That awkward moment when a young couple gets acquainted with their current or future in-laws has inspired many Hollywood comedies, from the Meet the Parents trilogy starring Ben Stiller to Sidney Poitier’s 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and its modern adaptation, Guess Who (2005), starring Ashton Kutcher.
The web series What The Folks, by Dice Media (the makers of Little Things), transports that dynamic to India’s urban elite, where orthodox conventions lurk beneath the surface of modern egalitarianism.
The show’s popular first season, released on YouTube last year, explored that tussle through 26-year-old Nikhil Solanki (Veer Rajwant Singh), who stays with his in-laws, the Sharmas, (Deepika Amin and Vipin Sharma) during a work visit to Mumbai.
The novelty of the first installment lay in its unpacking of the uniquely complicated relationship between a man and his in-laws in India, where the son-in-law enjoys near-royalty status. Without his wife, Anita, to play buffer, Nikhil works hard to push back against the patriarchal imperative that makes the Sharmas tip-toe around him constantly, refusing to express disdain even when he accidentally crashes his father-in-law’s prized car.
The show’s second season flips that equation. This time, it’s the turn of Anita (Eisha Chopra), to find her footing in the Solanki family, comprising the cool-headed mother Vandu (Renuka Shahane), eccentric father Kiran (Shishir Sharma) and secretive sister Shreya (Kriti Vij).
The season opens with Nikhil’s parents coming to live with the young couple in their new house in Mumbai ahead of a family event in Alibaug. In most Hindi television, a woman’s relationship with her mother-in-law is akin to a minefield. But in What The Folks, disagreements between saas and bahu over domestic matters – whether to cut vegetables length or width-wise, for example – do not become metaphors for irreconcilable differences. With no real conflict to resolve on that front, the show turns its attention to a truly fractious relationship – that between Nikhil and Shreya. Once peas in a pod, the two have drifted apart in recent years, a tension that manifests both in awkward silences and loud showdowns.
When Shreya makes a surprise visit to Nikhil and Anita’s house a few days after her parents’ arrival, it’s clear to her brother that there’s something more to her arrival than the desire for family time. Shreya has turned up without her husband, Jason, and Nikhil starts to tactlessly pry and prod, making things uncomfortable for not just his sibling but everyone around.
As a result of these digressions, the folks of What the Folks season 2 don’t have much to do. The season, instead, derives its narrative focus by exploring broader themes like marriage and relationships. Despite the departure from its premise, the series works well for the most part. However, its essential feel-good nature means that it can’t cut too deep in its exploration of graver concerns and some of its ambitious swoops fall short. However, it does manage to mine some genuine tension and uneasy resolutions. At a time when rich studios and big-name actors and are jumping into web series space with often underwhelming results, its nice to see the open corners of the internet churn out content that, if nothing else, is eminently watchable.
The show is also aided by its strong performances, especially by Kriti Vij and Veer Rajwant Singh, who manage to walk the fine line between drama and hysteria in the more heated moments. Renuka Shahane too is charming as always, but the role doesn’t demand much of her.