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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Hundred review: Lara Dutta, Rinku Rajguru hit it out of the park

Hundred review: The Sam-Nethra (Lara-Rinku) combination is your odd couple trope twinning in unexpected, interesting ways. Strong women dealing with bad stuff can make for good stories: bring on season two.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Updated: April 29, 2020 8:21:26 am
hundred web series review Lara Dutta and Rinku Rajguru starrer Hundred is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Hundred cast: Lara Dutta, Rinku Rajguru, Parmeet Sethi, Sudhanshu Pandey, Karan Wahi, Rajeev Siddhartha, Makrand Deshpande
Hundred directors: Ruchi Narain, Ashutosh Shah, Tahir Shabbir
Hundred rating: 2.5 stars

Sam aka Saumya (Dutta) is a female cop. The kind who is struggling with an us-guys-know-best workspace, an insecure spouse (also a cop), and a benignly patriarchal boss determined never to let her do what she clearly wants to do: be out there, smash the bad guys, and save the good guys.

Nethra (Rajguru) is your average young woman. The kind who, like a million others, is struggling to survive, but with a buoyancy of spirit that makes you want to root for her. None of the men in her life—jobless father, useless boyfriend, a frail grandpa and a little brother—spark any joy. And then she gets to know she has only three months and a bit to live.

No spoilers here: the title gives us the number of days Nethra has left on this earth, and takes us through eight episodes of What Nethra Did. Hold on, though, she’s not alone. A chance encounter with Sam, who sees in this desperate young woman a chance to pull herself up the ladder, changes everything. And it becomes What Sam And Nethra Do.

The Sam-Nethra combination is your odd couple trope (two men, a man and a woman, two women) twinning in unexpected, interesting ways. We’ve seen this happen in the movies since forever. But in the nascent Indian web series space, it’s still unexplored. On this score, the makers of Hundred have hit a home run: there really is nothing in common between Sam and Nethra; they inhabit vastly different worlds; they speak different lingos, but together they make a winning team.

On the can-you-believe-what-you’re-seeing score, though, Hundred is mostly a series of eye-rolls. With the support of what seems like a sole teammate who is on her side, Sam glides through such a range of bad guys—from Columbian envoys who turn out to be smugglers, to organ traders, to corrupt politicians, drug busts, to narcotic rings, to hawala cases and cricket setting and Dubai-based dons, and so on—that you wonder if she ever catches a break. But at every step, she is up against Anshuman-the-insufferable-boss and Pravin-the-unhelpful-husband and inimical colleagues. These portions are plain tedious and repetitive: you’ve told us once, we’ve got it. There are also parts which appear to be unintentionally funny. At one point, there’s mention of a ‘miaow miaow’ (slang for a popular drug) case, which is solved in a jiffy: are we meant to take Nethra’s cop station and her colleagues, especially her husband who keeps hankering after a case which will make him a media darling, seriously? Or is the whole thing a giant joke? Not really, right, because crooked doctors harvesting human bodies for healthy organs cannot be a matter of jest.

That’s where the show falters when it doesn’t quite know just how to do what it set out to do: to write complex female (and male) characters with grit, and cunning and empathy, and characters and situations which are believable. Also, the aspect is mostly flat, except one or two scenes in which Sam is to be seen standing in front of a glass window, and you can see the buildings beyond, in the distance. Where does the third dimension go in these shows?

It’s nice to see Parmeet Sethi in a full-fledged role, even if it needs to be much more rounded: why is he so dismissive of Sam? Do they have history? Is he a serial misogynist? It may help if Sam were to have a female colleague, but she is the lone woman in this boys-only zone. Sudhanshu Pandey gets a nice edge to his fragile-ego-green-eyed husband. Karan Wahi’s Haryanvi rapster Maddy is a hoot, even if it’s hard to buy his psst-psst intimate connection with Sam. Rajeev Siddhartha is a dodgy fellow and has more of a good thing going with his senior partner, the twinkly-eyed money changer played by Makrand Deshpande (who is clearly having a blast), than in the awkward romantic liaison with Nethra, who never does what she is expected to. With the clock ticking off her precious hundred days, can you blame her?

Which is why you overlook, somewhat, Nethra’s swerves and dives in totally bizarre directions. Rajguru, who made such a striking debut in Sairat, shows a wonderful comic streak in her uninhibited playing of a girl-who-is-about-to-pop-it and is determined to tick off everything on her bucket list, sex (never done that), Switzerland (never gone there) and all. I want to know what Nethra Does Again.

And good to see Dutta make a meal of her Sam, who changes from ‘not knowing how to game the system straight cop’, to keeping a useful string on the side (good-looking male informers are to be put to use), lying to her spouse, and not being nice—being actively awful, actually—to Nethra. Here comes the woman who will use others to get to where she wants to go, and to hell with the consequences. There’s a terrific moment that she owns, which is perhaps a first for a Hindi series (seen that stuff in Hollywood a bunch of times): she wakes up, heads to the loo, sits on the pot (yes, she does), and pulls at a toilet roll, flinging off an F letter word like she means it, while dodging an uncomfortable question from the man waiting impatiently for her to come out. You believe this; it can happen to any of us. It makes Sam real.

There’s enough here, all-round, for the second season. Can we have a little more of Rohini Hattangadi, who plays a modern-ma-in-law, dancer of Zumba, and carefree driver of cars? And more credible, less eye-roll situations? Strong women dealing with bad stuff can make for good stories: bring on season two.

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