(From L to R) Dalai Mulchandani, Jim Sarbh, Zoya Akhtar
The happy family is at the dining table. The crabby cook is serving dinner. The father, played by Rahul Bose in a nightsuit, puts his phone down, his work done, and instructs the wife (Suchitra Pillai) and son to do the same. Now begins the inquisition. Are you alright, asks the mother. Yes, says the son (Vihaan Samat from Mismatched, 2020, and Bombay Begums, 2021). Do you want to tell us something? No, he says. Are you gay? No, he says again, spluttering. Hmm, so where do you see yourself five years from now, asks the mother. Dead?
A typical night in a typical suburban home. Only it’s not so typically seen in a Hindi movie populated with alpha males and alpha females. So, say hello to Ray in the new Netflix series Eternally Confused and Eager to Love. Think of him as a prequel to the slacker Kabir of Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) or a younger version of Seinfeld, accessorised with a nosey work colleague, an old classmate from school eager to set him up with her girlfriends, and the squabbling parents he lives with. In short, meet the Bandra boy, seldom seen on screen, but often encountered in real life. Ordinary looking, odd sense of humour, sweet but with the ability to say and do the wrong thing, stemming from social anxiety and a deep insecurity.
Produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s Excel Entertainment and Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s Tiger Baby Films, essentially the most powerful siblings in Bollywood, Eternally Confused and Eager to Love is a series that has been a long time coming. We’ve had enough of the confident hero, the stalker hero, the man-child. It was time for us to see a young man on screen as we often encounter him in life. Ray has a special friend, too, a voice in his head that belongs to his imaginary wizard/friend who keeps popping up, as a key chain, a bobblehead in the car, a sketch in his office, a cartoon in his bathroom and a figurine on his shelf. Part Gandalf, part Merlin, he looks like a wise old man, but doesn’t behave like one, constantly putting our hero in the path of danger. Sample of their telepathic dialogue: There are plenty of fish in the sea, says Ray after he doesn’t get a match on his dating app. Except, you’re afraid of the water, says the wizard.
The series is written and directed by Rahul Nair who, like his lead, Samat, went to New York University. All of 29, Nair has worked in various capacities, from production assistant to assistant director on Excel and Tiger Baby movies and shows such as Rock On 2 (2016) and Made in Heaven (2019). This is his first independent work and it is light, refreshing and delightfully binge-worthy. Nair is the son of veteran television executive Sameer Nair who runs Applause Entertainment, and while Ray’s screen parents are not exactly based on his father and stepmother, he did get their sign-off on the dialogues. My favourite? “Be your own diaper,” says his dad, giving him dating advice, “don’t say anything.”
The Wicked Wizard
If there is one man who is having a moment in Bollywood, and about time, too, it is Jim Sarbh. He played Homi Bhabha with great aplomb in Sony Liv’s Rocket Boys (2022), was the handsome journalist who helped Gangubai get her story across in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, and is now cast as the wicked wizard’s voice in Eternally Confused and Eager to Love. It is a star turn, infusing wit and style into the eccentricity required of him. Dubbed over 12 days of intense work, the result is an audio track that tops Pluto the dog in Dil Dhadakne Do, voiced by Aamir Khan.
If Dalai, Ray’s classmate in Eternally Confused and Eager to Love, looks familiar, well it’s not only from her part in the second episode of Made in Heaven. In 2007, Dalai Mulchandani (her father Ranjeev was famous for being a model who dated Aishwarya Rai and Manisha Koirala back in the day) played Madhuri Dixit’s daughter in Aaja Nachle (2007). She was the cute teenage NRI daughter who empathised with her mother as she returned to her rickety old town to save her guru’s troupe from being disbanded. Dalai was Zoya Akhtar’s assistant in Made in Heaven and also played Harsimran Mann, the Dubai princess, shortly to be wed to Delhi’s prince, who ends up sleeping with the star who is paid to appear at their wedding.