How Manu Joseph and I Have “Decoupled”

I discovered Manu Joseph – a journalist, an author, columnist, and now a creator of a Netflix series – barely 2 years back. I had known him before that but never followed him much. I knew he was the one who exposed Barkha Dutt in Niira Radia tapes scandal in 2009. I had also read him in Open magazine. Later I re-discovered him in Algebra talks and few others and started following him on Twitter as well.

I found him very intelligent, smart, weirdly funny/sarcastic and thought-provoking. I even wrote this in my blog about Manu Joseph.

Since then my view has steadily changed for the worse. Don’t get me wrong. I still consider him as very sharp and interesting writer with a lot of original ideas/thoughts. However, the more I started following him through his columns/interviews and mainly Twitter, I started seeing his biases more clearly. That’s also OK. I don’t mind a bias of a strong Point of View (for example, he routinely makes fun of Rahul Gandhi and others in Gandhi family and meekly supports RSS). The problem his intolerance and super-sized ego. While he makes a lot of sarcastic jokes and wisecracks about everybody he wants to ridicule, he is totally intolerant towards any such jokes on him. I can vouch for that because when I criticised him he blocked me on Twitter.

He is also a hypocrite who would write few things to sound interesting and do exactly opposite.

The case in point is his latest article in the Mint daily titled “The tyranny of background music in our public spaces“. It’s an excellent thought and really well written article. Since it is behind paywall I am posting the screenshot from the Mint daily.

I often wondered the exaggeration of background music in our movies, TV shows, and even News Channels. Everything is dramatic and hammered with loud music. Even when the music is not loud, it’s actually not required, and hence comes across as a nuisance. This thought is well elaborated and articulated by Manu Joseph.

Interestingly, this article was published just 2 days back (on 21st December 2021) when I was watching a new Netflix series called “Decoupled”, coincidentally written and created by Manu Joseph! Watch the trailed of Decoupled here.

The show is based on interesting premise, just like most of the content of Manu Joseph. However, in the end, the show ends as a trauma, a punishment! One of the reasons is the heavy background music which turns into cacophony and an annoying experience – exactly what Manu Joseph argued in his Mint column.

That’s the obvious hypocrisy which you immediately notice. But as you endure through this painful series, you get more angry to see how Manu wasted what could have been a really enjoyable and path-breaking series, mainly because he is too egoistic and tries very hard to please us.

In terms of acting, Surveen Chawla is great! I didn’t know her before and now want to see her other work. Madhavan is OK…nothing much to praise, nor much to criticise. I loved Sonia Rathee as Masha (the air hostess). She was very charming and acted well. The other actors were also decent. And yet the series was a colossal disappointment. It would appeal to those affluent/career-minded couples who live in India and aspire to be in the US (or wish if they had lived there), or those who like escapist and shallow, glossy drama series…the type who love The Bold Type or Four More Shots Please.

Manu Joseph has used his own one-liners and ideas from various columns and has woven them into a story. It seems as if he collected few quotable quotes or thoughtlets from many of his columns, books, speeches…and then thought of weaving them into some story. Some of the joes are so pedantic that he assumes the audience to be dumb and that they would need constant repetition to get a joke. For example, the whole nonsense of a waiter interrupting the customers in middle of conversation. The clever use of Chetan Bhagat as himself is interesting the first time; but it has been so overdone subsequently that the sheen is lost. In most cases Manu tries very hard to be funny and innovative and the effort shows. Unfortunately he fails at it more often than he succeeds.

I liked this review of Decoupled which resonated my feelings. There are other negative reviews of Decoupled, but I don’t relate with them because they are negative for wrong reasons (such as jokes on gender/sexuality/class/caste which cross the limit). This particular review by Suchin Mehrotra, though negative, is good because it talks about the real flaws.

When I thought about it after the series was over, I thought it explained well why I initially liked Manu Joseph and later started getting put-off by him (even while liking parts of his articles in Mint).

And the title of the show summarises well my relationship status as a reader with this egoist, centred, intolerant but equally clever and capable writer Manu Joseph. We are not “divorced” (as in I have not stopped following him), we are “decoupled”.

I had bought one of the books of Manu Joseph on Kindle, maybe in 2019, when I had just discovered him and was liking the early exposure to his writing. I didn’t read beyond first 5-10 pages back then, for various reasons. I think I should revisit that book, just to see if I can continue with it and actually finish it.


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