By Maya Palit
She first appeared on the radar with her upbeat cover of a Marathi song in March this year.
In Anna Kendricks’ ‘Cups’ style, she sang, ‘Hi Chaal Turu Turu’, which went on to get some four lakh hits on YouTube. That’s how Mithila Palkar got her break.
Seven months later, 23-year-old Palkar is everywhere. She is a newcomer finding her way around in big bad Mumbai in Girl in the City, and a city girl in two other shows – Little Things and Chukiyagiri, parts for which she says she has had to reinvent herself completely because she hasn’t lived anywhere except Mumbai.
In the enormously successful web series Girl in the City, Palkar is Meera, the spoiled daughter of a rich, controlling colonel from Dehradun and a newbie in Mumbai. A friend who has followed Palkar’s career fanatically (this may be because she is often sent screen grabs of Mithila’s face and told that there’s an uncanny resemblance between her and Palkar) attributes her appeal to her natural and effortless performance, which makes her relatable.
This could have something to do with her rigorous background in Marathi theatre. In fact, it was where her career began. “Theatre is my first love. I got on stage for an inter-school competition when I was 12 and that’s when I knew that [this] was my happy place. I get my biggest high doing theatre and kept thinking, well, this is it, this is where I want to be,” says Palkar.
Annoyingly though, the web series didn’t use her stage experience, instead, they slotted her as an ingénue-in-Mumbai stereotype. The problem with such typecasting isn’t so much that her escapades aren’t realistic as they provide very little scope for a laugh. Unlike the quirky premise of Y Films’ Ladies Room, a contemporary web series about two women’s quirky conversations in loos — including panicked joint-rolling sessions in the toilet of a Mumbai local train (with cops waiting outside) — there aren’t any mad antics that introduce demented humour into these shows, though they’re touted as rollicking rides.
In Little Things, a show about a young couple living together in Mumbai, juggling work-life and biryani hunger, there isn’t much character development from the persona you see in the first episode: a fanatic Instagrammer obsessing over her clothes and hair while whining – loudly – at a gruff and aloof boyfriend who just wants to watch football.
The show picks up on existing stereotypes and wants to focus on the small and the quotidian. But because it doesn’t make the everyday entertaining in any way, and ends up being neither an effective parody nor a show with an engaging storyline. A far cry, sadly, from TVF’s web series Permanent Roommates, that explores the stresses of a long-distance relationship and promises a somewhat intriguing set-up in the first five minutes. It begins with the girl’s dilemma when her boyfriend flies across the world to propose and all she has to say is a resounding ‘no thanks’.
Mithila’s supporting role as a workaholic in an ad agency in Chukiyagiri has the potential for a more nuanced character, but she isn’t given much to do in any episode. The show isn’t very watchable either: it is yet another Mumbai set piece, where much of the action centres round an alluring but backstabbing boss and the small-town protagonist whose ideals are shattered by the big bad corporate world. It is all exasperatingly predictable.
I ask Palkar whether she’s bored of playing the bubbly newbie and the wide-eyed optimism that surely has to come with it. She laughs, and says, “I guess it comes naturally. The feel of that loud, cheerful, chirpy character was easy to come by for me because that’s what I’m like in real life too. I realise that it’s getting a bit repetitive though and I’m experimenting. I think what I do with Kavya in Little Things is different – the character is much calmer, unsure, cranky. Nothing like me.”
Theatre is still her biggest passion, she insists. “I first thought about being an [actor] when I was 12. I come from a middle-class, Marathi family, where no-one has a background in cinema or theatre,” she informs. She tried to run away from it for a while, choosing to study science in high school and then majoring as a mass media student: “But I couldn’t run too far. It found me in the end.”
Venturing into web series has been an intriguing journey, she says, because of the breathing space and flexibility it allows an actor. “The web series mode, in which you can have an episode of any length of time, has allowed young people to experiment so much. There are some genuinely funny, quirky shows out there that do full justice to the definition of art,” says Palkar.
Her predictable persona of the girl-in-the-city is minus any emotional depth. She doesn’t get to do much besides being hyper and cranky or cheery and giggly. But she has plenty of fans like my afore-mentioned friend who challenges this premise. “Her character is just too happy for you to handle,” she snaps.
Maybe writers for the new, dying-to-be-edgy shows will work on better and more believable roles for women. Maybe I should temper my expectations and hope that I’ll get to watch Palkar on stage some time and change my mind.
Co-published with Firstpost.