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Digital Review: ‘Dr. Arora’ (SonyLIV)

Set in 1999, ‘Dr. Arora’ is about a sex doctor (Kumud Mishra) and his vibrant clientele. The expectations are high here thanks to its creator Imtiaz Ali, and directors Sajid Ali and Archit Kumar. But the reality does not live up to the hype.

To give you an idea of the makers’ approach, the show starts with a false rape accusation by a beautiful seductress, which traumatizes the hero (Devendar played by Gaurav Parajuli). That doesn’t push him to get medical help though. The temptations of his neighbourhood’s flirty new bhabhi (Putul played by Shruti Das) finally give him the push he needs. This is just the first of many more odd plotlines to come.

The jarring episode structure doesn’t help the strange plots either. All the episodes in the first half of the show are spent only setting up storylines. The show introduces a character, advertises their diagnosis through unnecessary captions, then forgets about them. The episodes just end randomly, without a neat conclusion. Then, the second half is for quickly wrapping up these storylines, with rushed explanations of how we got from point A to point B. Some characters (like Putul and MLA Goyal) aren’t even blessed with a haphazard ending.

So who are the characters of ‘Dr. Arora’? We have Dr. Vishesh Arora, a timid sex doctor with an origin story/turbulent past with his ex-wife Vaishali (Vidya Malavade). The lack of closure for Dr. Arora manifests as 17 years of stalking, a very questionable revenge plot, and other classic incel behaviour. Mishra thankfully manages to slip in some melancholy into his role, despite the script’s refusal to meaningfully dwell on it.

Vivek Mushran is Dinkar, an owner of a print newspaper and a father of a teenage son. Dr. Arora gives his son “immoral” advice, and Dinkar steadily grows more and more unhinged with each passing scene. There’s a questionable revenge plot here as well, but Mushran’s comedic timing distracts you from it.

The stars of the final questionable revenge plot are Inspector Tej Pratap Tomar (Ajitesh Gupta) and his wife Mithu (Sandeepa Dhar). Tomar wants his diagnosis to be secret, but the couple keep involving his co-workers. No points for guessing who they blame when the information inevitably leaks to their inner circle of cops and criminals.

To wrap up the lovely ensemble, Raj Arjun plays a babaji who can’t entertain private visits from his VIP followers (all lustful middle-aged women) while he heals. Shakti Kumar is sexist politician MLA Goyal. And Anushkaa Luhar’s Payal is a “sex workers are human too!” statement.

This show has a weird perspective on women. They all have sexual agency – which is great to see – but as characters they don’t go beyond the purpose they are supposed to serve. While Devendar gets the most dynamic story arc of the season, Putul never goes beyond being a tease. Dinkar’s wife Alka (Chitra Banerjee), is just fuel for their son’s sexual nightmares. Out of all the women, Mithu Tomar (Sandeepa Dhar) probably fares the best, but the bar is so low.

Vaishali is depicted through the strangest perspective. The show slut shames her, then makes Vishesh refute that slut shaming. At the same time, all we see is Vaishali radiating guilt and shame through every part of her, making his words completely meaningless. We are supposed to feel bad for her, I think. But nothing in her journey leads us to that point of sympathy.

The parts where I did empathize with Vaishali came much earlier, when Dr. Arora was creepily stalking her, cornering her at every chance he got, putting her in situations where she had to be nice to him, all in the name of love. No sane woman would entertain this behaviour from an estranged ex. But Vaishali bizarrely plays along because it makes sense for Dr. Arora’s story arc, even if it defies common sense. Major props Vidya Malavade for managing to create a semblance of a character through the messy writing.

After finishing all eight episodes of ‘Dr. Arora’, I’m still not sure what the show is trying to say. For all the feminist messages it preaches, it doesn’t actually practice much of them. For all its appeals to be non-judgmental, it continues to still judge its own characters with very little self-awareness. The weak editing hinders the actors’ performances, and the strange scenes take away from the lovely soundtrack. If ‘Dr. Arora’ is about the messiness of love and sex in our society, then I’d like to congratulate the makers for at least getting the “mess” part right.

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