Why is a comedy about a dysfunctional family named after a Parsi style of making scrambled eggs? That’s because its members are as disparate and jumbled as the ingredients of this spicy dish, explained the cast of the upcoming ZEE5 series Akoori during at a recent visit to the sets at Mumbai’s Madh Island.
The show will be released on the streaming platform on August 30. Starring Darshan Jariwala and Lillete Dubey, Akoori follows an Irani Zorastrian whose squabbling members are forced to live under the same roof after a tragedy. The ensemble cast includes Shadab Kamal, Zoa Morani, Sohrab Sunny, Adi Irani and Harsh Nagar.
The series has been directed commercials filmmaker Harsh Dedhia, who told Scroll.in that he jumped at the chance to explore fiction when the story was narrated to him by writers Nikhil Venugopalan and Kersi Khambatta. “When he [Venugopalan] called me and said that this was the story of a dysfunctional family, I told them that it [this genre] was everywhere,” he said. “It is so overused that just because they create interesting characters, they call it a dysfunctional family.”
Dedhia wanted to show what a dysfunctional family really looks like, he explained. “There is a lot that goes into a truly dysfunctional family,” he told Scroll.in. “That is what we have shown here. Dysfunctional is when you are hungry, but do not want to eat. You love each other, but do not want to see each other’s face. It is the interrelation between the characters.”
Jariwala’s Dara is the foul-mouthed patriarch of the Irani family. When his wife goes into a coma, his estranged children land up at a lodge he runs in Udvada in Gujarat. Even as he’s waiting for his wife to recover, Dara also seems besotted by Dubey’s Rita.
The cantankerous Dara seems to be a far cry from Jariwala, who, in between takes, was busy making cast members laugh. Dressed in a crisp blazer, Jariwala said that the unpleasantness of his character made his job as an actor interesting.
“There seems to be a very internal logic with which he lives his life,” Jariwala said. “He is very asocial. The circumstances that happen ruffle him. It is also a story of how he responds to these unusual circumstances. Sometimes he falls silent very unusually and reacts very violently. There is a little bit of an unpredictability about him. It was something that one could respond as an actor quite easily.”
Jariwala said he seeks layers and depth from his roles. “They should not remain mere devices, which help the plot along,” he explained. “There should be something more to it than that.”
A veteran film, television and theatre actor, Jariwala’s credits include the movies Gandhi, My Father (2007), Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007) and Kahaani (2012). The actor’s first experience with the digital medium was with The Viral Fever’s breakout web series Permanent Roommates (2016), where he played the zany father of Sumeet Vyas’s character. “Before TVF came to me with Permanent Roommates, I myself did not know if I could play such a wacky character,” Jairwala said. “It seems I am a hit among the pre-pubescent girls. They seem to really like this uncle with an edge.”
Jariwala was particularly excited about playing an Irani. The team was determined to break away from the cliched depiction of the Zoroastrian community in Hindi cinema. “The stereotype that our Hindi films have perpetrated of Parsis is a totally wrong portrayal,” Jariwala said. “The wrong way that they speak Hindi, wearing a funny hat are some of the stereotypes. Parsis are not always jokers. But if you see Hindi films, you might get that impression. They are basically fun loving, good-natured people who love their whisky and their Parsi cuisine.”
Jariwala cited Vijaya Mehta’s Naseerudin Shah-starrer Pestonjee (1988) an exception. “In fact, it was one of the earliest attempts to go into the psyche of what a closed communities the Parsis are and how they relate to the world,” he said.
For Dedhia, the expletive-spouting Dara was a delightful character to choreograph. “The abusive language and the exposure are freedoms,” Dedhia said. “But the good part here is that it is used rightly. If you meet any Parsi, they use foul words. But when they use it, it happens in a very jovial way.”
The series also explores gender identity and sexuality through the character of Dara’s younger son Kaizad, played by Shadab Kamal, who is frequently taunted by his father for his effete manner. “We have seen gay and transgender characters in films and television and everybody wants to play such characters,” Kamal said. “But it is mostly gimmicky and not explored enough. The first thing that people are going to notice in the show is the treatment of my character. I am assuming that even for the channel, this is a big step and that is commendable.”
Such attempts to push the envelope may not please all viewers, but Jariwala said this was an opportunity for experimentation. “It is very interesting to make a series out of this and experiment with the audience,” he said. “I am sure a general entertainment audience would balk at the language used. But the internet is the last bastion of freedom of speech. It is better to be within the comfortable embrace of free speech instead of trying to make a film and get protests from Karni Sena.”