Sudev Nair is a Malayalam and Hindi film actor who has won a Kerala State Film Award for his performance in MB Padmakumar’s My Life Partner (2014). According to his Wikipedia page, he is also a trained dancer, specialising in both Kathakali and breakdance, and proficient in martial arts such as boxing, judo, karate, and kalaripayattu.
If you’ve accidentally stumbled across the web series Not Fit at some point, which he has written, directed, and starred in as the hilariously clueless Bollywood aspirant Neerav ‘Nero’ Kapoor, you might be forgiven for thinking of him as just another wannabe star who has come to Mumbai with grandiose dreams and not enough ability to realise them. This mockumentary, produced by first-timers Dice Media, showcases Nair’s knack for humour and comic timing. A deadpan look at the often-tragicomic lives of ‘strugglers’ in the city — featuring several actual Versova regulars — and the never-ending carousel of auditions, Not Fit makes for surprisingly satisfying viewing.
I say ‘surprisingly’ because it took me roughly three attempts to watch the entire season, comprising 10 episodes of roughly 15 minutes each. It was first uploaded online in November last year, following which it disappeared for a while and only became available on The Viral Fever’s TVFPlay app in mid-December. The first episode, which introduces us to Nero and his cousin Robin (Ashish Verma), had moments of humour, but came across as far too reminiscent of American shows like The Office, Parks And Recreation, Modern Family and others. Surely a low-budget web-series made by people who should know this world inside out, shot at actual locations with a handheld camera, should do better than simply being ‘good by Indian standards’ (fun fact: in Soviet Aram Nagar, they make you say that over and over until you feel dizzy and ask for water and a warm blanket).
On giving the series a second chance recently, I found that, while my initial reading wasn't incorrect, there are enough reasons to recommend this show. Yes, Nero is essentially an amalgamation of Michael Scott (from The Office, played by Steve Carrell) and Leslie Knope (from Parks And Recreation, played by Amy Poehler). Like them, Nero is self-absorbed, ignorant, and only accidentally competent. However, Nair’s chiseled physique and piercing green eyes contrast interestingly with his face, which suggests a lifetime of sidey, villainous roles — or so casting directors would have us believe. Yet, his Nero speaks with a very genteel, faintly Punjabi accent and comes across as the kind of guy who would freak out if he got a nosebleed (he does). He’s articulate enough to know what constitutes a Freudian slip and what doesn’t, while, somehow, existing within his little bubble where Zomato is “some chips brand”. It’s an utterly ridiculous character and not all of it adds up, but Nair’s fantastic timing makes it work.
Sudev Nair as Neerav 'Nero' Kapoor, in a still from 'Not Fit'
Over ten episodes, we see Nero’s massive, fragile ego being propped up by an often hapless Robin, who somehow manages to impress casting directors while the more experienced Nero is often cast aside as ‘not fit’ — a term casting directors use to separate the wheat from the chaff. Nero’s Johnny-Drama-esque (from Entourage) sense of reality finds an audience anchor in Robin, who is played with commendable naturalism by Verma.
Ashish Verma, in a still from 'Not Fit'
Another enjoyable performance comes from Gagandev Singh Riar, who plays Raunakk, rechristened ‘Jubilant’ (what a fantastic word) by Nero after he erupts in joy at being deemed fit for an audition in the first episode. As Nero’s biggest (and only) fan and a fellow struggler, he is the biggest loser in this comedy about losers (like Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute, again from The Office) and Riar, a familiar face in Mumbai’s theatre circuit, often steals the show with his antics. Not Fit benefits from these performances (Sarah Hashmi as Robin’s pill-popping, costume designer girlfriend Mini and Kartik Krishnan as the struggler who moonlights as a broker aren’t bad either) as well as Nair’s ability to write certain situations that are zany yet ring true. The fluid, no-frills camerawork uses zooms and pans to accentuate certain moments, many of which succeed in generating genuine belly laughs.
Gagandev Singh Riar, in a still from 'Not Fit'
What it suffers from, however, is typical sketch-comedy schizophrenia, wherein story threads and character arcs are routinely built and then either abandoned halfway or resolved tamely. For instance, a character also named Neerav Kapoor (Danny Sura), a good-looking Lokhandwala prototype sporting a West Midlands English accent, emerges as a potential arch-rival in the beginning; however, in later episodes, he is merely brought in the story as per convenience, without any real payoff. Meanwhile, a potential ‘love track’ between Nero and Sana (Samridhi Dewan), an opportunistic starlet, is half-baked.
In fact, as a whole, Not Fit often comes across as a string of gags — some great, some good but somewhat repetitive, and a few that don’t work — rather than a coherent comedy with a solid, watertight storyline. This, aside from an overuse of background score (music directors Arfaaz and Anurag indulge in some pizzicato strings overkill — perhaps the most clichéd, almost Pavlovian choice of arrangement for such content), ends up disturbing the delicate balance between fantasy and realism that a show like this must achieve to be really effective (here’s an explanation of how The Simpsons manages to do this quite perfectly).
Put simply, Not Fit has many well-written scenes, but isn’t always a well-written show.
That said, in a year that is going to see several new entrants in a space that is getting increasingly crowded, Not Fit comes across a sincere attempt to push out good content without ulterior motives, even if does incorporate a plug for a dating app rather inelegantly in certain episodes. Certain references may be lost on those who are unfamiliar with life in Mumbai’s Versova and Andheri areas, but at least the show doesn’t dumb things down for the sake of broad appeal. It exists in its own little universe, flaws and all, coasting along on the same brand of unlikely charm its protagonist exudes.
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