The only thing that feels current-day and contemporary about Eros Now's latest original My Name is Sheela is its title. The series tells the story of a strong-willed housemaid named Sheela in Mumbai, her quirky encounters with her house-owners and a miraculous turn as a standup comedian. As promising as the premise sounds, My Name is Sheela only ends up being a predictable yawn-fest stuck in a time warp and feels like a half-upgraded 90s television soap.
The series is full of time-tested and done-to-death cliches associated with the life of a housemaid; an insecure husband, an unhappy yet ambitious daughter and life full of insults. Yet she goes on day after day and so does the series, episode after episode. It's in no mood to end, but little do the makers understand that the viewer is indeed at liberty to put a full-stop to it. The fairly decent lead actress Smita Tambe somehow tries to pull up a rescue act that's not quite successful.
My Name is Sheela takes off when its lead protagonist Sheela chances upon a standup comedy studio-setup in a corporate office where she's supposed to deliver a lunchbox to one of her owners. She lands in front of a mic, going onto describe her life in a quirky accent unique to a Hindi-speaking Mumbaikar. Life changes overnight for the maid as she's described the next big thing.
Little does Sheela realise that her teenager daughter is slipping away from her control. The daughter, frustrated about her mediocre life, is en route to make big bucks in the big bad world with little knowledge of its dirty side. And there's a husband who just can't come to terms with his wife's personal and financial growth. Well, this is something so rooted in its patriarchial attitude that it could have worked decently for television, given the leisurely pace and the audience it's expecting to reach out to. However, with such unimaginative content, lack of progress in its story, oodles of melodrama, it's hardly the material that a new-age digital audience deserves.
Another major problem with My Name is Sheela is the quick resolution of its conflicts. The struggles of the protagonist and all the problems that she grapples with, are resolved so quickly, so easily that you don't feel much for her. Be it her evolution into a comedy star, dealing with an insecure husband and a fragile daughter, moving on from insults she faces from the corporate sector, everything is so immediate and mechanical. There's no character graph.
The portrayal of the LGBTQ community has been a breath of fresh air in the digital space, but series like My Name is Sheela only take you a few light years behind. The makers should ideally realise that homosexuals are beyond their overly exaggerated effeminate histrionics, pink shirts replete with floral designs. The rather cinematic depiction of how a young girl can be forced into prostitution reminds you of the cliched Bollywood films of the 70s. The entire subplot about a poor girl making it big in an international school also escalates its similarities with Irrfan Khan's Hindi Medium. Besides, there's a total disservice to capturing Mumbai's identity in a story that's technically about a Marathi mulgi.
Smita Tambe is the only actor determined to make this series work and her lion-hearted effort doesn't suffice. Ganesh Yadav, Ankit Bathla, Asheema Vardaan and others are impressive actors but definitely not the faces whom you could entrust the burden of headlining a series. In roles with unconvincing arcs, there's little they can do. Director Nitesh Singh fails big-time in ringing in a modern twist to an old-fashioned story that could have been so much than what it ends up being.