Photo Credit: Hotstar
At the start of the year, Hotstar announced that it was expanding its presence in original content. Since then, it has delivered a series of misfires, which span the rich spectrum of mediocre, hagiographical, cringe-worthy, intolerable, and dumpster fire. Five TV shows and two movies in, Hotstar's track record is abysmal to say the least. At this point, our expectations are now as low as the quality of writing on display. So when the Disney-owned streaming service revealed that it had tapped Rasika Dugal, one of the finest character actors around, to remake a female-led, largely-acclaimed British drama in Doctor Foster, all we could think of is how this is going to be a waste of time for those of Dugal's talent. And boy, did Hotstar prove us right with Out of Love.
As a remake, it's bad enough that Out of Love is a near carbon copy — scene by scene, and moment by moment — of the British original, created by Mike Bartlett. But it commits a much more grievous mistake, in that its makers have no grasp on what to copy, why they are doing it, or even how to go about it. Soorma co-writer Suyash Trivedi, and lyricist Abhiruchi Chand, who has written dialogues for Sanju and Calendar Girls, have scripted Out of Love. Directors Tigmanshu Dhulia (Paan Singh Tomar) and Aijaz Khan (Hamid) are at the helm. They display no understanding of pacing, momentum, shot angles, character play, or emotional beats, and have no idea of what notes they want their actors to hit. Out of Love manages to make Dugal look bad, and that's a shame.
On top of all that, Out of Love betrays a lack of interest in moulding the events of Doctor Foster to an Indian context. (The only change is that the mother-in-law lives with the couple, instead of being in an old-age home as with Doctor Foster.) [Mild spoiler ahead.] Both shows involve a 40-year-old husband cheating on his wife with a twenty-something, who proudly boasts how she's sleeping with a married man. Infidelity and the sex lives of young adults bear stigma even in 2019 India, a society that's much more conservative than the English. Out of Love might claim to be progressive, but it just feels like it's set in an alternate world. That would also explain why not a single character in the show speaks in Badaga or Tamil, the primary languages used by those in the Tamil Nadu town of Coonoor, where it's set.
Late-thirty-something Dr. Meera Kapoor (Dugal) is at the centre of the new Hotstar series, who enjoys an idyllic life at their Coonoor home with her real estate developer husband Akarsh Kapoor (Purab Kohli), their young son, and her mother-in-law Mrs. Kapoor (Soni Razdan). But Meera's happy state of mind comes crashing after she finds a strand of blonde hair on her husband's scarf, which sends her mind into overdrive. As Meera begins to suspect that Akarsh might be having an affair, she starts to compromise on her professional ethics to dig into the secrets and lies that surround her. A subplot involves a Dr. Pradhan (Aanjjan Srivastav), who founded the Coonoor hospital Meera works at but has been suspended due to being an alcoholic.
Out of Love's decision to stick with blonde hair on the scarf is especially curious, considering most Indians have black hair. The writers justify it by claiming that a lot of people have coloured highlights, but that still narrows down the pool of women Meera can suspect to a select few people of the younger generation, as people of her age aren't likely to opt for highlights. By contrast, when Meera's counterpart — Dr. Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones) — in Doctor Foster finds a blonde hair, it drives her crazy as she begins suspecting nearly every female acquaintance of her husband. That fear can't be translated to Out of Love, since there's no reason for Meera to doubt those who only have black hair, which in turn lessens the paranoia because suddenly it's not Meera against the world.
From a director's standpoint, Out of Love fails in building to most moments. To make audiences feel the full blow of Dr. Foster finding that blonde hair, the director and cinematographer of Doctor Foster worked together to create a sense of urgency, with a handheld camera always moving with the characters in combination with a lot of overlapping dialogue. And all that came to an abrupt stop just as her world comes crashing down. In stark contrast, Out of Love is slowly plotted and has none of that thrill of its BBC counterpart. Forget directorial flair, it's almost as if they were directing in their sleep, given how scenes have no energy to them and fail to be rescued by background music, or actors are asked to play their characters in a way that doesn't do the scene justice.
Owing to poor direction, moments that are meant to be darkly comedic end up looking like sincere drama instead. The Out of Love directors also don't have a clue how to bring Meera's paranoia to the foreground. Where Doctor Foster made use of tight close-ups to focus on parts of Dr. Foster's face or to showcase how she was noticing the tiny things that other women did around her husband, Out of Love is happy to stick to wide shots that look dull and convey nothing to the audience. And even when the directors do manage to copy such moments from Doctor Foster, they seem to possess no understanding of its importance, or fail to build up to it in a way that viewers see it for what it is. All these failures hack at the tension that's necessary for a thriller drama.
Put that together with writing that unnecessarily gives away twists and departments failing in technical competence — there are jump cuts during scenes without any explanation, almost as if the makers forgot to film the stuff in between — and you're left with a show that has nothing going for it. In blindly porting over the events of the British original to an Indian setting, uncaring of how much sense the events make in this context, it's clear that the Out of Love writers and directors couldn't be bothered. Hotstar has had a year to forget and it seriously needs to evaluate what it's bringing to the originals space. That's assuming if it cares, which is hard to tell when you've been on an eight-month streak of eight straight disappointments.
Or maybe the corporate overlords will (hopefully) intervene. After all, recent events have shown that Hotstar is clearly afraid of what Disney thinks of it.
Out of Love is now streaming on Hotstar.