There’s no easy way to describe the absurd wonderfulness of Amazon Prime Video’s Afsos. Written and created by comedian Anirban Dasgupta, Dibya Chatterjee, and Sourav Ghosh, the show is about death, immortality, and also…weird accents.
Nakul (Gulshan Devaiah) is a Mumbai-based struggling writer and nothing’s going right in his life. So he decides to give up and kill himself. The only problem is he’s probably the luckiest unlucky guy in the universe, and any attempt at killing himself ends badly for everyone but him. The homeless guy, whose pillow he steals to get comfortable on railway tracks before being run over, gets hit instead of him. The diver, who jumps into the water to rescue him during one of Nakul’s suicide attempts, drowns while our protagonist emerges unharmed.
This little montage of his attempts at suicide should have been horrifying, not funny? But the show alleviates you of any guilt at laughing at his misery by inviting you to suspend disbelief and any preconceived notions of how things work in real life, from the get-go.
Which is why you find it perfectly reasonable, yet delightfully absurd (familiarise yourself with this word because you’re going to see it used a lot. Like an absurd amount of times), when Nakul seeks the help of a service called ‘Emergency Exit’, a start-up that helps people who want to commit suicide get there. And this is how chaos enters Nakul’s seemingly insignificant life.
A near-death experience and a timely intervention by his therapist (Anjali Patil), make him realise that he doesn’t actually want to die. Too bad, his assigned killer (an appropriately terrifying Heeba Shah) doesn’t do take-backs.
Dark and morbid comedies are not commonplace in Indian films and television shows. The only movie from recent memory I can recall where I was horrified yet had the urge to hysterically laugh was that scene from Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun (2018). Do you remember the scene where Ayushmann Khurrana’s character, who is pretending to be blind, sees Tabu’s husband’s dead body lying on the floor, as he continues to play the piano to make sure Tabu and her boyfriend don’t realise that he’s not actually blind? Think of Afsos as that scene but multiplied by eight whole episodes of the same morbid humour, and then turned up to eleven.
The script, which has been adapted from a Bengali novel called Golper Goru Chande, works primarily because the writers know exactly how to subvert expectations.
The gloomy, dopey protagonist never makes the decisions you think he will. The warm, empathetic therapist is (SPOILER) neither warm, nor truly empathetic. You think this is going to be a (dark) comedy of errors, but you’re suddenly in the middle of a cat and mouse thriller to find out a man who might be immortal.
Director Anubhuti Kashyap, cinematographer Krish Makhija, and editor Prerna Saigal create a universe that is rooted in mundane reality and looks lived-in. This is a huge contrast to the outlandish story and characters that inhabit this universe. This odd juxtaposition helps drive the absurdity of the show further.
While Nakul is dealing with a contract killer hell-bent on ending his life, an ashram up North becomes the subject of a crime investigation after all but one of the sadhus living there are found shot dead. The only clue linking this gruesome crime to the events going on in Mumbai are a magazine featuring a story about ‘The Immortal Man’ and the one missing sadhu who was, reportedly, sighted travelling to Mumbai. There’s also the matter of Dr. Goldfish, the man with the peculiar accent, who is on a quest to learn everything he can about immortality.
Gulshan Devaiah, who still features prominently as the star of most of my nightmares after his performance in Ghost Stories, is terrific as Nakul. He does the seemingly impossible job of making you root for him to die just so he’s put out of his constant misery.
Nakul could have easily become a caricature, but Devaiah keeps it on the right side of the line at all times.
Ratnabali Bhattacharya is exceptional as Maria, the head of ‘Emergency Exit’. She fits in so well in this ludicrous universe that you have to peddle back to realise that the sales pitch she is offering to Nakul is about the variety of ways she can arrange for him to die. The rest of the supporting cast is pitch-perfect, including Robin Das’ hapless sadhu who just wants to honour his mentor by completing an almost impossible mission, Sulagna Panigrahi as Ayesha the journalist whose story on the existence of an Immortal Man started it all.
A special shout out to the highly incompetent Mumbai cop Vitthal (Shyam Bhimsaria) who’s taking a shot at redemption by rescuing Bir Singh (Akash Dahiya), a cop from Uttarakhand who travelled all the way to Mumbai in search of the missing sadhu. Vitthal’s pep talk to his men, copied (almost) word for word from Singh’s rant about his incompetence, sets up what is possibly one of the most hilarious shoot-out scenes between cops and the bad guy’s men. I won’t spoil it any further, but it’s definitely one of the highlights from the eight episodes of the series.
If you’re not a fan of themes like death and immortality getting the comedy treatment, then you might have some trouble making sense of whatever’s going on on-screen. The narrative jumps from one timeline and location to another pretty rapidly, so you’ll have to focus a little. But if you manage, watching Afsos might be one of the most enjoyable experiences you’ve had watching a web series in a long time.