There’s something heartfelt about the second innings of any established actor – all the years of distancing oneself from the paparazzi or their need to rise above flimsy material/image traps, lends more purpose and conviction to their craft. It happened to Amitabh Bachchan, it happened to Rishi Kapoor, it happened to Sridevi too (though sadly was shortlived) – going through the motions in their real lives probably had enriched them as an actor too. Though Karishma Kapoor may not match/have the legacies of the aforementioned names, Mentalhood, that marks her return to the entertainment industry, is probably the most refined version of the actor in her.
In a role of a multitasking mom, that’s almost autobiographical, Karishma gives a voice to the concerns of every modern-day parent – the series is very much like a checklist of problems that could affect the life of a thankless mom, however, exaggerated with certain cinematic tropes to make it more palatable to all strata of viewers. Trust issues, nutrition, good-touch-bad touch, gender stereotypes, puberty, bullying – though the mix sounds ‘issue-heavy’, the light-hearted treatment makes it a breezy watch without trivialising the concerns it wants to address.
Mentalhood strikes a chord because of its inclusivity. It reminds viewers that there are all kinds of parents – some abusive, some patriarchal, some single, some over-protective, some insecure and some open-minded. It is refreshing because it makes an effort to liberate a parent from the idea of perfection and encourages them to have an identity of their own (beyond being parents). It doesn’t also entirely dismiss the idea that moms can be control freaks and doesn't shy away from admitting that their concerns can overpower the morality of their actions at times.
It doesn’t try to shift the blame towards men and just nudges a message about making a better attempt at sharing responsibilities. It even has a character Akash, a single parent to a couple of twins born through surrogacy, exploring the joys of being a mom and a dad rolled into one being while working as a freelance game developer from home. Though there’s one toxic man always lurking around the corner, it also has a husband like Anmol (Sanjay Suri) who wants to be a friend to his wife (Karishma) – he is comforted by the thought that the two can share anything under the sun and still not be judgmental about each other.
The one-issue-per-episode approach gets tiring beyond a point though. The hurriedness with which something as sensitive as child abuse is squeezed into the show doesn’t leave you with a great aftertaste. The better part of Mentalhood is its minimal duration - each episode lasts about 20 minutes and the presence of many distinct characters doesn’t leave much scope for melodrama. The personal journey of most characters is given its due and Mentalhood is very conscious about not making the other characters beyond Karishma appear like sidekicks.
Tillotama Shome manages to be a genuine surprise with her comic timing – watch out for how she brings her problematic husband to his place after he repeatedly feeds the idea of toxic masculinity to his kids. Dino Morea has never been so comfortable in his shoes – he’s cool but not cold. He looks like an actor who’s made peace with his limitations. The assurance and the on-screen ease shows that he’s come of age. Sandhya Mridul has always been stereotyped as the feisty, uncompromising modern-day woman and she sleepwalks through a similar role in the shoes of a mom with consummate ease. Shilpa Shukla and Shruti Seth get reasonably interesting roles too.
Karishma, all through the madness surrounding her character, brings humanness to it. Her pep-talks with the kids, the cheeky sense of humour, the interesting camaraderie with the other moms from the school, explore her acting skills well and she never tries too hard. It would only be stating the obvious that she has chosen her comeback project well. Writer Ritu Bhatia and director Karishma Kohli have created a show with a gamut of cheesy, colourful characters with varied conflicts – though over-the-top in its tone, it has its heart in the right place.