It’s hard to describe Alt Balaij’s latest offering, Gandii Baat. The erotic thriller anthology series claims to showcase “urban stories from rural India”. Its synopsis further states: “In these stories you will see how people from rural India are deeply affected by their dark fantasies.” When the show was announced, the makers said it would explore “relationships and taboos” and topics that “exist in every section of the society but are never spoken about or discussed openly.” AltBalaji’s Ekta Kapoor described the show as India’s Black Mirror.
This mishmash of descriptors was the early sign of a product that is not sure what it wants to be. Is it a celebration of sexual freedom or a cautionary tale?
Gandii Baat was premiered on AltBalaji on May 3. The cast includes Anant Joshi, Narayani Shastri, Neetha Shetty, Rohit Choudhary, Rajesh Tripathi.
The show is billed as erotica and in that, it cuts right to the chase. There’s plenty of heaving and moaning, close-ups of cleavage and pursed lips. Women are routinely ogled at, sexually assaulted and spoken about crassly, though there is some talk of empowerment.
In the first episode, a lecherous neighbour ends up in a non-consensual threesome with a husband and wife. Episode two features a middle-aged man forcing his wife to fulfill his sexual kinks after seeing his son and daughter-in-law play out theirs. In the third episode, a mysterious snake rapes women in the village, who later declare that they’re the wives of the serpent king.
Episode four takes a shot at women’s empowerment through the character of Preeto Rani, who commands fear in her house and village and does not let men lay claim on her. In her character, however, liberation is confused with lasciviousness – and she is chastised for it.
The first season will feature six more episodes, which are yet to be released.
The show seems to break taboos only by virtue of its existence – and by showing sexually active men and women. Contrary to expectations and its own claims, there is no normalisation of “forbidden fantasies” here. Instead, most episodes show anomalous desires with disastrous consequences.
For the most part, Gandii Baat leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. What are the motivations for the show? And why is it set in rural India? The hinterlands seem to be simply a canvas on which the show projects its ideas of sexual repression and desire.
A rare high point of the series comes in episode two, when a TV set airs episodes of Kyunki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi in the backdrop as a woman and her daughter-in-law bond in the foreground. The meta-reference to Kapoor’s most successful television series seems to be her way of showing how far she has come from her soap-sodden days.