(This review is based only on the first three episodes of the show)
Set in 1989 as the title suggests, Netflix’s new show Taj Mahal 1989 presents the love stories of an ensemble of characters, that have some thread linking each other. These love stories take place at a time when there were only landline phones, no internet and just before the liberalization of the Indian economy took place.
Watch the trailer here:
The characters spawn across ages. So you have Akhtar (Neeraj Kabi) and Sarita Baig (Geetanjali Kulkarni) play a couple stuck in a loveless marriage. Akhtar and Sarita are professors at Lucknow University, teaching Philosophy and Physics respectively. Akhtar routinely narrates lines from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry while Sarita enjoys the masala Bollywood flicks.
Then there’s Angad (Anud Singh Dhaka), a philosophy student at the University who looks at love with cynicism and finds the conversation around it to be silly. But he’s very open when it comes to conversation about sex, which he routinely has with his friend Rashmi (Anshul Chauhan). She, on the other hand, says that the notion that “girls only look for love” is not true at all and is dating their mutual friend Dharam (Paras Priyadarshan).
The best part about the show for me was the fact that it was set in the ’90s. It’s just such a pleasure to see people not immersed in their phones and to hear a character say things like ‘I love Rasna!” The clothes, the Maruti car, the old switches - the show does get the feel of the 90s right.
What also works is the equation between Akhtar and Sarita. They’re a couple with a 12-year-old son and have known each other for 22 years. Monotony has crept into the relationship and Sarita is perennially irritated. She dismisses poetry but also tries to bring in a sense of romance in her relationship. Her husband, on the other hand, is a poetry lover, but that romanticism never creeps into his actions. Geetanjali Kulkarni, in particular, is lovely as Sarita.
The show also breaks the fourth wall routinely, and so you have characters expressing what they feel to the camera. This often feels forced and I felt like telling the makers, “I get it, you don’t need to tell me.”
Angad, who is the 20-something student Taj Mahal 1989, at one point breaks the fourth wall and says, “This was the time when we didn’t have Tinder, so you make do with what you get.” I didn’t get the point of the Tinder reference, I liked the fact that the show was set in a different time. We don’t need a reminder of what dating is like today.
We only had access to three episodes, which is why it’s difficult to understand the nuances of the characters and pass judgement. There is another couple played by Danish Hussain and Sheeba Chadha. Danish plays Sudhakar Mishra who is Akhtar’s childhood friend and as mentioned on the show a gold medalist in philosophy. But he ditches that and ends up continuing his father’s tailoring business. They will probably delve into that later.
The problem at least in the first three episodes is that there seems to be no connection between the stories. Yes the characters are related, but the narrative isn’t able to completely weave their stories.
Each story has some sweet moments and clever lines though. I found myself laughing when a character very candidly tells Sudhakar, “You’re a tailor, no wonder you like this film.”
Anud Singh Dhaka as Angad has the best lines and he’s the most natural as well. From the characters’ background, there seems to be hint of inter-religious marriages and the mention of Faiz Ahmed Faiz is so relevant to what’s happening today. But the show at least until now doesn’t really get into the political ramifications of relationships. It begins with visuals of the Taj Mahal and how long it took to construct it, and almost serves as an antithesis to the stories of the couples. They’re simple, mundane but that’s what the show wants to explore and hopefully does so in more depth in the later episodes.
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