‘One often assumes that after being in a marriage for a while, one knows their partner really well.’
‘But do we really know what they want? What they need? What they seek.’

In an ongoing series, Bollywood talents pick their favourite show of 2021, and tell us just why they loved it.

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari describes herself as a ‘storyteller, a traveller, a knowledge seeker, a nature lover and a life learner’.

After a 15-year career in advertising, she successfully made the transition to cinema with films like Nil Battey Sannata, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Panga.

She turned author with her novel, Mapping Love about a disfunctional family.

She also co-produced and co-directed with husband Nitesh Tiwari the docu-series, Break Point, on tennis legends Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati.

Ashwiny picks Golden Globe-nominated series Maid and Scenes from A Marriage as her favourite shows of 2021, and tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, “In the 12 years since my twins, Amaarisa and Aaradhya, were born, I’ve been yearning to go out for lunch or dinner with close friends. But because of the guilt trip that comes from the thought of leaving my kids alone during our ‘we’ time, I have been constantly denying myself the pleasure.”

Maid, inspired by Stephanie Land’s best-selling memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, had me enthralled.

It’s a story of a young woman, Alex (played brilliantly by Margaret Qualley), who is struggling to get out of an abusive relationship with an alcoholic boyfriend, Sean (Nick Robinson). She wants full custody of their two-year-old daughter, but every time she tries to break free, Sean drags her back.

In her desperation, Alex reconnects with her estranged father Hank, whose physically abusive behaviour had caused her mother Paula to flee their home.

Meanwhile, Paula (Andie MacDowell), an artist, impulsively marries her boyfriend Basil, who turns out to be a gambler and loses all her mortgage money at the casino, leaving her homeless.

Working as a maid, Alex, while cleaning a wealthy client’s house, learns that all’s not well with Regina either. The other woman, unable to conceive, has had a child via surrogacy only for her husband to ask for a divorce.

Alex helps her with parenting tips and Regina, played by Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose, first offers her weekly shifts and a ferry pass, then, impressed with her writing talent, sets her up with her family lawyer Tara, so she can get custody of her child and accepting a college scholarship, can move out to Missouri in her quest for a brighter tomorrow.

Equality in unequality

What impressed me about Maid was that its creator, Molly Smith Metzler, while underlining the class divide between the haves and the have-nots, also emphasises that there is a lot Regina and Alex have in common in their search for love, stable relationships and family.

Interestingly, despite the odds tacked against her, Alex is the go-getter who rises after every fall.

Regina, despite all the privileges, is left alone in a big house with no idea on how to bring up a child she has only had to ‘fix’ her failing marriage.

Regina eventually finds love with her child and is happy for her career to take a backseat.

The series is a study in complex, interpersonal, relationships.

Alex finally understands why her mother chooses to live her life her way, free of all attachments.

In her desperate need to give her daughter all that she never got as a child, Alex realises that she has only ended up creating a circle of confusion and guilt, suppressing her own needs.

That’s something we, as mothers, can empathise with.

In the 12 years since my twins, Amaarisa and Aaradhya, were born, I’ve been yearning to go out for lunch or dinner with close friends. But because of the guilt trip that comes from the thought of leaving my kids alone during our ‘we’ time, I have been constantly denying myself the pleasure.

Maid and I

I could flashes of Nil Battey Sannata in the series. My 2016 film also revolved around a maid, who is a single mother and a high school dropout.

To get her daughter Appu interested in studies, in particular Maths, Chanda enrolls in the same school and the same class, and through sheer grit and hard work, manages to get better grades than Appu.

There are misunderstandings and struggles galore, but eventually, both of them clear their exams together.

Alex’s dream of becoming a writer parallels former kabaddi champ Jaya Nigam’s determination to not just return to the sport but find a place in the national team after a seven-year break in Panga.

Its parent-child bonding reminded me of the special relationship between Kriti Sanon and her father, played by Pankaj Tripathi, in Bareilly Ki Barfi.

Scenes from a Marriage

I was equally impressed with Scenes from a Marriage, a five-episode miniseries, written and directed by Hagai Levi. An English remake of Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 Swedish miniseries by the same name, it premiered on HBO last September.

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain play an American couple, Jonathan Levy and Mira Philips, who — while exploring the disintegration of their marriage and remarriage to other people — arrive at the realisation that they share an ‘imperfect love’.

What I loved about the show was the simplicity in the storytelling, the the ability to not over-state but rely on delicate nuances and let the audience ‘see’ things for themselves.

One often assumes that after being in a marriage for a while, one knows their partner really well.

But do we really know what they want?

What they need?

What they seek?

Character-driven, not plot driven

Given the surfeit of plot-driven thrillers and chillers we have got used to watching lately, this is a character-driven story where the couple takes you into their day-to-day lives, showing you what they eat, how they live, what they think and crave. You get pulled into their homes and their hearts. Yet, it doesn’t push you to take sides.

The storyline does not trigger an adrenalin rush but offers scope for introspection. You will need time to think, ponder and digest.

You may need to go back and watch an episode again or rewind to a particular dialogue to understand better what Jonathan and Mira are getting at.

This is one show which when you review, you don’t talk about specifics, like performances or direction, but rave about it in totality. And that appeals to the writer and director in me as it underlines the success of good, seamless storytelling.

It takes guts to make a something like this.

Full marks to the excellent writing and the terrific performances.

A hat-tip to the streaming platform for trying to think out-of-the-box with its shows, from Sex and the City to Game of Thrones, from Succession to Scenes from a Marriage.

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