Showtime Review: The Series Works If You Don't Expect Any Piercing Insights

Showtime Review: The principal quintet of actors is a diverse lot who bring different performative styles to bear upon the characters that they play.

Showtime Review: The Series Works If You Don't Expect Any Piercing Insights

A still from the series. (courtesy: YouTube)

Layers of darkness that lie behind and around the glitter and glamour of Mumbai showbiz pervades Showtime, a Disney+Hotstar series produced by Dharmatic Entertainment. Employing broad and familiar strokes, the show has no dearth of vim and vigour. Not much of it percolates beneath its shiny surface.

Be that as it may, the first four episodes of Showtime - the next bunch is scheduled to arrive in June - possess just about enough vitality to be able to sustain the interest of the audience, if only in a superficial sort of way.

Showtime, created by Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani co-writer Sumit Roy and headlined by Emraan Hashmi, is a somewhat watered-down present-day variant of last year's Amazon Prime period drama series Jubilee, set in the Hindi film industry of the studio era. Shorn of the history and politics of, and in, the world outside the pale of the film industry, Showtime probes a segment of moviedom and seeks to peel back the layers off the grime behind the glitz of a high-stakes business that peddles pulp and pretends to be proud of it because it brings in huge profits.

Showtime, written by the show creator with Lara Chandni and Mithun Gangopadhyay and directed by Mihir Desai and Archit Kumar, weaves a yarn that perpetuates notions about the Mumbai dream factory that enjoy currency among netizens who have a love-hate relationship with Bollywood.

Even when it goes emphatically meta, Showtime does not go beyond known facts about filmmaking and its human and material resources. But the series works if you do not expect any piercing insights. It is buoyed by a clutch of effective performances by the principal actors.  

Showtime is a vehicle that has a passably robust undercarriage that holds the structure together but it is an exercise that is hampered somewhat when it comes to filling the canvas with the sort of detailing that is not already in the public domain.

It talks about all the things that we talk about when we talk about contemporary Hindi cinema - crass commercialism, nepotism, the hubris of stardom, salacious scandals, the obsession with box office numbers, manipulation of reviews, acts of sabotage, the law of diminishing returns, the rising power of southern cinema and the eternal conflict between art and commerce.

The show seems at times to be chuckling at the very industry that has produced it. Or is the joke on the audience that is going to consume it? No matter what, Showtime is a well-packaged, consciously calibrated confessional. It puts Bollywood under the scanner but it is in the mood for transparency only as long as too many 'real' skeletons do not tumble out of the closet.  

A movie mogul's days are numbered. A younger player wants to play the game by his own rules. A couple of women grapple with the opportunities and challenges that come their way and compel them to leave their comfort zones. A full-of-himself male megastar is convinced he is God.

The entire jingbang, men and women caught in a vortex of rapid shifts - some of their own making - that they struggle to come to terms with, is fair game. In an unanticipated turn of events, Victor Kapoor (Naseeruddin Shah), the aged boss of Viktory Studios, a Mumbai film production company celebrating its 40th anniversary, springs an unpleasant surprise on his brash male heir, Raghu Kapoor (Emraan Hashmi).

The old man, with good reason, hands over the reins of the business to a wet-behind-the-ears girl, Mahika Nandy (Mahima Makwana), a rookie film critic whose brutally negative review of the banner's latest film, has gotten under the skin of the Viktory scion.

Victor Kapoor's dramatic move sparks a chain of events, counter-moves and ambitious new film projects, bruised egos and broken promises that pit Mahika against forces that she must understand in order to try and get on top of them. The power struggle between her and Raghu Khanna is at the heart of the plot.

Victor Kapoor has built the studio from scratch and developed a sense of infallibility unmindful that he has delivered a string of duds. He holds that cinema dhanda nahi dharm hai (filmmaking is not a business, it is a religion). Raghu Khanna believes in no such dictum.

The young woman who is catapulted to a role that she is hardly ready for finds help and support from her boyfriend Prithvi (Vishal Vashishtha), a former Viktory Studios factotum, and Victor Kapoor's most trusted aide Deven (Denzil Smith).

There is a woman in Raghu Khanna's life - item girl Yasmin Ali (Mouni Roy), who, encouraged by her lover, nurtures the dream of playing the lead in a female-centric spy thriller. But since she is at the mercy of a fickle man who can make or break her, life isn't a bed of roses for her. Her battles provide Showtime another significant melodramatic strand. Raghu's relationship with his principal star, Amaan Khanna (Rajeev Khandelwal) is unstable. They have frequent run-ins but the two men, bound together by their professional interests, cannot do without each other.

In one scene, Raghu says to Armaan: "Let's give the audience what they want." In another, Armaan fires a salvo at Raghu: "Who are you? You think you're God. Bollywood mein khuda sirf star hota hai." Don't we know that already?

The principal quintet of actors in Showtime is a diverse lot who bring different performative styles to bear upon the characters that they play. Naseeruddin Shah's Victor represents the old school, Emraan Hashmi's Raghu is the uncertain present and Mahima Makwana's Mahika denotes an even more blurry future.

Rajeev Khandelwal's superstar and Mouni Roy's saucy starlet are symbols of self-absorbed arrogance and dogged ambition respectively. Neither of these actors is fleshing out a never-before seen character but they plunge into their roles with gusto and do not let the energy levels subside.

Even though it is easy to anticipate what is coming next, and even when the rhythm of the show slackens a touch, the pace of the series ensures that it never goes off the boil. What eventually matters the most is: does Showtime draw us into what is going on and what lies ahead?

In other words, does Showtime have us asking for more? Well, for the most part, it has enough on offer to keep us invested. When the fourth episode winds down with the promise to return with an extension of the story, the show has sucked the audience in sufficiently for us to want to dig deeper, come June, into the lives and desires of Mahika, Raghu, Armaan and Yasmin.   


Emraan Hashmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Mouni Roy, Mahima Makwana, Shriya Saran, Rajeev Khandelwal


Sumit Roy