twice for the purposes of this review and never felt bored. That should tell you something about the series.

Also read: ‘Brahmastra’ trailer: Fantastical love story starring Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt

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