Mahi Talwar (Pushtiie S) is young, pretty and smart. She wants to be a serious journalist covering serous topics. In the meantime, she’s putting in her hours at Delhi-based ladymag “Trend” where she writes an agony aunt column and is paid in all the temp-work and humiliation she can take. Why? Because she’s fat.
Not pleasantly plump or a little overweight. Fat. And if anyone knows anything about Punjabi girls in Delhi, it’s that that kind of weight is only acceptable after she’s gotten married to and reproduced with some teenager who’s in line to inherit his daddy’s business. Then, it’s golgappa city, baby, because chickadee has done. her. ever-lovin’. job! She’s hooked her man and popped out a kid! Pile on the pounds before that holy state of affairs though, and you’re just the eyesore that’s going to break the family’s back.
Mahi is convinced she’s never going to find her Prince Charming at this rate and her over-critical mother (Suparna Marwah) shares her belief. To severely undermining levels. Add to that an unrequited crush on the hottest guy who doesn’t even know she’s alive (and who prefers to date six foot tall blonde amazons anyway), and you wouldn’t take Mahi’s life if it came free with a packet of biscuits.
So how does she deal? With liberal doses of her favorite cookies, her ditsy-but-hot BFF Roshni (Monica Khanna), chocolate, a gazillion pairs of shoes that have a habit of making her trip at unfortunate moments, whatever she can find in the fridge, romantic movies (from the Yash Chopra stable, natch), all the golgappas she can chow down and her other BFF Sid (Mark Farokh Parekh) the gay fashion designer who is totally hot, doesn’t lisp, lachko-matko when he walks or dress in Hello Kitty colors.
Three episodes into its run, what I find most unbelievable about Mahi Way is that it’s on Indian television. I give both Indian TV and producer Aditya Chopra a fair amount of grief for their increasingly substandard produce – albeit heretofore in separate fields. So I wasn’t expecting their synergy to result in anything good. I was wrong.
Mahi Way has all the trademark YRF-isms that have turned its movies into such a chore and a parody of its Bollywood heyday in the recent past: from the “cunningly” inserted footage of old Yash Chopra romances, references to the cult of Romantic SRK, a Punjabi joint family presided over by a sweetums grandmother (Alka Mehta), etc. But head writer Devika Bhagat (with dialogues by Anvita Dutt Gopalan) and director Nupur Asthana actually pull it off.
The father (Ikhlaque Khan) is the gentlemanly type who can never win in a family situation and has already made his peace with it; the mother is a total harpy who is about as far away from the Mother India ideal as you can get – “Sometimes my mother looks at me and wishes she’d practiced family planning,” Mahi muses as an aside. Her elder sister (Amrita Raichand) is a nightmare: the popular girl from school whose life has gone exceedingly well and is now set into the habit of rubbing it in her dorky sister’s face – upon being told of her sister’s decision to enter the Mrs. Delhi pageant, Mahi imagines herself standing on the stage with a sash labeled “Miss Nobody”.
It’s one of the reasons why Mahi is so endearing as a character – she’s funny because her humor is of the scorched earth variety. Underneath the prickly layers of the sulky fat chick who snarls at strangers who cut in line is a decent human being who’s hardly ever given a chance to be recognized as such because all anybody can notice about her is her weight.
Mahi Way has a habit of deftly switching back and forth between the truly ridiculous (the “perfect for Mahi” underwear barons The Chhadhas, for example) and the truly heartbreaking (the hippo arc) without so much as a hitch in its stride. “That really wasn’t necessary,” she tells a date who leaves her with a nasty comment about her weight after a really disastrous evening. “Yes it was,” he says, echoing all the other people in her life who go straight for the blubber as an easy way to put her down.
Not that Mahi doesn’t have issues of her own when it comes to people. Or men. She’s obsessed with her crush because he wears expensive clothes, wears an expensive cologne, and is the kind of guy who would make her mother and sister’s eyes bug out if she ever brought him home. We have a better idea about the unknown stranger she’s constantly bumping into and skirmishing with all over town, than her dream man who works in the same building as her magazine.
This is, of course, deliberate but like I said earlier, this is a show that isn’t afraid to embrace the cliche so that it can put its own stamp on it. For instance, the wise old Yash Chopra grandmother who likes to overshare about her romantic past is very much in play here – but she balances it out by assuring Mahi that her Prince Charming must be on his way. “You know what idiots men can be about asking for directions,” is her way of cheering up her granddaughter.
So yes, Mahi Way sounds like an uneasy cross between Ugly Betty and Sex and the City. What of it? They make it work, with better production values than you’ve seen on Indian TV before, and have a channel on Youtube so you can watch it. That’s all that matters.