Netflix’s new young adult drama, ‘Mismatched,’ is based on Sandhya Menon’s best-selling novel ‘When Dimple Met Rishi.’ A breezy summer read, the book follows two Indian-American teens who are set up by their parents in an arranged meeting. While Rishi is over the moon, Dimple sees this as a hindrance to her ambition to be a web developer, their romance getting steered by Insomnia Con - an intensive four-week course at the end of which, one lucky developer will get the chance to pitch their app to the industry’s finest. Dimple and Rishi are very different but they inspire each other to be better and grow on their personal journeys even while sorting out their feelings. I see some merit in adapting the novel - it’s funny and charming, and most importantly, it tells the story of two people from a cultural landscape that doesn’t get adequately represented in mainstream popular culture enough.
What is the story about?
But cut to ‘Mismatched’ - Rishi is your average rich Rajput kid from Rajasthan, and Dimple is your average gamer-girl from Ambala. When she gets accepted at the Aravalli Institute of Technology for a three-month summer course on app development, she sees it as a chance to fulfill her dreams. Rishi is a smitten kitten who enrolls for the same programme to spend more time with her. There is a smattering of other students who make up the ensemble cast of the show, all of whom have their own stories and their own baggage.
I think it was roughly the mid to late-2000s when there was a sudden surge of shows on Indian television (read: Channel V, MTV, Disney Channel etc) which were centered around our desi versions of the Archie comic college dramedies. The trend lasted till a few years ago. Most of them didn’t really seem to have a point but they were brainless entertainment which made its target generation feel seen. Other than the distinction that Mismatched is co-produced by Ronnie Screwavala Pictures Limited and is streaming on Netflix, it is not an upgrade at any level.
The stakes are incredibly low. So if Insomnia Con was an elite programme that was giving students the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present their work to a legendary developer, the AIT course seems to be at par with any regular course that my parents would pay for to get me off their back for the summer, by which I mean… when the pay-off is so low, it makes little sense to show the characters being as mean, rude and unnecessarily ruthless as the ones on Mismatched.
The show suffers from the Aisha syndrome (the Sonam Kapoor film adapted from ‘Emma’), wherein we are probably least interested or impressed with the main character - Dimple - as we are with the intriguing ones around her. But when all the drama seems to come back to her, it makes you feel bored and frustrated. If Rohit Saraf is slowly turning into the Indian Noah Centineo, Prajakta Koli is no Lana Condor. She’s unnecessarily mean-spirited and vile; it’s no wonder no one wants to hang out with her and makes her largely unsympathetic and unlikable. The arranged set-up between two 17 year-olds may seem a bit extreme even in the book’s context but that happens within the diaspora. When it comes to giving a reason here, it makes no sense why they’d be set up and therefore, meet. For a sought-after programme, anyone can join the app development course and only a few really care about it. Putting the whole story in a full-fledged college programme may have made more sense. A bunch of easy conveniences take place and you’re forced to go with them because this is a teen-based show. The writing is frivolous and lazy, but the show takes itself too seriously and that’s a *ahem* disconnect.
The biggest flaw in Mismatched is that it seems to so vehemently hate the very people it revolves around. Dimple judges people who are satisfied with the complacency of their lives, like Rishi, as if people who aim low are beneath her. Her ruthless ambition makes her insensitive to the needs of those around her (which she gets called out for briefly post-which she ends up getting into another potential romance). Her and Rishi’s romance is dull and their bickering over small things gets old after a point.
The gang consisting of Insta-butterfly Simran, bad-boy with a disability Anmol, and his sidekick Krish, are written as horrible, mean people because their biggest flaw is that they’re rich and rich people are assholes. The potentially interesting hipster Celina is stereotyped into a one-dimensional personality. In all of this, the two people who you do end up rooting for, Rishi and his best friend Namrata, end up getting hurt (because that’s just how the world is today) and god knows I’d pay money to watch those two kick the rest of the gang in their faces and move to better pastures. Oh, there’s also Rannvijay Singh as the Course Instructor Siddharth Sinha who has a will they-won't they with Vidya Malvade as Zeenat, an older widowed student who I guess fills the age quota. And NRI Harsh who is also sorta… there. He is slated to have a bigger arc in season 2.
The voiceover often uses gaming and tech metaphors to explain why humans are complicated. Don’t listen to them, kids. Complications do not give you the license to be ch**iyas to each other for no discernible reason.
From the whole gang of Mismatched, I am particularly impressed with Muskkaan Jafferi as Celina and Taaruk Raina as Anmol, who really go beyond their one-dimensional personalities. Rohit Saraf does a good job as nice guy Rishi. Most of the other characters get predictable and boring too quickly. I really hope to see more of Devyani Shorey as Namrata in the next season, and a new season there will be. This is just one of those kinda shows.
Music & Other Departments
Mismatched has a host of artists contributing to the music including the youth-favourite Prateek Kuhad. It’s an uplifting melange of an album which is worthy of a download due to its sheer eclectic quality and overall freshness. The show is at par with any major Netflix project when it comes to cinematography and production design. The writing and editing could have been instrumental in making it feel less of a drag in the middle. The dialogues are fun and relevant. I mean, at one point Professor Siddharth Sinha says - “most talented people are quitters,” and most of the world should feel that.
The one thing that Mismatched deserves all the props for is how effortlessly it incorporates a lesbian love story into the show as just a love story with its regular ups and downs. A related sub-plot of sexual identity is handled with deep sensitivity. Similarly, Anmol’s track of dealing with his disability also brings out the pathos and misguided cynicism that could plague a young man who is now permanently in a wheelchair. Mismatched is co-directed by Akarsh Khurana and Nipun Dharmadhikari, and it has that breezy and light directorial touch that is synonymous with these names. Its treatment is definitely realistic and doesn’t feel contrived.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t match up to the really good teen shows that are usually funded by Netflix now, and remains closer to the ‘Kissing Booths’ of the world. The show has really unlikable characters at its center and the overall premise with the app development course doesn’t hold much gravitas either considering no one but Dimple and Anmol seem to care about it. There is a subplot about the two of them being gamers and that has a big role to play without adding to the drama. The show also lacks the element of plain and simple ‘fun.’
Did I enjoy it?
Listen, bro. I am not this show’s target audience. But I fear that even the show’s target audience (older teenagers) are too old for this. I see its potential to be better in the future but not if it continues to be written the way this season was.
Do I recommend it?
Season 2 will happen. Schools are closed. So if you’re… 16 and have a Netflix subscription, sure? It’s a pointless experience but we have all the time in the world these days.