At a time when the rhythm of a web series demands episode hooks and binge-watching, Faadu: A Love Story is a clutter-breaker. The 11-episode Hindi-language show on SonyLIV is the unhurriedly told story of two young people raised in vastly different environments.

Soumya Joshi’s lyrical script draws you in as the cadences of Abhay and Manjiri’s romance shift and swell. Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari films Joshi’s screenplay against a gentle visual landscape (beautifully captured by Navagat Prakash) with a few exceptional performances in the foreground.

Abhay (Pavail Gulati) shares his home in a congested Mumbai ghetto with his auto rickshaw driving father (Daya Shankar Pandey), terminally ill mother and alcoholic brother Roxy (Abhilash Thapliyal). Manjiri (Saiyami Kher) grew up in a peaceful hamlet on the Konkan coast. She lives a dreamy life with her postmaster father (Girish Oak) and homemaker mother, where her calm reality allows her to be immersed in pages of poetry.

Abhay and Manjiri meet at a college in Mumbai. A student of literature, she’s drawn to his honesty, while he’s attracted to her non-judgemental open mind. They are not exactly chalk and cheese, but their ideologies differ. She believes “in celebrating reality” whereas he believes “in changing it”.

Abhay is a man in a hurry, desperate to get on to the fast track to financial success, measured by an apartment in a high-rise overlooking the very slum he has left behind. For Abhay’s every ambition, every unethical choice, every hustle, Manjiri is his steadfast moral compass and anchor.

As he marches forth, Abhay repeatedly finds mentors who transform his life. He’s confident, fast-talking, fearless and determined. But he’s not always right. Things get particularly complicated when Abhay punches above his weight and abilities.

Pavail Gulati in Faadu (2022). Courtesy StudioNext/SonyLIV.

Though it starts out as a story of two characters, Faadu gradually focusses on Abhay’s journey, his machinations and their impact on an adoring and benign Manjiri. She lives in a romanticised bubble of poverty, in a world of the words of Sylvia Plath and Faiz Ahmad Faiz. She records her observations in inland letters to her father, and is a spectator and occasional participant in her husband’s metamorphosis. She is happier in squalor than in a skyscraper.

Describing their opposing perspectives, Abhay says, “I am America and she is Bhutan.”

Iyer Tiwari astutely captures the class divide as Abhay’s family shoots up the ladder, juxtaposing their improved living space with their old habits. Joshi’s script and Tiwari’s crafting also wonderfully bring out the differing family dynamics in Mumbai and the Konkan. Within this, the relationship between Abhay and Roxy is especially soulful. Pavail Gulati’s interpretation of the outspoken, constantly simmering and hustling Abhay and Abhilash Thapliyal’s affecting portrayal of a grieving addict are remarkable.

The ensemble cast includes noteworthy turns by Deepak Sampat, Gunjan Joshi, Bhupendra Chouhan and Rakesh Chaturvedi as characters whose choices affect and influence Abhay in small and big ways.

Faadu is a slow-burn series built on a script that stays true to its metre. But as a filmed work, it could have ditched some exposition, given Manjiri a touch of unconventionality, and crunched the episode count.

Faadu (2022).