Vir Das is a comedian who – if you follow his work – you either completely love or completely hate. Especially over the last few years when he has gotten significantly into political humour, his comedy evokes extreme reactions. To be fair, even a cat video would evoke extreme reactions in these polarized times. (Is that a saffron scarf around the cat’s neck? Was this video shot on Friday? Did the cat pee on a shakha, pun intended?)
Hasmukh is not about Vir Das the Comedian. In fact, Hasmukh has nothing to do with Vir Das the Comedian, and is all about Vir Das the Actor. If you haven’t seen his comedy yet, I would strongly suggest you skip that step and watch Hasmukh first, so that you can appreciate – without bias – what a stellar performer Vir Das the Actor is.
Hasmukh is a dark comedy – the story of a struggling stuttering stand-up comedian from Saharanpur who discovers that he only gets his mojo as a performer when he commits a murder right before going on stage. He hits it out of the park with his debut performance after taking his boss’ spot at a wedding event. Small problem – he killed his boss to get there.
As karma would have it, this lands him a minor fan following, and the dead man’s Manager – the very shady (and, I’m pretty sure, very smelly) Jimmy, played on point by Ranvir Shorey. “Jimmy the Maker” sets about “managing” Hasmukh’s career, taking client service to another level by cleaning up the murderous mess his client leaves in his wake.
It is not for everyone, the genre of dark comedy. In fact, the first and second episode have so much blood and gore that I almost stopped watching myself. But if you can get over the violence (or indeed, if you enjoy watching it, you sick psycho) then Hasmukh is a show of many revelations.
The chaotic Uttar Pradesh where law and order is literally a joke. The Daroga delivering his own version of stand-up performances, all the while messing up one murder investigation after another.
The dark side of show business where everyone is backstabbing everyone else in a Game of TRPs.
The shady underbelly of the shiny Mumbai City, where it is impossible for two Hindi-speaking bhaiyas to take a single step without being played like pawns on someone or the other’s private chessboard.
But the biggest revelation of them all are Vir Das’s acting chops. The man is glorious as Hasmukh, the simple small town man who lives under the crushing guilt of his crimes and their unintended consequences. The innocent village boy who had seen nothing but ugliness all his life becomes an overnight sensation, and realizes his childhood dreams, all the while battling the minor character flaw of being a serial killer. It is no easy role to play, and yet you can visibly see the man crumble under the moral weight of having to decide who lives or dies.
Manoj Pahwa, as the Ghost of Hasmukh’s Past, is the stuff of nightmares. Ranvir Shorey makes you aptly despise him as the opportunist Manager who is along for the ride, adding little more than shoddy clean ups and strikingly poor management to his client’s unique journey to stardom.
If I have one complaint with the show, it is that the stand-up comedy itself is not that funny. I know that the comedy is not the point of this show, but when it is Vir Das on stage – even as a fictional character – expectations are inevitable.
In conclusion, with Hasmukh, Vir Das has successfully atoned for the cardinal sin that was Mastizaade. The Season 1 finale leaves you eagerly awaiting Season 2. Which kind of depends on the fate of the world right now, so it may take a while.
Hang in there, people. And stay at home. There is good stuff on Netflix.