After writing the second season of Mirzapur in 2019, the Prime Video show’s co-creator Puneet Krishna moved on to another subject and another platform. Tribhuvan Mishra: CA Topper, Krishna’s series for Netflix, is a seriocomic exploration of a financially strapped chartered accountant’s desperate scheme to stay afloat.

Manav Kaul plays Tribhuvan, who becomes a gigolo to pay off debts. Married to a cake maker and the father of two children, Tribhuvan is hard-pressed to deal with the consequences of his actions, especially after one of his most loyal clients turns out to be the wife of a contract kidnapper.

“The way we look at the relationship between men and women the world over, we believe that men seek it [paid sex] more than women,” Krishna told Scroll. “But I believe this to be untrue. Why not have the point of view of women seeking it from men? Also, can this go beyond physical intimacy? Can it be about companionship?”

His series is about women keen on “being heard and being seen”. Krishna added, “If the opposite gender is able to provide this, society will be a better and more balanced place.”

The show will be premiered on Netflix on July 18. Mirzapur’s third season is already out on Prime Video, but without Krishna. “I could not continue with the show for certain reasons,” Krishna said. “In 2019, I moved away after season two and started working on Tribhuvan Mishra. I started in November 2019 – I remember this categorically because I had become slightly disillusioned with the system. One fine day, I said I would write another story and hopefully somebody would back it.”

Shweta Basu Prasad in Tribhuvan Mishra: CA Topper (2024). Courtesy Rangeela Pictures/Netflix.

Apart from Manav Kaul, Tribhuvan Mishra: CA Topper stars Tillotama Shome, Shubhrajyoti Barat, Naina Sareen, Shweta Basu Prasad, Sumit Gulati, Naresh Gosain, Faisal Malik and Ashok Pathak. Behind the show’s seemingly explicit premise is an attempt to explore human frailties, Krishna said.

“We have to define certain boundaries for ourselves during the writing,” he added. “We are aware of the audiences we are making it for, the nation in which we are setting the show. So while the show might be bold, it is a human drama at heart. While you are having fun watching it, I am sure that you won’t feel confused or awkward, even if the theme is so-called bold.”

Krishna has co-directed the series along with Amrit Raj Gupta (TVF Bachelors, Gullak). “While I had been wanting to direct for some time, it was baptism by fire,” he said. “Even if someone had given me thousand crores, it would have been less. The budgets are never enough, there are weather constraints, the constraints of shooting in different cities – you have to be really fast while shooting while also keeping the visual and emotional quality.”

Tribhuvan Mishra: CA Topper has a heightened aesthetic, which includes a bright colour palette, absurdist situations and flamboyant characters. The plot is set in NOIDA, the satellite city to Delhi that is located in Uttar Pradesh.

Puneet Krishna directs Naina Sareen in Tribhuvan Mishra: CA Topper (2024). Courtesy Rangeela Pictures/Netflix.

“I understand North India better because I come from there,” Krishna explained. He spent his childhood across Uttar Pradesh, living in several cities and towns because of his father’s transferable job (but not in Mirzapur, he clarified.)

“It’s a hyper-real space – we deliberately wanted to show the North Indian middle-class community in a different light,” Krishna said. “But the show is talking about reality too. We all seek validation and love from others. When cornered, we will do everything to save the day.”

His goal as a showrunner is to “entertain people”, which he described as a “sacred duty”. He added, “If in the process, someone takes away a deeper meaning, that is great.”

Tillotama Shome and Shubrajyoti Barat were among the earliest actors cast for Tribhuvan Mishra. “I went to them even before writing the script,” Krishna said. “They really loved the treatment, which was a validation for me. I am really bullish about hiring the right actors even for a one-scene part. If an actor with just four lines is not doing the job well, the scene will fall apart.”

Manav Kaul was suggested to Krishna by Netflix and a filmmaker friend. “I saw him in the anthology series Ajeeb Daastaans in the episode with Shefali Shah,” Krishna recalled. “He was playing a mute character, and he was brilliant. He was gracious and big-hearted enough to completely dedicate himself to the role of Tribhuvan. He must have lost out on other roles by keeping a moustache. He was brave enough to look like a laloo [a foolish person] in certain segments. Then he transformed himself into a desirable and charming man.”

Tribhuvan Mishra: CA Topper (2024).