What is the story about?
The series follows a group of individuals, whose offline and online lives get interlinked thanks to cyberspace.
One of the problems about Indian shows that promise to show the dark side of the Internet is that they rarely get the nuances right. In this day and age, the cyber attitudes of millenials in urban India are a shape-shifting collective, difficult to pin down. Whatever can seem trendy one moment can quickly backfire on creators in the next. Throw in the toxicity of troll culture, and the insecurities powering the creator economy, and suddenly the ever-changing world of "like, share and subscribe" becomes a minefield in itself.
Portraying all of the above in a seamless manner, while also satirizing and taking down our general fascination with the digital world, takes immense guts. Chutzpah is a brave, uncompromising look at what urban India chooses to do in the minefield called the internet. It is also perhaps very timely, considering how navigating this tricky world has become second nature to all of us at a time when most of the country is confined indoors. Creator Mrighdeep Singh Lamba, co-writer Amit Babbar and director Simarpreet Singh pull off a stunningly-crafted narrative that uses gallows humour to great effect, even as the seven-episode series tackles a mind-boggling series of themes and references: fat-shaming, long-distance relationships over video calls, social media validation, the toxicity of live-streaming gaming, the fascination with webcam porn, and so on. What completely catches you unawares is how casually the makers also blend in references to last year's "Bois Locker Room" scandal, and the Qandeel Baloch murder in 2016. Importantly, the show takes care to note how the cyber attitudes of urban India, which claim to exist in a secret world, are often at odds with social moralities, and how the "chutzpah" quotient of the characters in question, lying at the intersection of technology and desires, leads them down dangerous territory from which there may be no return. This is going to be a deeply polarizing show, and not everyone will get it. The writing and dialogues are razor-sharp, apart from the seventh episode, where the series bites off more than it can chew. But if you want to watch a show that talks about the state of the Indian internet in 2021, this is that show.
The ensemble cast does a good job, although some actors are better than others. Fukrey veterans Manjot Singh and Varun Sharma are in supreme form, even when playing against type. Singh is great as Rishi, the poker-obsessed loner who gets into the world of webcam porn as an eager customer, but discovers a lot more about his offline life in the process. Sharma, however, is in terrific form as the homesick Vikas, who is confused about whether he wants to return home or stay in the US. Tanya Maniktala plays Vikas' girlfriend, Shikha, and her scenes with Sharma on video-call are a joy to watch. Gaurav Mehra plays the over-the-top Kevin, a YouTuber who revels in his "blue tick" status and his army of followers, with pitch-perfect precision, and he is especially terrific in a gaming scene that might remind viewers of CarryMinati. Kshitij Chauhan decently plays serial womanizer and "ghoster" Prateek. Aashima Mahajan's Deepali and Varun Tewari's John are also okay in their roles, though the makers could have utilized them better.
And then there's Elnaaz Norouzi. If Sacred Games was the first big sign of her acting prowess, here she is scarily good as Sara Khan, the Pakistani struggling actress living abroad, who also moonlights as webcam model Wild Butterfly. Struggling with her search for acting opportunities and hardline moralities in her family, Norouzi's Sara/Wild Butterfly becomes an unofficial life coach for Rishi in their webcam sessions, and she is spectacular in the fifth episode where we see how many hoops she has to jump through in order to ensure the mystique of Wild Butterfly remains alive.
Music & Other Departments
Kabir Tejpal and Gianni Gianelli's camerawork takes us right into the minds of the characters, with a lot of tight close-ups. Amit Kulkarni's editing is terrific. Ketan Sodha's background score lends spunk and urgency to the proceedings.
The layered screenplay, the references to multiple themes and the performances are major highlights.
Certain narrative tracks, such as that of Deepali and John, are ill-written, and not given a satisfactory conclusion.
The final episode, which is the longest in the series, feels like a rushed, confusing job, compared to the rest of the show.
Did I enjoy it?
Yes, apart from the confusing final episode.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. Chutzpah is a brave and uncompromising look at the cyber lives of India's millennials in 2021.