Sun. May 29th, 2022


“There’s something very innate about marriage,” Manu Joseph tells me about Zoom from his home in Gurgaon, an entrepreneurial satellite city of New Delhi. “If the world is destroyed and we rebuild it, 35 percent will still be the password for math in India and we will still get married.”

A prominent Indian journalist, the 47-year-old writes a widely read column for the Delhi financial newspaper Mint and has established himself as one of the country’s most sardonic and unconventional voices. He also wrote a comic Bollywood screenplay (for 2009s Love Khichdi) and three successful novels – the first, called a caste satire Serious men was adapted into a Netflix movie in 2020. Now he has India’s chatterati which is over of excitement and outrage Disconnect, the comedy series he wrote for the streaming platform.

By mapping the dying marriage of middle-aged novelist Arya Iyer (Ranganathan Madhavan) and his glamorous, non-nonsense daring capitalist wife Shruti (Surveen Chawla), it puts the urban upper-middle class under forensic and frugal focus.

The Iyers represent the nouveau-rich “New India”, living in a luxurious gated Gurgaon colony, a modern couple who married for love across ethnic boundaries (Arya is Tamil, Shruti Punjabi). But the program finds that they are sleeping apart in the same house while both are devoted to their adolescent daughter. Arya is poor and confused, confused by his wife’s lack of interest in him, but resigns. As “India’s second best-selling author”, he obsessively competes with the real number one, pop fiction writer Chetan Bhagat, who plays a very sporty version of himself.

Shruti, on the other hand, is energetic, bored with her husband’s misanthropic humor, and is starting a company backed by an attractive Korean billionaire. She wants to divorce while Arya continues to work amusingly. “It is remarkable, the different views that men and women can have of their own marriage,” notes Joseph, who has been married to his wife Anuradha for 16 years and has a daughter.

A man and a woman sit in armchairs and look in opposite directions
Arya Iyer (Ranganathan Madhavan) and his venture capitalist wife Shruti (Surveen Chawla) in ‘Disconnect’ © Netflix

“It’s the calm after the storm,” is how he describes the couple’s sad condition. “When you fight, it is because you still have hope. . . I think marriage is extremely interesting and important, although it is easy to mock. “I remember a headline in the New Yorker calling marriage ‘kidnapping,’ and that’s probably how most people feel.”

The banality of married life is not a topic that all Indians are comfortable with, and to describe romantic chemistry as “the meeting of two equal disabilities” would challenge a marriage-obsessed society whose estimated 10 million weddings a year are an industry fuel that was valued in 2017. by KPMG at $ 40 billion- $ 50 billion. “People know it’s as good as it gets and they stick to it. . . ”Says Joseph about his characters’ highly functional dissatisfaction. “We are trained to believe that boredom is a trivial thing, while I think it is a very treacherous form of sadness.”

Joseph enjoys exposing the pretensions of India’s privileged, privately educated elite, who until recently dominated the country’s English media and who he referred to as “the asparagus setters”. The contempt directed at some critics Disconnect can be driven by an animus against him among those he mocked. “You are going to love or hate it,” one disgruntled reviewer in The Hindu admitted, “like his columns.”

I notice that the Iyers’ marriage is similar to that depicted in Limit your enthusiasm and Joseph admits that he is “a big fan of Larry David”. As with David’s screen character, much of the comedy stems from Arya’s mouth-in-mouth statements about everything from sex and inequality to religion and caste, but those who spit it out best are the “asparagus eaters”, who are wicked. is represented in the figure of Dr. Basu, a Bengali economist.

He is a self-proclaimed feminist and social activist and can not stand his maid to use the domestic toilet – hair is on the roof – and constantly makes graceless assignments towards Shruti. “He’s a distinctive Delhi character,” says Joseph, “and if he looks like a caricature, it’s because they became one. That’s exactly how those people are.”

A young woman cradles a child
Joseph’s novel ‘Serious Men’, a satire on the caste system, was adapted into a Netflix movie in 2020 © Anu Pattnaik

Born in Kerala and Catholic raised in a Tamil Brahmin community in Chennai, where his father was a journalist and writer of Malayalam screenplays, Joseph is unusual amid India’s English-language media for his wide-ranging life experience, which includes poverty.

“We were a lower-middle-class family that became increasingly poor. By the time I was 17, I had to take care of myself. My writing is deeply influenced by the shock of poverty and how worthless you are to people when you have no value to them. ”

When he was 21, his employers put him in a soup, the type of low quality rental home seen in Slumdog Millionaire, while having him write lifestyle features for glossy magazines. “I lived alone, but everyone else lived 10 or 12 per room. I had to share the bathroom with the whole floor, maybe 100 people. I would go to the office to use the bathroom and realized that there is a whole civilization there that uses the facilities, the people and the support staff. ”

This familiarity with ordinary Indian life led him to express unfashionable but resonant opinions, such as encouraging young people to abandon activism and to make money instead of “fighting fights they do not understand. ”. He says: “I would go for a walk, and parents would come and congratulate me on that column.”

Similarly, while the rest of the media lamented the disruption caused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden withdrawal of rupee notes with large denominations in 2016, Joseph acknowledged the political capital to be raised among the poor: “It has they made sense to move against corruption, and Modi subsequently won 12 or 15 state and municipal elections. ”

Now that he’s working on a second season of Disconnect, he reflects that “I see things that are not articulated, the underground layers of conversation, and find it difficult to be part of the mainstream. In most Indian situations, I am an outsider.”

‘Decoupled’ is now on Netflix

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