Relationships leave collateral damage in their wake. We have seen a girl throw a drink in a guy’s face far too often, but Netflix’s new series Mismatched takes the time to look closer not only at offender and offend-ee, but the blameless fellow who just happened to be sitting within radius of the scene, thereby getting his smartphone screen wet. This may be a story of boy meeting girl, but it is also a story of other boys, other girls and things they do on smartphones.
This six-episode series (written by Gazal Dhaliwal, directed by Akarsh Khurana and Nipun Dharmadhikari) based on Sandhya Menon’s young adult novel When Rishi Met Dimple had me smiling unexpectedly at the screen as I spent a few breezy hours with a bunch of sweet kids — all of whom would, in all likelihood, hate being called that. Dimple, for instance, calls herself “DimpleNoDamsel” as she badassedly takes on rampaging armies of online warriors in some multiplayer game, but when her earphones get disconnected on a bus — immediately broadcasting what her fellow gamers are saying out loud — she cringes so hard she turns purple. Gamers aren’t polite.
The profanity and wall-to-wall sexism plaguing the gaming world may, however, be the lesser of Dimple’s problems. Played by Prajakta Koli (very likeable, never trying too hard), she is an ambitious young lady who her parents want to herd toward an early marriage. Rishi, on the other hand, is herding himself there. Describing himself as “pretty old school,” he likes the idea of being matched up by his grandmother, and while all this sounds trite, Rohit Saraf plays Rishi with a wide-eyed, tender Vivek Mushran-ity. It’s hard not to root for him.
Those two are in Jaipur for a three-month course on coding, and this background feels like window dressing. There are people who don’t seem to fit the course — an older student carries a notepad to class instead of her laptop, then devises an app which is essentially Urban Dictionary — and the course itself concentrates little on actual coding and design. For the course project of conceptualising and designing an app, unlikely teammates are thrown together in intriguing combinations, but they never end up having to work together. Even Dimple and Rishi come up with silly, childish ideas: her name for a feature-rich weather app is “Weather 2.0” and Rishi’s first suggestion is to add an animated mascot character. Aargh. Thankfully the performers are winning enough to get past the unambitious tech world.
This is a show about students and, while some of them have spunky purple hair and some wait tentatively in the closet, this is not Sex Education — Netflix’s fantastic, edgy high-school series about identity and sexual awakening. In comparison, Mismatched feels almost entirely edge-less, and I don’t mean that as a dig. Like Rishi, the show is reassuringly old-school — where else would you find names like Zeenat, Rishi and Dimple? This show shares its innocence more with the films of John Hughes in the 1980s than those made post-Mean Girls. Hughes’ iconic The Breakfast Club, for instance, played up character stereotypes exactly the way Mismatched does, and the new series does well to commit to the ones it creates.
The writing is snappy. A girl called Simran introduces herself and mentions her Instagram handle (@iamshimmering) in exactly the same tone of voice, while the dude-bros of the class make a suitably dude-bro reference by calling a kid with a California accent (the one with the wet phone from the first paragraph) the “poor man’s Vincent Chase.” Who but a colossal jerk would make an Entourage reference?
Dimple and Rishi get off on the wrong foot, and predictably gravitate together. What feels less predictable is the dynamic these two share. They send each other texts, for instance, that they delete, needlessly, after the other person has read them — clearing relationship breadcrumbs as they go along. Dimple uses ‘tu’ to address him, Rishi always — actually, almost always — says ‘tum’. Koli plays Dimple with extreme, overachieving urgency, forever eager to move ahead and not get stuck with baggage. Saraf creates a refreshingly non-alpha hero in Rishi, a genteel boy who smiles bashfully when his grandmother calls him handsome.
The bright ensemble cast has an infectiously good time. Devyani Shorey is very good as Rishi’s best friend, Vihaan Samat makes his accented porn-addict character seem interesting, and Vidya Malwade is delightful as an ‘overage’ student who says that if things don’t work out online, one should do them IRL (In Real Life). “Toh IRL kar leejiye,” she says softly, with a smile, and somehow it works.
There is a fair bit that doesn’t — the final episode, evidently existing only to create emotionally high-strung cliff-hangers for the next season, is a massive letdown — but, on the whole, Mismatched has heart. There’s a lot to nitpick about, but I enjoyed watching these kids flake out and falter, dealing with their own insecurities in over-compensatory ways, and redeeming themselves when they least realise it. In one party scene, a muscle-bound thickhead invites the pizza-delivery guy in for whiskey in lieu of money to pay for pizzas, and while student-y drama unfolds around them, we see that pizza boy still around on the dance-floor, by now a part of their scene. This is a show that welcomes.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.