The chats end with the finality of a guillotine. Once a woman in a dating app says ‘bye,’ there is no room for further entreaties as she, politely but firmly, closes the door behind her — deleting the chat history and making herself uncontactable as she walks out. It’s a brutally elegant system, and the fact that it disallows a rejected suitor from making increasingly desperate pleas should actually help people like Ray, a young man who unfailingly says the wrong things.
Ray remembers he had taken a screenshot of a picture the girl had sent him. This cheers him up till his inner voice scolds him. Ray tries to rationalise, claiming the girl doesn’t know and won’t mind, but the inner voice persists, shaming him mightily: “You’ll know you did that.”
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That inner-voice has the last word. Netflix comedy Eternally Confused And Eager For Love is a stream of self-consciousness sitcom, the misadventures of an under-confident millennial who talks to his keychain. Ray, played by Vihan Samat, is a relentlessly unremarkable young man, while his keychain Wiz, voiced by Jim Sarbh, is a sarcastic know-it-all pushing advice that oscillates between deeply optimistic and deeply self-destructive. Wiz’s truest superpower, however, is being judgemental.
This is the crux of the show. Written and directed by Rahul Nair, Eternally Confused And Eager For Love feels like a basic sitcom about a voice in the head, the kind of show that could have come out of the US in the late-1990s. That easy premise of a kid held back by his own hesitations and hyperbole feels oddly well-suited for today, typifying the youth who refuse to think before they tweet. Ray may be a stand-in for an increasingly alienated and distrusting generation of young Indian men some of whom, in the rush to belong to something, pretend their celibacy is by choice.
Nair’s writing is breezy and the conversations feel real, and this is something I would like to single out given just how catastrophically most Indian shows and films stumble when characters speak English. Eternally Confused And Eager For Love is entirely in English, and not only English but sprinkled with pop-cultural asides that — joy of joys — it doesn’t immediately try to explain. This, if anything, is the #IYKYK generation who, when they don’t know a reference (or an acronym) know where to look it up.
Samat is pleasant, in an early Kal Penn sort of way, but Ray is such a determinedly low-key character that the actors around him grab our attention first. There’s his father, played by a hilarious Rahul Bose, visibly appalled that his son has only two friends. There’s his workplace-buddy Varun, played by Ankur Rathee with such overpowering Reggie Mantle vibes that you can nearly smell the Axe through the screen.
And then there’s Riya, his best friend from school. Played by Dalai, Riya is one of the most real and candid characters I’ve seen on the Indian screen in a while. This is the character who made me persist with the show in the early episodes, reminding me of indulgent friends who take no nonsense. Riya steadfastly supports Ray while continually calling him out.
And Ray, it is evident, needs calling out. He suffers from many a misconception. A classic over-thinker, he hems and haws, first doubting himself and then anyone who might be talking to him. He second-guesses himself into a corner and, not knowing better, fails spectacularly at most things. Nair keeps making us cringe as the protagonist hardly ever redeems himself, and yet — or possibly therefore — he and his inner-voice feel more relatable than most men will admit. The women in the series, though, from Ray’s mother to Riya to all the women Ray tries to pursue, know where they stand. He looks on, floundering.
Sarbh has a rollicking blast as Wiz, invisible yet irritating, bringing his best Deadpool energy to the part as he revels in raining on Ray’s parade. It’s as if Calvin went to college and Hobbes decided not only to stick around, but to start drinking. And he’s a mean drunk.
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It is a fact that Ray’s problems are inconsequential — most are solved by ice-cream or masturbation (or both) — but in his head there are demons he has to slay and princesses he has to rescue. While I hoped the show would build to something, like Ray questioning his own sexuality or stepping away from his codependence with Wiz, there is something reassuring about Ray’s lack of growth as a character. Samat unassumingly but gamely leans into this charmless character, and we watch him squirm.
At some point Wiz and Ray start referring to themselves in plural, using ‘we’ and and thinking about ‘their’ future instead of Ray’s own. This cuts to the deepest truth: Ray doesn’t consider himself worthy. The friends we make, make-believe or otherwise, are our own echo-chambers who help us cope. We hunt for people like us to convince ourselves that people like us.
Streaming tip of the week:
Nicole Kidman is up for Best Actress at the Oscars for playing Lucille Ball in Being The Ricardos (Amazon Prime Video) but I strongly recommend Amy Poehler’s documentary Luci And Desi, also on Amazon, for real insight into the iconic comedian and her pioneering husband.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film and TV critic, screenwriter and the author of ‘The Best Baker In The World’ (2017), a children’s adaptation of ‘The Godfather’.