The second season of Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare, the Amazon Prime Video series created by and starring Zakir Khan, begins on a note that can be read as either self-congratulatory or self-affirming. The choice hinges upon how much you enjoy Khan’s comedic persona, the Incel Lite ‘sakht launda’ who sees through the wicked ways of uppity rich folks, nagging parents—and most importantly—the needy, conniving, incorrigibly manipulative women who lead Nice Guys on, only to relegate them to (I really, really hate this term) the mythical, much-feared ‘friend-zone’.
Here’s what happens: Khan makes an entrance that feels like an amalgam of every Salman Khan ‘intro’ sequence ever shot, from Dabangg to Wanted to Ready and so on. The cool shades, the triumphant ‘tera bhai aaya hai’ smile, the brand-new bike that spins round and round in a skid-circle, even as celebratory up-tempo music blares in the background. And, of course, the fan service close-up of a bracelet on his hand that reads, quite simply, ‘SAKHT’. Cue the inevitable claps and whistles. At the end of the first season we saw Khan’s character, 26-year-old Ronny Pathak (Indore-based lad-about-town and teller of tall tales), tasting a small measure of success against all odds. Ashwini Pathak aka Chachaji (Abhimanyu Singh), the ‘vidhayak’ (MLA) whom he would routinely (and falsely) claim as his actual Chachaji (paternal uncle), actually invites him into the party fold and takes him under his wing.
Hence the Salman hijinks in this season two opener: the sequence is also a metaphor for Khan’s current superstardom in the comedy circuit. It’s hip-hop style braggadocio via mainstream Bollywood.
Luckily for Khan, Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare has improved significantly (though not beyond recognition) in its sophomore season. Khan’s own acting remains quite flat (anger and shock registers the exact same way; feeble dialogue delivery) but the writing, characterisation and overall narrative flow of the series are far better.
A lot of it is down to picking the right villain. Unfortunately, in season one, Ronny’s great foe was a young woman, Avantika (Venus Singh) who seemed to exist only to make him look like a victim in his Incel Lite fanboys’ eyes. Practically every episode was about her making hilariously unreasonable demands on his time, and/or stringing him along. It didn’t make sense, she didn’t feel like a real human being, and the show became a repetitive bore.
Here, however, Ronny has the perfect adversary, one who makes sense both narratively and politically. Vicky (Sunny Hinduja) is to the manor-born, politically and otherwise. His father was the local paarshad or councillor and Chachaji sees Vicky as the heir apparent, even asking Ronny to show him the ropes. Ronny feels cheated, not just because he wanted the councillor’s seat for himself, but also because Vicky is everything he’s not—born to super-rich parents, confident, foreign-educated, English-speaking. Vicky asks which school Ronny went to in Indore; upon hearing the answer (a low-income neighbourhood school, it is implied) he scoffs that Ronny’s classmates probably dealt drugs on the side (Ronny retorts, yes, we dealt to you rich kids).
Ronny’s superficially charming manner cloaks a terrible temper and a penchant for using money, influence and brute force to get his way. An early episode has a rather clever exploration of the concept of small-town ‘gundagardi’ and what urban audiences expect to see in this regard. Ronny and Vicky have been tasked with freeing a recently widowed woman’s shop from the clutches of a headstrong shopkeeper (he’s neither moving out nor paying rent). The way the episode progresses, we are led to believe that Vicky’s polite requests will fail and Ronny will make an ass of himself while trying to be the ‘local gunda’ he claims to be in a separate scene.
Instead, it’s Vicky who shrugs off the convent school accent and the accompanying saccharine politeness, and dishes out an ass-kicking worthy of Chulbul Pandey, following it up with a (pointedly) Hindi victory speech in front of the gathered crowd. You see, Vicky is Zakir Khan’s critique of the snooty ‘English waalas’ (there’s even an extended joke routine where Ronny makes fun of the way city-slickers greet each other, to drive home the point). He’s saccharine on the outside, poison on the inside (you could also see it as a snark-portrait of Khan’s predominantly English-speaking rivals in comedy). The rivalry between Vicky and Ronny forms the backbone of this season.
Unfortunately, Khan is clearly out of his depth when it comes to acting. This is most obvious in the many scenes he has with Abhimanyu Singh, who’s playing Chachaji here. Singh is a Bollywood veteran of films like Gulaal and Aks. One gets the feeling that this role is less than a walk in the park for him, and he delivers a fine performance without so much as breaking a sweat. Khan, by contrast, looks like he would rather recede into the background and let his writing come alive through other people’s acting.
Here’s the thing: Khan is a young, popular and quite earnest-looking Muslim comedian. With the political climate being what it is in India right now, one can’t help but root for him. So, you best believe me when I say I really, really want him to do well. His show has gone from bad to mediocre; now’s the tough part, which is creating something of enduring value.
For that to happen, Khan must aim big. That means acting lessons, and that means a serious investment in a diverse writer’s room. For now, Khan is happy to have Ronny ‘replacing’ Vicky in the party hierarchy and in Chachaji’s eyes, of course. But he could have done so much more. A crucial scene late into the season, where Ronny explores the strange similarities between stand-up comedy and a politician’s speeches, stops just short of making a big, bold statement about the role of class and privilege in Indian society, not just politics. Screenwriting opportunities like these must not be squandered.
Then again, if you have a clearly defined class enemy in your story, why give them the benefit of the doubt eventually? Why be content with beating the rich when you could be eating them instead?