OTT platforms sometimes take you back to the 70s when silliness passed off as family entertainment. KBS is as challenging as mastering the alphabets.
Rajasthan is a favoured location with many because it has a colourful, distinctive culture with a history of eccentric maharajas and decaying palaces. Put in words like ‘kamma ghani’ (namaste), the strains of Pallu lat ke, a few camels and an accent that appears and disappears at will, and you can lay claims to authenticity.
Aarya starring Sushmita Sen had added guns and gangsters to make a different show.
But when the shoulder line of KBS reads, ‘Let the royal con-test begin’, it gives an inkling of the level of humour in store.
KBS therefore rides solely on its cast.
Raja Mritunjay (Naseeruddin Shah) is outdated enough to be addressed as ‘King’. Presiding over a palace mired in debt, he must gather together his estranged brood of four daughters and ease the financial stress of an outstanding wealth tax.
Mishraji (Raghubir Yadav), the aide who’s more loyal than the king, panders to royal delusions and masterminds the return of the daughters.
The eldest, Lara Dutta is perfect upper-crust industrialist-biwi, Devyani Goyal.
Soha Ali Khan as Gayatri, overflows with the goodness of a simple ashram, classical dance and two adopted kids named after yoga asanas.
Kamini (played by Kritika Kamra) throws attitude and pouts like Karan Johar’s iconic Poo from K3G, and struts around like her 2 M social media followers are her subjects. But she is a celebrity with an expired shelf life.
Uma (Anya Singh) has allergies and diffidence galore.
After they’d turned their backs on him, the King has summoned them all to play ‘Royal Games’, dangling the title of ‘Shikharwati’ for the winner.
Each has a reason for wanting the crown and all the goodies that come with it.
What a nice premise for palace intrigue with fun and games literally thrown into it.
But between writer-director Ananya Banerjee and director Gauravv K Chawla, it’s like Disney+Hotstar cracked the whip and insisted on stretching a frivolous thought into an overlong ten episodes.
One of those shows where every character’s trajectory is as obvious as a camel’s hump, you patiently wait for the imperfections in the perfect, the hidden passion in the pure, the comeuppance of the snooty and the confidence in the unassertive, all of which take their time to surface. Even the solution to the financial crisis, a reality that’s well-known and common to palaces all over Rajasthan, is presented like an incredibly new idea.
A Muslim male colleague, a commoner for the haughty and other mandated requisites of the day like women power and family togetherness are on the grocery list.
Unfortunately, there are no strong emotional chords struck in any of the frayed relationships, and writing comedy as compensation is tough business. ‘Kilogram’ for Instagram, ‘gala-chutkula’ rhymes and tut-tut, you can’t use expressions like ‘bhaad mein jaye’ in a drought-hit state like Rajasthan, hardly bring on the smiles. An incredibly childish ‘ghost night’, an old shaky retainer hard of hearing, a kid speaking in a monotone, the King feigning illness and having hallucinations or Mishraji in a drunken scene are either unfunny or overlong or fast-forwardable.
In the fast-forwardable are the flashback sequences of the mother who’d held the family together and Gayatri’s philosophy on lotus blossoms.
Sure, this is a comedy, so one isn’t supposed to look for logic. Kya halat bana diya hai, look what you’ve done to Shikharwati and the palace, is thrown around by Devyani and ilk. But outside the palace, except for a stray comment on the delusional Raja or a couple of references to the people migrating elsewhere, nowhere is there any sign of distress with the ‘subjects’ smoking with apparent contentment.
In the plush interiors, the high-gloss events and general lavishness, there’s not a whiff of the serious financial crisis that’s looming large.
To be fair, the music and the performances are acceptable even if the characterisations and equations are too flippant to make a connect.
And I do want to ask the makers, what were you trying to say with Gayatri’s track? That adopted kids cannot be accepted by a family?
But when it’s OTT fare, there’s a captive audience. So be prepared as Mishraji puts away one file and opens another. A second season is in store. Snore.