Messages of empowerment, gender bias and assertions of feminism come wrapped in ample melodrama and implausible scenarios in Voot’s web series It’s Not That Simple, which returned for a second season earlier this month.
The first season, starring Swara Bhasker as Mira, followed a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage as she discovers herself through an affair. After deciding to walk out on her husband of eight years at the end of season one, Mira returns for the second installment as a single mother juggling her domestic responsibilities with her ambitions of launching her architecture firm. Her way to independence and success are paved by betrayal and heartbreak. Also starring Purab Kohli, Sumeet Vyas, Vivan Bhatena and Karanveer Mehra, the series has been directed by Danish Aslam.
While the first season had three men fighting over Mira, the second season has four alpha males vying for her attention. That’s the main sign of progression between the two seasons, a higher production value being the other factor.
The Mira of season two is more assertive and self-assured than the sacrificing housewife of season one, but continues to find herself involved with sexist men. It’s unclear whether the makers see this as a weakness on Mira’s part, or even recognise these men as offensive.
One key character, for example, is Purab Kohli’s award-winning journalist Angad. Mira and Angad’s paths collide in episode one. He goes on to call her a feminazi, insinuates that she’s a bad driver because of her gender, accuses her of playing the victim card, and later, when he needs her advice for something, forces her way into his life by calling her repeatedly and landing up at her doorstep. When she comes to him for help later on in the series, he cannot string a sentence together without innuendo. Mira expresses mock offence at these advances, but it’s clear early on that Angad is going to emerge as one of her romantic interests. In a scene in which Mira declares that she’ll never meet Angad again, both Angad and the audience know that this isn’t going to happen.
Another romantic interest is Sumeet Vyas’s Dev, who woos Mira even as he acquires her nascent architecture firm. He’s attracted to her brain, he asserts, but the two enter into a relationship that blurs the lines of sexual harassment at the workplace. As the boardroom merges into the bedroom, Mira discovers that untangling herself from the professional and personal commitments will be harder than she thought.
The characters who return from season one are her husband Jayesh (Karanveer Mehra), who is now holding out on signing the divorce papers and trying to be a changed man, and her childhood friend Rajiv (Vivan Bhatena), with whom she’s shared a sizzling chemistry that has never taken physical form. Mira continues to spar with the two men while juggling her other personal entanglements and professional challenges, resulting in a hot mess of soap-style drama.
Strong performances come to the rescue when the dialogue and plot fall flat. The surface-scratching observations about gender bias and stereotypes are complemented by a couple of genuinely strong moments. Mira observes why she, as a woman, is not given the room to make mistakes or take business decisions that place strategic concerns over moral ones. However, most of the feminist overtones are overshadowed by the fact that no platonic relationship seems to drive Mira’s life, beyond cursory exchanges with a female friend and her mother. The struggles of being a single mother, too, are not treated with any real depth.
At the end of the two seasons, Mira emerges as a vulnerable woman who has hidden strengths and seeks to be empowered, but isn’t quite there yet. Despite talk of independence and self-discovery, Mira routinely ends up seeking comfort and support in flawed men. Arguably, that’s a far more relatable character than that of a strong, independent woman, since the route to empowerment can be elusive, tricky and challenging, with falls and missteps along the way. It’s not quite clear, however, if the makers intended Mira to be that kind of a woman.