Even as itchy-fingered Twitter mobs were fuming at a Hindu-Muslim kiss in A Suitable Boy, Ekta Kapoor was in the process of raising her middle digit at censorship, propriety and taste.
The prolific producer’s latest bump-and-grind show for the AltBalaji and Zee5 streaming services targets the patriarchy, no less. Paurushpur, a saga of repression and liberation, lingers in the boudoir for the most part. Set in the sixteenth century, this period Gandi Baat is best summarised by a character’s declaration that the true place of politics is not in the court but in the harem.
Sex is uppermost on the minds of nearly every one of the principal characters of Paurushpur. The setting is the titular fictional kingdom in which unattached women are forced to wear metal corsets with big locks. Whenever anybody finds a key and dares to stray, a group of females in red saris materialises and starts wailing and whirling. Thanatos surely follows Eros.
No such restraints operate in the palace, where the depraved ruler Bhadrapratap (Annu Kapoor) is on to his sixth wife. Most of his previous partners have vanished from the face of the earth. Only one survives, the steely Meeravati (Shilpa Shinde).
Bhadrapratap, who tends to have conversations with his uncooperative member, is too preoccupied to notice that a rebellion is brewing. The trans warrior with the strange name Boris (Milind Soman) is definitely up to something more than flexing his limbs and pirouetting about. Meeravati too is arching her eyebrows once too often, as are the king’s sons and daughter-in-law.
The married son prefers the company of his male lover. His wife is upset insofar as she can’t get pregnant, but she has a girlfriend to service her. It’s a marriage of equals. The other son has taken up with a palace maid, which annoys Meeravati.
The unabashed meme fest has been written by Baljit Singh Chaddha, Rajesh Tripathi and Chital Rajesh Tripathi. Shachindra Vats has edited and directed the seven episodes. The cast includes Anantvijay Joshi, Poulomi Das, Shaheer Shaikh, Aditya Lal, Sahil Salathia, Kashish Rai, Asmmita Bakshi and Flora Saini. The cliffhanger ending holds out the hope of a second season.
One of the inspirations for the drama appears to be Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra – A Tale of Love. The stylised humping and treatment of sexual politics were also present in Nair’s misfired project. The background score in some of the bedroom scenes in Paurushpur resembles the main theme in Nair’s movie.
The sets, by Nitin Chandrakant Desai, include a fair number of water bodies into which various courtiers periodically immerse themselves in order to consort, brood or scheme. Leena Daru’s costumes refuse to stay on the supple bodies for which they were meant. We get an idea of the kind of undergarments worn in the good old days, and wonder about how Boris got his name and just who is his jewellery supplier.
The question driving the plot is the fate of Bhadrapratap’s wives. There’s actually no great mystery about what has happened to them and who is responsible. While we wait for the inevitable revelation, the series throws in lovemaking scenes whenever and wherever possible. The aim is to be taboo-busting, but the effect is somewhat ruined by the gratuitous displays of cleavage-bearing women and men with bared and epillated chests, and frequent suggestions of gender-neutral intercourse. For all its iniquity, Paurushpur doesn’t seem like a bad place to be.