A charming comedy that takes you back 30 years in time where the main characters break the fourth wall time and again to give an update about their romantic situation, or the lack of it. Netflix's new series Taj Mahal 1989, directed by Pushpendra Nath Misra, is a new romantic comedy set in Lucknow in 1989.
The show features seasoned actors Neeraj Kabi and Geetanjali Kulkarni as Akhtar and Sarita Baig, a professor couple from Lucknow University as well as fresh actors Anshul Chauhan, Anud Singh Dhaka and Paras Priyadarshan in the lead. Taj Mahal 1989 consists of four interconnected love stories that take you back to a time before technology ruled romance and to love was to work hard for it.
To talk about their new show, Neeraj Kabi, Anshul Chauhan, Paras Priyadarshan and Anud Singh Dhaka sat down for a conversation with us, sharing with us their process of getting into the skin of their characters.
One of the central plot-points of the story revolves around Sarita and Akhtar Baig and how their 22 years of marriage makes for a unique story. Talking about his character, Kabi said, "Akhtar Baig, this janaab has a family – a child and a wife. He is a physics professor whereas his wife is a philosophy professor. He is not lonely, his wife is looking for love. And she will do anything to get that part of her life going. This man is a lover of poetry, of Urdu literature. His entire life is revolved around books and he says so - that if I could make an igloo out of books, he would love to live there. And he lives like that.
But it comes to a point that his wife says 'God damn it, can't you look at me? Can't you give me your time?' and that is when it strikes him that he has been ignoring love for so long and that's when he enters the story and the concept of love and romance."
While this story brews, the younger generation has their own arc, where coming of age, love and lust drive their world. Anshul Chauhan, who has been previously seen in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Zero, talks about Rashmi, a free-spirited womam who is the centre of a love triangle involving Dharam and Angad, played by Paras Priyadarshan and Anud Singh Dhaka respectively.
Rashmi is not a character we have seen before. While many directors try to create a manic pixie dream girl under the facade of a free-spirited, strong headed, sex-positive girl, Rashmi is actually a strong girl and not a caricature of it. Talking about stepping in the shoes of a character different from her real-life, Anshul said, "So my process was so different and difficult is that what she was doing back in 1989, I couldn't do in 2013. I totally surrendered myself to the role. I took help from our director Pushpendra sir, the ideas he gave me at the workshops, the pointers, I wouldn't have been able to do that without his help. Because I think every emotion each one of us has, the anger, the lust, love. But we need to find it in us, if you find it in yourself you can bring it to your character."
The male characters in the show too, are not one-toned, stereotype of college-boys most shows make out to be. Paras Priyadarshan, who plays Dharam, Rashmi's boyfriend who is at first sensitive, sweet and un-toxic, ends up with a gun pointed at his friend later.
Talking about the arc, Priyadarshan said, "I think the whole graph and the arc of Dharam was what drew me to the character. He goes through a lot and most of it is in his mind. You know in love, when we end up thinking or assuming too much because of our own insecurities in our head? It might be visual, something we saw and misunderstood the situation. Or something we read and misunderstood it. Like how we sometimes misread a text, someone was saying something and you started a fight based on a thing that wasn't meant to be read the way you did. He is looking for power in some way or the other so he joins politics and that is how he ends up with a gun. That is very interesting how from here his journey goes haywire. His passion, too, drives him crazy."
Angad, played by Anud Singh Dhaka, is another complex character. At first glance he comes off as mean and douchey. He does not believe in love but has undeniable chemistry with Rashmi. Later in the show, he also rejects her proposition.
When asked whether it bothered him that Angad could be perceived as 'unlikable', Dhaka said, "For him philosophy is not so that he can make money out of it, but so that he can understand life a little better. He has his own philosophy, he might be douchey. But we in life are so used to diplomacy. People adore diplomacy. If I ask you personally, you will all be against hypocrisy and diplomats. But in reality, we all love for the harsh truth to be cushioned a little bit. So that is very unlike Angad, he goes all guns blazing when he sees hypocrisy and diplomacy."
The show's writing is so unique because even when it is set in 1989, these characters are way ahead of their time. When Sarita Baig asks for a divorce from her husband because he has started ignoring her, it is revolutionary for a woman to do so in India, especially in 1989. "See in 1989, divorce was not something spoken about. One would really think 50,000 times before even saying the word in front of their family. This was totally unspoken of. This was almost an abusive word. If you are talking of that time, the divorce comes not because the spark is over in the relationship but because Akhtar Baig lives in his own world. His romance is Urdu, literature, is poetry.
"Sarita is not like that, she is simple, goes to work, she has a child, a family and expects to have a loving husband, which Akhtar is not. Love also includes romance, it does just mean taking care. Romance, which this man doesn't have. So this is a threat, and then the whole story begins, how this man learns to take care of his wife, be romantic. How he takes her out and how they have falooda together, and how they go to Taj Mahal together. That is how love develops slowly, and that is what happens actually. So that's when they fall back in love together."
Just as it starts the conversation around divorce, it treats sex in a similar way. Be it Rashmi's character who says that unlike popular notion, girls also need sex. Or Angad, who is also shown to be a non-believer in love but has casual sex. "Sex is still taboo in two-three-tiered cities. As much as they are having it, they are still not allowed to talk about it," said Dhaka.
The show also has a lot of political connotations. From Akhtar Baig quoting Faiz Ahmed Faiz to Paras joining politics for power, does the show consciously make a statement? The cast does not think so.
"It is good that the world has polarising opinions, what is scary is people not having opinions. In our show, everyone has their own thoughts and philosophies in place. But we are not trying to make a political statement," said Anud.
"The show is driven by love. Love is such a pure emotion that is dragging the characters into making decisions that they do. Whether it would be asking for a divorce from someone, whether it would be getting a gun, or philosophising love. Their decisions are purely based on chasing love," Paras further added.
Taj Mahal 1989 dropped on Netflix on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2020.
Follow @News18Movies for more