In a rather busy week for the Indian entertainment industry (there were two major film releases, one returning web series, and one new one), Escaype Live promised more novelty than all its ‘competitors’. The star-studded web series focuses on the perils of social media and what happens when content creators cross all boundaries to ‘win’. But alas, the show is unable to deal with such relatable and poignant concept smartly. In the end, despite some good performances and a promising storyline, the show ends up being guilty of trying too hard and achieving too little. Also read: Escaype Live trailer: Siddharth, Jaaved Jaaferi-starrer web series brings forth the dark side of social media. Watch
The premise of Escaype Live is quite simple. A Chinese video-sharing app has come to India (remember TikTok?) and has started a competition for all its users. Whoever gets the most ‘diamonds’ (a kind of super like) on their videos in a month wins ₹3 crore. The story features a bunch of content creators, with different paths but one goal – to produce viral content to emerge victorious in the life-changing competition. Then the story follows how these diverse creators–ranging from an 11-year-old in Rajasthan to a prankster in Delhi, and a parkour artiste in Mumbai–risk their lives, health, and sanity just to win.
Seven of the show’s nine episodes began streaming on May 20 on Disney+ Hotstar and this review is based on those. There is hope that a good finale salvages the show, which had begun to lag severely by the seventh episode. But based on how the show has progressed so far, it looks unlikely. The two remaining episodes are supposed to release ‘soon’ and we will only see how the entirety of the show (or season) turns out once they release.
On paper, the concept is relatable, and probably needed too. Over the last few years, we have seen how social media can lead to toxicity. From various challenges to toxic diss videos, social media has seen its fair share of controversies in India. Escaype Live had the opportunity to touch upon all that. And it did, briefly. The show introduced us to different creators–five chiefly–and also the people from the app itself. Siddharth stars as a content moderator in the organization, who won’t stand for anything unethical. As he realizes that Escaype Live may be manipulating the contest, he sets out to expose them from the inside. A parallel track sees how the lives of the creators turns upside down in their quest to win.
The show has its heart in the right place. The problem is that it tries too much, and focuses on too many things. There is a pre-teen dancer who is being given growth hormone injections, a transgender singer who can’t come out to her family, a girl from North East being sexually exploited by her boss, and a parkour artiste from Mumbai chawls battling an inferiority complex. In addition, there are debates on class divide and the North-South tussle is thrown in there too. It seems that in trying to create a microcosm of India through the app, the show went overboard. The end result is that there are too many tracks, too many issues, and too much drama to address. Ensemble shows have existed before Escaype Live. But the good ones have always managed to combine the diverse track seamlessly. This one doesn’t.
The cast contains a number of familiar faces, many of whom excel here. Jaaved Jaaferi shines as the evil and scary CEO of Escaype Live. It’s heartening to see him excel in a negative role. Siddharth is effortless as the show’s moral compass but seems restricted somehow, maybe because of the role or the writing. We have seen much better work from him in the past. Shweta Tripathi Sharma is yet again playing a small town girl from UP. How she manages to bring variety to what is essentially the same role is amazing indeed. Plabita Borthakur as a waitress who moonlights as a boudoir cam girl does her part well.
For me, the stars of the show are two of the most unheralded actors. Young Aadyaa Sharma is delightful as the 11-year-old Dance Rani. She brings to life the ambition, confusion, and angst of the pre-teen content creator. And then there is Sumedh Mudgalkar, playing the mercurial social media star Darkie. He is unpredictable, crazy, and popular. It was a tough role and could have become a caricature very easily. Sumedh just about manages to avoid that, despite some lazy writing.
Written by Jaya Mishra and Siddharth Kumar Tewary, Escaype Live had promised a story that “is likely to seem very true and real”. But the disbelief is a bit hard to suspend. Despite the fact that much of the show is borrowed from real incidents that we have seen all around us, it never seems believable. And that can be blamed on the tone of the show, which gets too loud and too dramatic too quickly. The show lacks subtlety, which was much needed in handling this subject.
Writer-director Siddharth Kumar Tewary has tried to create a realistic show, grounded in current events. He was aided by his actors, most of whom have brought their A-game. However, the show needed some more finesse in its handling, which would have turned it into a memorable watch. Escaype Live isn’t a bad show, but it is an unfulfilled promise. It manages to do grave injustice to a great concept and good performances and for that, it must be called out.
Series: Escaype Live
Director: Siddharth Kumar Tewary
Cast: Siddharth, Jaaved Jaaferi, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Sumedh Mudgalkar, Swastika Mukherjee, Plabita Borthakur, Waluscha D’Souza, Ritvik Sahore, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Jagjeet Sandhu, Rohit Chandel, and Aadyaa Sharma