The first striking bit when you’re streaming Eternally Confused and Eager for Love (ECEL) will be the big struggle for characters to find correct labels for Ray. The overthinking, socially anxious protagonist denies being a virgin to his friends, denies asexuality to his mother, and denies coming out of the closet to his dad. Yet, he hesitates in letting his friends know that he is a virgin, ghosts on his date set up by his parents, and in a moment of vulnerability gets mildly aroused at the thought of wearing a condom for the first time. This new original on Netflix, co-produced by Tiger Baby Films and Excel Entertainment, could have easily gone with a press release including a line somewhere that dictated the viewer to know: “Ray, an urban Mumbai youth comes of age dealing with Asperger’s…” but they stuck around sans labels, and that worked. Respect where respect is due. Indian filmmakers are obsessed with overinforming their audience instead of leaving their audience to think for themselves. Thank you for believing in us, besties. Really appreciate it.
Over 8 short episodes, we learn about Ray (Vihaan Samat) and his awkward, bordering on embarrassingly privileged life has hit many snags in the past, all due to his reluctance to confide in a friend about his sexual inexperience and anxiety around the subject. His inner-monologue and extended life details are narrated to us with utmost honesty by his inner critic externalized via a fictional comic book character “Wiz” (Jim Sarbh). Wiz embodies the form of a plastic keychain, a hand-drawn sketch among others, all around Ray’s life- from his bedroom to his office. The voiceover via a fictional voice was a clever idea, as opposed to trying the mockumentary route or breaking the fourth wall format. Wiz is Ray’s best buddy, a sibling he doesn’t have, a pet he doesn’t need, and the buddy in this buddy series.
Unsurprisingly, the dialogues are all in English, for one Bandra people do not endorse Hindi, and neither do they subscribe to the idea of using it. Surprisingly, however, the dialogues are not written like you’re reading them off a book. They do not make the audience cringe and the enunciation by each character is clean; the closest I’ve seen any original hit with the Indian English spoken across urban India. That in itself is an achievement given Netflix India’s idea of “India” is utterly privileged folks talking like failed novelists from Manu Joseph’s horrendous version of satire. It’s best if you don’t remember but if you’ve seen it, you know what I am talking about.
ECEL is not the smartest or the funniest series in a while, but it is the boldest and the most self-aware attempt yet into the psyche of an urban Indian out in the society trying to make sense of societal conditioning while living and dating in India. Take, for example, the instance when Ray is set up on a date with his best friend Riya’s (Dalai) colleague Karishma (Malika Kumar). While in his head, he imagines Karishma to be a bad bitch in a skinny Goddess’ body, when he sees her, the audience immediately connects the dots, “Is this why she was distributing cupcakes after her breakup?”
We don’t need Ray to tell us what he’s thinking, and yet when he does, the audience has made peace with the fact that she’s “fat”, and despite being a sad, miserable virgin, Ray doesn’t want to settle with this outcome of being set on a blind date. However, his sharpest critic Wiz tells him to take a good look at his confidence and compare that with hers, who is brimming with it. That, instantly, shuts the audience up as well. Who are we to judge someone who’s wearing a UK 16 (I think) and enjoys a vegan Italian main course? You do you, boo.
In a way, I enjoyed ECEL a lot more because I have known men like Ray and seen them be socially inadept and inappropriate with women around them. They don’t mean harm, but their sheer privilege and living in a comfortable and sheltered environment don’t help their case. As the audience, you rarely feel sympathy for Ray because a part of you wants to hold him by his shirt’s collar and tell him to snap out of his head. Even when he loses his job, you’d rather he gets his shit together than waste time on the dating app that he does. I don’t know if it’s my age talking or experience, but it takes a special kind of effort to not want to relate with your central character personally and all kudos to the directorial team and the writers’ effort on this one. Rahul Nair nails his unlikeable lead to perfection.
Also, whoever thought of pairing Suchitra Pillai with Rahul Bose, you might be onto something great here. Bose as an Indian zdaddy is a figure I am living for. The acting makes the series a breeze to watch over a few shandies on a long afternoon when you’re in no mood to work. Definitely get beer and chips while streaming this.
I am keen to see more on OTT by the team of producers comprising- Farhan Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Ritesh Sidhwani, and Zoya Akhtar. The only thing I’d rather pass on is watching people dancing to Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara’s (2011) non-dancing music at a house party in some fancy-ass apartment in Bandra. Let’s be real, even Dil Chahta Hai (2001) at a house party in 2022 would be a bad idea but ZNMD’s music definitely does not make the cut. Get creative and use better music from your own productions. Don (2006) has killer numbers. For that matter Rock On!! (2008) is an infinitely better choice. Get your licensing team to work, Farhan.
The series is available for streaming on Netflix in India.
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