Growing up in the siesta-loving city of Pune, the only badge of coolness I carried was my love for the American TV show The Office. Through five years, seven seasons and special Friday TV time with my mother, the characters carved a space for themselves in my heart. I joined multiple Orkut groups dedicated to declaring eternal love for a certain, fictional paper salesman and told myself that I would never feel that way again. Turns out, I’m pretty fickle. Five years later, my colleague handed over episodes of Parks and Recreation, another comedy mockumentary series, and I was madly in love again – this time with the kindness and wit of the bumbling residents of Pawnee.
Mockumentaries are a hard genre to crack – they have to be based in reality, writers need to find humour in mundane, everyday activities and top-notch actors are needed to carry the scenes. Fortunately, Better Life Foundation, a brand new web series by comedy troupe Them Boxer Shorts, manages to tick all those boxes.
Watch Episode 1 here:
When it comes to web series, the Indian audience is like a crasher at a Jain wedding buffet, there are choices but they’re pretty limited and of very specific genres.
Among the recent influx of series, Better Life Foundation manages to stick out with its talented cast and subtle humour that doesn’t underestimate its audience’s intelligence.
It follows the antics of four employees (plus an ‘unpaid volunteer’ and a guy doing community service as a punishment for drunk driving) working at an NGO that vaguely aims to “better the lives of others” through activities like building 2-in-1 bathrooms (“The people of Dharavi will defecate no more!”) and blood donation drives.
BLF wastes no time in establishing its cringe comedy status- we’re introduced to the characters of Sumukhi and Jerry (hands covered in fake blood) as they argue about how appropriate it is to teach school children to conserve water “or blood will be spilled!”. I love it when a series has a cast of characters that are so good in their own ridiculous ways that you can’t figure out who you like more (i.e. the answer you want in the BuzzFeed quiz about what character you are) and BLF comes with some heavy-hitters. Naveen Richards plays Neil Menon, the bumbling, altruistic boss who means well but has zero clues about how to run an NGO or manage people. The ridiculously talented Sumukhi Suresh plays a no-bullshit programme head who’s struggling to maintain any semblance of sanity while surrounded by incompetent colleagues like Utsav Chakraborty’s outlandish Jerry Pinto (Indian lit-reference win!), Kumar Varun’s shady and hilarious Anirban (if that’s even his real name), Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy’s hapless Aditi the intern and Kanan Gill’s douchebro Armaan. It’s pleasant to see Gill, the Indian Internet’s boyfriend, in a role that he comfortably works with. (Rule 1 of the BLF drinking game- take a shot every time Gill gives the camera an incredulous side-eye.)
Thanks to the tight writing, BLF contains a tonne of laugh-out-loud moments that include gags about Anirban’s pirated ‘Saheb, Biwi aur Spiderman’ CDs, Jerry’s hilarious quips (“Have you ever transcended your human emotions?”) and a set-up for what seems like a running gag about Aditi’s intern status. The Office maybe an easy reference to make given the format but honestly, the comparison ends there. BLF is its own series and it manages to establish its characters and be hilarious from the get-go (something Parks and Office struggled with for an entire season). Now I have a set routine for every Wednesday – Get up before noon, settle in and watch the latest episode of Better Life Foundation while trying to not choke on my chai.