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Escaype Live review: New Hotstar show is a bottom-of-the-barrel slog that talks down to its audience

Rating: 1 out of 5

Escaype Live review: Hotstar's latest original series wants to be edgy and topical, but is too dumbed-down for the kind of social commentary that it wants to make.

Siddharth in a still from Escaype Live. (Photo: Hotstar)

On the fictional Escaype Live app, there can be no nudity, no drugs, no alcohol and no smoking. So says a stern Waluscha D’Souza in the opening episode of the new Hotstar show, also titled Escaype Live. Note the spelling, please. A dystopian thriller about a Hunger Games-style online competition that unfolds between users of this weird app, Escaype Live is a monumentally irritating show that talks down to its audience with no regard for their time, money and patience.

Ironically, it also addresses social inequality, without realising that by thinking of its massy audience as too dumb to follow its (very basic) plot, it is inadvertently guilty of the same behaviour that it (thinks it) is criticising.

Normally, it’s annoying when streamers neglect to provide full seasons for preview—this defeats the purpose, and also happens to be a tell-tale sign of the show’s quality—but in the case of Escaype Live, the decision to share just three out of nine episodes was the greatest courtesy that Hotstar could’ve done. That being said, this should be considered a review of the first three episodes only.

A lot happens in the first third of the show, though. Not only does Waluscha D’Souza lay the ground rules of the Escaype Live app, we’re also introduced to a handful of characters whose lives we’re going to have to find a way to get invested in. Hailing from different corners of the country, these are the people who’ll eventually compete in the competition, putting their dignity and pride on the line for 15 minutes of fame and Rs 3 crore in prize money. Each of these contestants is varying degrees of stupid and reprehensible. One of them is a child.

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Perhaps the most detestable of the lot is a man named Dark Angel. His friends—though he doesn’t have any—call him Darkie. Played by Sumedh Mudgalkar, Darkie is difficult to watch. Not because the character does terrible things, but because the writing and the performance absolutely refuse to find even a sliver of humanity in this red-haired, screechy blowhard. A large reason for this—and this is true for every character on the show—is because Escaype Live is dominated by scenes designed purely to propel the plot. When the show itself isn’t interested in examining who these people are, how can it expect us to?

At one point, Darkie decides to prank an unsuspecting woman by convincing her that he has murdered her only son. There’s nothing wrong with this set-up; Darkie is the kind of person who could do this. But when he goes ‘gotcha!’ at the woman some moments later, after she has tried and failed to revive her bloodied boy, her first reaction is, “Guys this is not done, ya.” Really? You were sure your son was dead two seconds ago, and your first reaction is, “Guys this is not done, ya?”

Another character is literally called Fetish Girl, played by Plabita Borthakur. Despite what you might think, she isn’t a superhero who restrains her enemies with fluffy pink handcuffs, but a restaurant hostess who uses the Escaype Live app like her OnlyFans. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. Nor is there anything wrong with Siddharth’s app moderator character taking offence to Fetish Girl’s behaviour. He’s a prude; it’s fine. What’s wrong is that the show projects this man as some kind of moral compass. So, while on the one hand he’s complaining about allowing the child contestant—Dance Rani—to compete directly against Fetish Girl, on the other, his sensibilities are offended after watching Fetish Girl perform a striptease.

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Is this really the kind of guy that creator Siddharth Kumar Tewary wants to assign the moralising lectures to? Mind you, Siddharth’s character doesn’t complain about this because he’s confused as to why a child dancer is being made to face off against an adult entertainer in the first place—it would be like having Roger Federer blast serves against an invisible opponent while Sachin Tendulkar hits sixes at Wankhede, and asking the public to somehow decide who’s better—but because he feels Fetish Girl isn’t the sort of person Dance Rani should be associating with. It’s because he looks down on adult entertainers. Again, it’s okay for the character to think this way, but it’s deeply problematic of the show to hold a person like this in high regard.

In addition to its laughably lacklustre writing, Escaype Live is also noticeably cheap to look at, and riddled with amateurish mistakes. For instance, on one occasion, a character’s hairstyle changes mid-scene. And in another shot, you can tell that harnesses have been digitally erased because the same character appears to be floating in mid-air while he makes a daring jump. Whenever they use drones, the resolution dips remarkably.

The conceit isn’t as original as the show thinks it is either. We’ve seen this done before, and we’ve seen it done better. More than one Black Mirror episode has attempted this, not to mention the 2016 Emma Roberts-Dave Franco thriller Nerve, and even the crowd-pleasing Ready Player One.

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You’d think that juggling four-five plot threads would be ambitious enough for a show this poorly made, but in episode three, Escaype Live introduces a couple of new characters who seem like they’re going to become more important down the line. And one of them is a trans person. I shudder to imagine how badly the show is going to handle this sensitive subject. But I guess I’ll never know; there’s no way I’m returning for more.

Escaype Live
Creator – Siddharth Kumar Tewary
Cast – Siddharth, Jaaved Jaaferi, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Sumedh Mudgalkar, Swastika Mukherjee, Plabita Borthakur, Waluscha D’Souza, Ritvik Sahore, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Jagjeet Sandhu, Rohit Chandel, Aadyaa Sharma
Rating – 1/5

First published on: 20-05-2022 at 08:59 IST
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