There have always been questions asked of me as to whether there are any shows dealing with occurrences in North India not related to crime and gritty realism, and the truth of the matter is that there are. The issues are with the advertising and, of course, because there aren’t many purely family-oriented drama shows which aren’t in the cringe-melodramatic daytime soap operatic drama.
TVF as a platform has always been the pioneer for web series in India, starting with Permanent Roommates, and then slowly and steadily building from there. But even after some of the flashier shows coming out on the Indian web-series circuit, TVF has been steadily producing relatable Indian web series content with an indie-level film-making budget but with heart and ideas no less than any big-budget spectacle. And one of these underrated TVF gems is “Gullak.”
“Gullak,” loosely translated to “piggy bank,” is a story about a middle-class North Indian family, and the story doesn’t have an overarching plot-the show is focused on anecdotes and using those anecdotes as a backdrop for creating characters so recognizable and relatable that you are going to love these characters from the first frame to the first dialogue. But even if the stories are simple (the anecdote about a scooter or the anecdote about a power cut one evening), the script and the dialogues are witty and sincere, and the performances are brilliant.
As the third season of “Gullak” progresses, the writers start delving more into a sentimental bent in the story and narrative structure. The lack of an overarching plot remains its strength even in the second season. But even as anecdotal storytelling was the driving force of the first season, Annu Mishra’s character grew up from a lackadaisical but street-smart young youth to being a responsible member of society by getting a job and earning for his family – the show, in a way, grows up with him. It never stops being a microcosmic examination of an Indian middle-class family that can be enjoyed by all, but it slowly starts delving into all of the facets of being in a middle-class Indian family.
This brings us to the third season, and the writers start to build an overarching plot thread. Santosh Mishra (Jameel Khan), and his woes related to his work at the electricity office, stems from his reticence in joining union politics. In contrast, Annu is now a newly recruited MR, channeling his street smarts to hilarious and yet positive results. Aman, the younger brother, is now 17, an erstwhile topper of his school but now having to take the mammoth decision of whether to stick with science or move to the arts stream, a nightmare for most middle-class parents. He is also a growing teenager, noticing his growing flabby physique and long hair reaching down to his eyes. He has dreams of his own. He is a kid with a simplistic mind, a far contrast to his older brother. And lastly, there is the mother, the glue holding the family together, as mothers do.
Context is aplenty for this season. Financial strife, internal office politics, suspension from office, and then coming home to a family dependent on a single earning member, a newly recruited man flying high due to the happiness of his first salary, only to come down to Earth to take responsibility, reexamination of relationships, and the equation of the status quo – these are moments which every Indian has faced in one form or the other. The willingness of “Gullak” to embrace the drama of the storytelling without resorting to melodrama until the very end shows the writer’s deft hands at balancing anecdotal vignette storytelling with just the right amount of heart and stakes involved.
The third episode, “agua,” is easily one of the season’s most intriguing. The exploration of the concept of “Agua” – the village elder’s taking responsibility for marrying off the young daughter of his “subject” – is invoked here. “Gullak” ‘s method of deftly weaving in archaic traditions and showing how the transition from archaic to modern is still a faraway dream for some parts of India is appreciable. But the inherent sweetness in exploring Furteelli’s character and her unwillingness to marry is as subtle as it gets. Her quasi-motherly relationship with Annu and Aman’s mother is the heart of this episode, which is why the ending of the episode and the resolution might feel predictable, but also feels resolute and earned in one regard and trite in other respects. Ketaki Kulkarni is wonderful as Furteeli. Then again, it’s always about the tricky balancing act on which “Gullak” can walk a tightrope.
None of this balancing act would have been possible without the effortless performances of the core cast. Jameel Khan is the strongest this season than he has ever been, able to explore the multifaceted character of Santosh Mishra, the patriarch of the family, and what that terminology and the inherent responsibility associated with it could entail, with aplomb and conviction. The rest of the cast, comprising veteran actress Geetanjali Kulkarni, along with Vaibhav Raj Mishra and, of course, Harsh Mayar, hold the effort through sheer charm and dexterity of acting prowess. While “Gullak” is nothing if not consistent in its tone and style, even as it introduces self-serious elements, and while I was apprehensive about the sentimentality introduced in the second season, the third season proved that “Gullak” can adapt to the tonal shift as comfortably as a hand fitting a glove. Besides a show dealing with memories and anecdotes, serious, life-changing moments are also a part of life to traverse, aren’t they?
“Gullak” is a 2019 Indian Family Drama Series created by Shreyansh Pandey.