Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi
Directors – Rahul Pandey, Satish Nair
Cast – Vaibhav Tatwawadi, Alka Amin, Vineet Kumar, Pankaj Jha, Akash Makhija, Kumar Saurabh, Garima Singh, Ishita Ganguly
Rating – 2/5
There’s a difference between being old-fashioned and outdated, and Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi often finds itself on the wrong side of this thin line. Ironically for a show that arrives at the peak of the streaming era, the five-episode SonyLiv drama has the dubious power to transport you back to the days of Doordarshan.
To someone who has grown up on a steady diet of global storytelling, this might not sound like a compliment, but I can imagine for older audiences, for whom an evening’s entertainment meant choosing between three scripted shows and the news, Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi could be moderately enjoyable.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, what Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi has to offer isn’t enough. A sappy melodrama that occasionally switches to broad comedy, the show tells the story of the titular Nirmal Pathak, a city-bred man in his 30s who travels back to his ancestral village in Bihar to attend a family wedding. Immediately, things are unclear. Why, for instance, does Nirmal have two mothers—one an English-speaking ‘mom’ and the other a ghunghat-wearing ‘maa’?
Best of Express Premium
We are drip-fed information about Nirmal’s father, a well-respected man who was outcast from the village many years ago, after having some kind of mysterious altercation with his brother, Nirmal’s ‘chacha’. This man, who is perpetually yelling at the top of his lungs every time he appears on screen, also seems to have it in for Nirmal, whom he sees as some kind of external threat more than a reminder of his far more accomplished brother.
But domestic disputes take a backseat when, inevitably, the show turns into some kind of discount Swades and attempts to solve every social ill within sight. “Yeh ladai aap logon ki hai, meri nahi hai,” a weepy Nirmal tells an elderly lower-caste man in the village, reminding him that he will be around only for four days.
In those four days, however, Nirmal tackles issues as complex as patriarchy, municipal corruption, the education system, and the idea of consent. But later, when his ‘maa’ falls gravely ill, he lashes out at his family for downplaying her health concerns, yelling, “Pura din naukrani jaise kaam karti hain,” without realising the built-in discriminatory subtext of his callous statement. Working like a ‘naukrani’, a person who probably belongs to the most subjugated category of society, is beneath Nirmal’s ‘maa’, it is implied. What makes this scene problematic is that this appears to be a sentiment that Nirmal Pathak, the show, believes in; Nirmal, the character, is merely a mouthpiece. It’s so obvious that nobody involved in the show has even realised the deeper meaning behind what is, admittedly, a stray remark.
But what this brief example of ingrained classism suggests is that the show’s woke-mindedness is not only inorganically infused in the storytelling, but worse, it’s performative. A better series, for instance, would’ve avoided the saviour trope altogether. Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi, however, parades its protagonist around town, like some sort of messiah.
There’s a laid-back pace to the storytelling, which I suppose is designed to mimic the rustic Hindi novels that it is trying to pay homage to—Nirmal himself is a writer. But the show sort of shoots itself in the foot by not remaining tonally consistent. And the extremes are just too drastic to digest, especially when saccharine melodrama scored to sad flute music suddenly switches to simplistic comedy where strings go ‘bing-boing’ in the background.
Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi is a modest show, but while stylistic simplicity can be forgiven, the ideas that it attempts to unpack deserved a defter hand.