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Paurashpur Review: Oh The Irony Of Sleazy, Soft Porn In A Show About Smashing Patriarchy!

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In a year that has let us down in every way possible, there are some things that need to be appreciated for their consistency at fulfilling our expectations. For example, you expect Bigg Boss to be a ridiculous show, or you expect Kangana Ranaut to make every thing, including farmers’ protests, about Karan Johar, and you’re not disappointed. Same with Coolie No. 1’s 90s’ humour not working out today. So when I saw the Paurashpur trailer, a new series on ALTBalaji in collaboration with ZEE5, I expected it to be cringe, sleazy and difficult to watch. And the show didn’t disappoint either. Paurashpur is a period drama directed by Shachindra Vats and starring Annu Kapoor, Milind Soman, Shilpa Shinde, Poulomi Das, Sahil Salathia, Shaheer Sheikh and Flora Saini.

 

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The world of Paurashpur has kaafi potential….

Paurashpur is written by Baljit Singh Chaddha, Singh Ranveer Pratap and Rajesh Tripathi. It is about an eponymous fictional kingdom in the 1600s which, as the name suggests, is all about men and machismo (‘paurush’). Naturally, this means women are treated like shit; they’re basically property that can be used for free labour or sex. And just like you keep your most valued possessions under lock-and-key, the women of Paurashpur wear these chastity belt kinda thingies, literally meaning their vaginas are padlocked. The key is with their husbands, to ensure no one else can pay a visit. There’s also sati pratha, and a few other oppressive patriarchal customs to keep women subdued.

Oh, and in the off chance that women break these rules, they’ll be serenaded by a swarm of women in maroon sarees, ghunghats covering their faces, as they do an ominous dance. It’s a death knell, because post that, they’ll carry the woman to the hallows or a guillotine and execute them. Yep, honour killing.

No woman is above these rules, not even the Queen or the King’s daughter-in-law. Speaking of the King, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that the Maharaj, played by Annu Kapoor, is Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton rolled into one. He has had some 4-5 marriages so far, but some masked intruder has been kidnapping his queens right after the wedding night. Only his first wife, Queen Meerawati, is spared. Possibly because she is the real political power in this part of the woods. Her husband has a teeny tiny performance issue in bed, which gives him a nasty temper. And with his queens disappearing, he threatens to ruin her happiness if she can’t keep the next one safe and him satisfied.

The King has two sons. The one who is married is queer, and finds love in the arms of the royal dance teacher, who BTW is also his mother, the Queen’s bedfellow. Ew. This prince’s wife is obviously looking for action elsewhere, and swings every which way. So she has a handmaiden wrapped around her finger and still flirts with her brother-in-law. The King’s second son is… #NotAllMen. His name is Ranveer, but acts all artist-y and profound like Ranbir Kapoor. His muse is his mother, the Queen’s handmaid, Kala, a dusky beauty whose worries are that her boyfriend might become Leo from Titanic and “paint other women like the French girls”. But when the King’s latest wife gets kidnapped, and the Queen Meerawati finds out Kala is canoodling with her son, she tricks her into marrying the King. Cue in marital rape.

Oh there’s also a Senapati who can’t seem to protect anyone in the castle. There’s a hooded and cloaked figure that is doing the kidnapping. And of course, last but not the least, there’s Milind Soman playing a transgender, Boris, who the King’s shit scared of apparently. Boris is for the cause of liberation of women, and his den is full of women training in martial arts and not. He also is a mix of Petyr Baelish and Lord Varys from Game of Thrones, and runs a brothel where women are freeeeeeeee.

The reason I made the effort to give you this extensive background is that I want you to understand that I’m not blindly trashing the show because of some twisted bias against ALT Balaji shows. Not a snob here, not at all. In fact, stripped bare, this premise has so much potential! A country that is oppressing its women, and is on the brink of an uprising led by a transperson. Maybe a coupe where the king is supplanted by a queen? But even those with good motives have their own selfish agenda and can mess things up. Not to mention, exploring the sexual liberation of women as a path to political revolution angle.

Also Read: 5 Thoughts I Had About Paurashpur Trailer: Peddling Soft Porn In The Guise Of Feminism Isn’t Cool

Toh phir problem kya hai?

Sigh. Where do I begin? The plot lacks coherency. In seven episodes, they’ve given us character development that should’ve taken at least a full season to pan out. Remember how Daenerys on GoT went from beloved Mother of Dragons to The Mad Queen in a span of episodes and fans were pissed? This is ten times worse. From hating a character that allowed women to get raped and violently abused, we’re supposed to feel for them because their endgame wad quite noble. Dafuq?

The story is built on problematic things. At one point, a character says that the world outside is so oppressive of women, that inside the brothel, where she is thrust into prostitution, she feels free. Erm, sexual slavery is freeing? You sure you want to present that idea to your audience?

The biggest turn off though is when the show tries to imitate Game of Thrones’ (and HBO) notion of using sex and violence during pivotal scenes that depict human behaviour at its rawest… and then adds the ALTBalaji filter to it. The sex scenes are NOT aesthetically shot. The rape and abuse scenes are unnecessarily sleazy. And the skin show is just overkill.

Basically the only thing the citizens of Paurashpur do is fuck, think about sex, kill or maim someone, and all of it in varying stages of undress. It got so overdone that even the sight of Milind Soman’s toned body didn’t hold any appeal.

This, this isn’t authentic storytelling, sir. It is soft porn and violence porn added only for shock value. It doesn’t add anything to the story or character arcs. And seriously, someone tell me, how am I supposed to watch Annu Kapoor like that on screen? I’d get it if the scenes were shot well, but this! How?

That half star? It’s for the genuine effort I spotted in some areas.

I won’t deny, I could see that the lead stars of the show genuinely believed in it and tried to do their best. I am not mollycoddling them and saying this was their best performance, but they were trying and believing rather earnestly. Furthermore, the scale of the whole thing—the elaborate costumes, and art direction by Nitin C. Desai—all of this tried really hard to make the spectacle look and feel grand.

Alas, the poor lighting, camerawork, and special effects, and the need to fill every second with background music that constantly wants to tell me how to feel… it just turns the entire production cheap. Especially the music that dogs every action of the King… what even is that????

Verdict: What is this show? WHY is this show?

Paurashpur is difficult to watch. Not because it’s evoking some harsh truths about our patriarchal society that treats its women as property, or sexual slavery. But because it is pointless and cringe max. The only thing you can see, crystal clear, is the irony of having this level of sleaze porn in a show that makes queenly claims about smashing patriarchy. I say STFU to any claims that say it aims to empower, not titillate.

Paurashpur is currently streaming on ALTBalaji and ZEE5

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