The Viral Fever brings old-world charm to a relatively new medium in its latest offering, Yeh Meri Family. Set in the “summer of 98”, the comedy-drama follows the Gupta family as it negotiates one particularly heated season.
Starring Akarsh Khurana, Mona Singh and Vishesh Bansal, the show was released on TVF Play in July. Some episodes are also up on YouTube.
With its faithful recreation of the 1990s, TVF ensures that it creates a winner for its target audience – millennials who binge on video-on-demand but remember a not-too-distant past when TV time meant vying for control over the remote and escaping the prying eyes of parents.
The show revisits those growing years through the travails of 13-year-old Harshu over one summer holiday. It cleverly recreates the self-centred world view of a teenager yearning to break out of limitations imposed by his age and seek greener pastures. When he’s not warring with his mother or sparring with his brother, Harshu is busy agonising over the lack of excitement in his life, frequently turning to his not-older-but-wiser friend for advice.
Yeh Meri Family’s strong point is the way it captures the essence of the ’90s, a time when India was on the cusp of economic, social and cultural change. That conflict between old and new infused an inter-generational dynamic exclusive to that era, which is aptly reflected in Harshu’s relationship with his parents.
Each episode also offers tangible proof of its milieu. The first episode, for instance, sets the scene with posters of ’90s hits including Border, Aflatoon and Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya haphazardly pasted on a roadside wall. Soon after, it relives that other great agony of the decade – the ordeal of winding a cassette tape come loose.
Other such references are littered throughout the show: nuggets of childhood relived through trump cards, fights over the Walkman, sneaking into the living room at midnight to watch lingerie-clad models on Fashion TV and drinking Rooh Afza and Gold Spot.
That recreation intelligently alludes to the present even while taking us back to the past. For instance, in a scene in which Harshu and his friend Shanky (Prashant Reddy) make a plan to watch a movie in a theatre, they reference the movie Raja Hindustani and the kiss between leads Aamir Khan and Karishma Kapoor, which was sensational for the time. One of the friends remarks that it would be nice if the glamorous actress had a younger sister. Today, Kareena Kapoor Khan, who made her debut in 2000, is one of Bollywood’s biggest stars.
Harshu’s relationship with Shanky creates the best best lines and laughs. Wise beyond his years, Shanky is Harshu’s friend and strategist, frequently reprimanding him or giving him sagely advice as he helps him negotiate the many mundane crises that seem life-defining to the adolescent mind. The two share a particularly memorable moment when Shanky guides Harshu through the process of buying a slam book – that other marker of adolescence – in a stationery shop. Harshul wants the diary so that he can find out what the girl he has a crush on thinks about him (“A slam book is the short-cut to getting to know a girl,” Shanky tells him). Shanky ticks him off for trying to buy the best-looking slam book, urging him instead to choose the one with the best questions, grumbling alongside, “Do I have to teach you everything?”
Characterisation is the show’s other strength. It manages to etch out each member of its ensemble cast while keeping the focus on Harshu, thanks to its format of focusing each episode on one character. Through his eyes, we understand that there is more to his strict mother (Mona Singh), his aloof father (Akarsh Khurana), his studious older brother (Ahan Nirban) and his younger sister (Ruhi Khan).
Ultimately, even though the plot is thin and the humour sparse, the show works by laying on the charm thick and adding a liberal dose of nostalgia, which carries half the story-telling weight.