If you watched any of the recently concluded cricket matches between India and New Zealand on Disney+ Hotstar, you may have noticed that the streaming network has been aggressively pushing a new venture under its short-format vertical Quix. These are videos by “India’s biggest content creators”, as the ad claims before announcing their line-up of “Internet Ke Stars”: Bhuvan Bam, Mostly Sane, Harsh Beniwal, BeingIndian (Sahil Khattar), Sejal Kumar, Jannat Zubair, Be YouNick and CarryMinati. Because Quix specializes in 12-15 minute videos, i.e. the length of your average viral comedy video on YouTube, this plays to the strengths of its roster.
The first scripted series in Quix’s lineup is the Hindi-language show Me, Boss and Lockdown by 22-year-old Ajey Nagar (better known as CarryMinati), one of India’s most popular YouTube creators with over 33 million subscribers. There are three episodes of 13-14 minutes each and the narrative is set in an ad firm where 20-something Ajey (Nagar) is a soft-spoken, hard-working fellow who has fallen for his boss’s executive assistant (although the show uses the archaic ‘PA’ or personal assistant) Neha, played by Kajal Himalayan.
Unfortunately for Ajey, the (unnamed) boss has a glad eye, and he’s the kind of middle-aged man who “hires women for their curves”, as Ajey’s voiceover informs the audience. Neha invites Ajey over for dinner at her place, but the boss invites himself first and reaches before Ajey can. In a bit of an unrealistic twist, Covid-induced night curfew means that the unlikely trio is locked up together in a flat, each wondering how they can escape a supremely uncomfortable situation.
Of course, this being a CarryMinati show, the real focus is Nagar’s alter ego — a brash, aggressive, loud-mouthed and obnoxious young man with a Haryanvi accent (Nagar is from Faridabad) and a profanity-laden turn of phrase. This is the ‘voice’ with which Nagar has famously roasted actors, musicians and his fellow YouTubers, this is what reels in his millions of subscribers; this is home turf. In Me, Boss and Lockdown CarryMinati’s alter ego has been incorporated this way—Ajey invents a character called ‘Rockstar’ as part of a branding exercise for an eponymous app, assigned to him by his employers. So ‘Rockstar’ becomes an aspect of Ajey’s personality that only he can see, and he roasts all four of the characters on view (the fourth is Ajey’s annoying, perpetually horny male colleague, played by Ravi Rajput).
Is the show any good? Well, it’s not terrible. Rockstar is intermittently quite funny, I will give him this. He’s especially unforgiving of the Boss, and his demolition of the older man’s pretensions and general lustfulness is fun to watch. It’s the kind of thing nobody beyond the age of 25 can realistically pull off, I might add, because in an older person, that degree of unfocused, diffuse rage (very different from topical, principled ire) comes across as more sad and pitiful than entertaining. And the actors around CarryMinati try their best; I will give them that. Himalayan in particular manages to impress despite a depressingly one-note role as the damsel in distress.
‘Me, Boss and Lockdown’ suffers from many of the same problems that CarryMinati’s critics have pointed out in the past.
However, Quix has some way to go before it can match the ongoing golden era of TV in quality. There is a loose, improvisational feel to proceedings here and while that comes across as charming in the context of a YouTube video, I don’t think streaming audiences will be as kind. The warped logic of the attention economy dictates that even ‘candids’ should be impeccably produced and professionally scripted.
Moreover, Me, Boss and Lockdown suffers from many of the same problems that CarryMinati’s critics have pointed out in the past—there’s a scene in the second episode where Ajey is mistaken in thinking that his boss is hitting on him. The way the scene has been shot, complete with OTT horror on Ajey’s face, and appropriately smart-alecky, double-meaning commentary by Rockstar, is decidedly homophobic. This is reminiscent of a similarly homophobic joke that CarryMinati cracked in a 2020 YouTube video, which prompted much outrage amongst the queer community.
It’s quite instructive, in a way—the almost-feudal throwback character of Rockstar and the softer, more empathetic Ajey have been the twin faces of CarryMinati’s career and they’re supposed to represent the conservative (“sakht launda”) and progressive aspects of Nagar’s personality (as the man himself has confessed in more than one interview). But again and again, it’s actually Ajey and not Rockstar who disappoints with his regressive words and deeds. For example, Rockstar observes that his Boss hired Neha for her curves—but it’s Ajey who fails to see Neha as anything other than an object of desire. She literally has nothing to do in this show but cheer on Ajey during office presentations, and similarly simper over his every word when they’re talking in private.
I watched a few more Quix videos to see the kind of company CarryMinati is keeping at Hotstar. The others belong to very different genres: Sahil Khattar aka BeingIndian creates videos wherein he’s out at markets, outside pubs and so on, asking young people questions about their work, their love lives, their views on everything from Tinder to global warming, it seems. Sejal Kumar (whose videos have been age-marked 7+ by Hotstar, indicating the motives behind her inclusion) learns how to make a chocolate cake, and how to dance the Bachata (a Dominican dance form) and so on.
It’s an interesting experiment and the involvement of big-ticket draws like CarryMinati and Bhuvan Bam will help, no doubt. But I sincerely hope that the “kuch naya milegaa” (you’ll get something new) tagline isn’t just another advertising bromide, which on the evidence of Me, Boss and Lockdown, it absolutely is.