The first sign of the inanity to follow in AltBalaji’s new web series Broken But Beautiful comes from its name. The episode titles are another give-away (examples: “Bleeding Memories of the Happily Ever After” and “Haunting of the Heart”). The resultant series, which traces a romance between two wounded souls, is an unconvincing and half-baked product that fails to tap into the potential of its premise.
Created and developed by Ekta Kapoor, written by Reshu Nath and directed by Santosh Singh, the show was released on Kapoor’s streaming platform on November 27. It opens with Vikrant Massey’s Veer forcing a woman out of his car on a lonely road in the middle of the night after a make out session. Shortly after, he beats a man to pulp for driving recklessly. The reason for this terrible behaviour, we are told, is that Veer has post-traumatic stress disorder – his wife died in a car accident three years ago. He continues to imagine her presence around him and talks to her, limiting other social interaction and using women just for sex. He is broken, damaged and crazy, it is asserted.
An equally fragile soul is Harleen Sethi’s Samira, who spends her days standing outside the house she once shared with her ex-boyfriend. Kartik (Jitin Gulati) abruptly and inexplicably left her after a five-year relationship. She pines for him, follows him around and frequently grovels before him, leading him to label her as his “psycho ex”. She too is damaged, demented, defective, we are told.
When Samira crosses paths with Veer, who happens to be Kartik’s cousin, she sees him as another way to get in touch with her ex-boyfriend. He, on the other hand, is put off and intrigued by her in equal measure. Though he is baffled by her fixation on Kartik despite being repeatedly rebuffed and insulted, he also finds in her a reflection of his own inability to let go of a loved one.
From here, the show could have become an empathetic and darkly comedic love story between a grieving widower and an ex-girlfriend who refuses to move on, one that debunked misconceptions of mental health, loss and grieving. Instead, it becomes a meandering and often silly journey that hurtles towards a pre-determined destination and does little to rise above the cliches it seeks to dismantle.
The show’s biggest pitfall is its inconsistent characterisation. Despite establishing marked personality traits and back stories, the character’s minds change to suit the plot. Veer is the biggest casualty of this erratic approach, alternating between going out of his way to help Samira and being plain nasty to her based on where the makers want to take the series. The tonal shifts are also disconcerting: darkness and despair one moment and silly humour the next. There are some side plots that go nowhere and characters that serve no real purpose, such as Samira’s dramatic friend Agni, who, instead of helping her move on, routinely enables her preoccupation with Kartik.
Sethi’s rendition of Samira is one of the high points of the series. The actress infuses pathos into Samira’s desperation and makes her character likable and admirable even as she routinely grovels for Kartik’s attention. She incites sympathy for Samira’s inability find closure and lends a kind humour to her fixations.
That performance and the desire to see the underdogs win will keep viewers nominally invested in the show. At some moments, if one can take several leaps of faith, Broken But Beautiful can even be heartwarming. But the clear lack of effort on the makers’ part in ironing out the inconsistencies (there are some obvious continuity errors too) and establishing proper cause and effect means that the build-up is almost always followed by a letdown.