Crime reporter Mohan Bhatnagar found himself consoling a crying girl in the lifts one day. Both this girl and Mohan being the thoda hatke types meant that deviating from the standard saccharine template of interactions usually reserved for scenes between adults and children was to be expected. His idea of consoling involved partaking of her tiffen lunch while she delivered an emotional speech about the joyless and difficult existence of widows in our society. Mohan helped Nanhi that day. Nanhi befriended Mohan. And life was no longer quite the same for either any more.
The most adorable pair on our small screens these days is not a romantic jodi. On Youtube, where normally fans of serials diligently upload every scene between the hero and heroine, you will find uploads of all Nanhi and Mohan interactions. In online forums fans don’t tire of squeeing about Chavanni and her Spiderman. If you aren’t familiar with serial Na Bole Tum… Na Maine Kuch Kaha (2012-) you’ve probably been saved from the daily suffering of dil ki cavities but, conversely, you are missing out on one of the most heart-warming serials to have come out of the Indian television industry to date.
Less carefree than your average 8-year old, bespectacled two-plaited Navika Vyas is an observant and serious-minded kid, a result, no doubt, of her father’s untimely demise a year ago. She is very aware of how hard her mother works to stay strong for her two children and look after her husband’s family and so is always trying to make life a bit easier for her. Ashnoor Kaur balances Nanhi’s young age and her responsible ways deftly. You never feel like you are watching an 8-year old playing at being an 80-year old. If Nanhi pays attention to the tensions in the family and her mother’s worries more than a child should have to at her age, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t still have her share of impetuous and stubborn moments. She plays happily with her younger brother Addu, gives back as good as she gets to girls that bully her at school, indulges in cute sharaaratein as often as she can, and has an infectious smile that could make even a chronic grump happy.
In contrast to the considerate and occasionally careworn Nanhi is carefree bachelor Mohan Bhatnagar. Kunal Karan Kapoor was extremely likeable as Yudi in Left Right Left (2006-2008) but with this serial he shows his mettle as an actor. Kunal brings Mohan’s character to life with startling vividity – from his speech pattern littered with “sun naa” and “haan nas“s to his expressions and actions when he isn’t even talking, everything screams ‘iconic’ and ‘memorable’. The scruffy star journalist of Indore’s Prabhat Lehar lives in sneakers with perpetually untied shoelaces, consumes an alarming amount of chewing gum and chai, can’t function without the domestic help his mom forced upon him (not that he’d ever admit it!), has little patience for etiquettes, does things without stopping to consider their consequences and lives life without paying the least bit of attention to anyone else’s comfort. But the often uncouth young man is neither callous nor unfeeling and his devotion to Nanhi is as much of a character certificate as any of those gold medals he’s won for his integrity as a journalist. Nanhi and Mohan’s relationship makes for an incredibly endearing watch because there is a refreshing sense of equality between them. Mohan never treats Nanhi as just a kid: he is unfailingly honest with her, even when it may hurt. Nanhi in turn may fight with him when she thinks he is wrong but accepts that he can be a good person and be mistaken at the same time.
It isn’t that Mohan purposefully goes out of his way to tick people off (at least, not always) but somehow he consistently manages to create trouble for Nanhi’s mother, Mrs. Megha Vyas. This is especially problematic when all he wants to do is be helpful for Nanhi’s sake. Mrs. Vyas’ impression of Mohan was never very favourable to begin with – she first saw him when he was chasing a girl for a story, and it worsens further when she discovers that Mohan helped Nanhi put a matrimonial ad about her in the local newspaper. In time she comes to realise that he isn’t the lafanga she thought he was. She even recognises that Mohan and Nanhi are good friends and doesn’t interfere in their relationship. However, if open communication, acceptance and understanding were so easy life wouldn’t be so complicated so naturally the relationship between Mohan and Megha fluctuates between strained and grudging cordiality depending on the circumstances. For Mohan, Mrs. Vyas is Mirchi Madam, a woman that is strong and brave but whose attitude stings, especially when it comes to him. She lives her life with self-assurance and pride but that same pride often gets in the way of her being able to say simple things like “sorry” or “thank you” to him. Megha acknowledges that Mohan has helped her and her family on many occasions but for her no matter what good he does, it pales in comparison to that one action of his that destroyed her late husband’s reputation, something for which she will never be able to forgive him.
The Vyas family’s struggles to prove the innocence of Amar Vyas is a story arc that lends the serial a sense of poignancy as well as intrigue. Amar Vyas, an ideal son, husband, and father, died during the collapse of the Mahananda Flyover in Bhopal, along with 24 other people. Amar was the engineer responsible for its construction and after his death his company claimed the bridge collapse was a result of his corrupt dealings with suppliers. Megha and Amar’s family deny the charges. Though public opinion is against Amar, the committee investigating the matter find no proof of Amar’s guilt and are set to declare him innocent. That is, until Mohan Bhatnagar uncovers damning evidence against Amar Vyas, and despite his reluctance to hurt the Vyas family, makes it public through his article in Prabhat Lehar. Amar is charged as guilty and with that the hope of clearing his name that the Vyas family had been living with for the past year is shattered. Much later Mohan begins to realise that he was perhaps too hasty in believing the results of his initial investigation and thus begins an interesting search for the truth behind the collapse of the Mahananda Flyover and the framing of Amar Vyas as the man responsible.
The character of Megha Vyas is one of the most commendable aspects of the serial. Theatre actress Aakanksha Singh performs her role with understated elegance and sincerity. As a mature young lady who is neither a bechari self-sacrificing doormat nor of the childish chulbuli variety, Megha belongs in the, sadly short, list of heroines that are “real women” rather than a character type in our tv serials. Though Megha gets the typical serial heroine introduction – where she is shown doing task after task for family members in quick succession, we see much more of her personality in subsequent episodes. She may tirelessly take care of everyone in the household without worrying about getting thanked, but her life doesn’t revolve around just being a bahu. As Amar’s wife she cares about fighting for justice and clearing his name, and though she tells her children not to care about what people say, she herself has moments were she loses her temper at others. As a mother she tries hard to give her children a good life and be there for them but sometimes she can’t help but feel low and disheartened. She may be a young widow with two children, living in her husband’s family home, but her freedom to come and go isn’t restricted in the kind of suffocating manner most serials portray for bahus. One of the most heartening scenes on the serial is when Megha calmly stands up for her decision to take up a job at Prabhat Lehar so she can be financially secure for her children’s sake. There are no histrionics, nor any bhaashanbaazi. She simply says she hopes the family will understand why she is doing what she is and leaves for work! The way Megha balances being respectful towards Amar’s family with her principles and values is wonderful to witness, and many a small-screen bahu could learn from her. The writers have taken care to depict an empowered character with female agency without being overly preachy and that is worth applauding.
Aside from Mohan, Megha and Nanhi, the serial is teeming full of other interesting supporting characters as well. There’s Mohan’s domestic help, Guru, who seems to take his name quite seriously and dispenses a constant stream of unsolicited advice to Mohan. His job description entails everything from being Mohan’s biwi to his conscience. Dushyant Wagh plays Guru with the perfect balance of nagging and understanding and his scenes with Mohan are a lot of fun to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard that Kunal and Dushyant indulge in ad-libbing and improvisations during their scenes. If Guru is a bright star that can’t help but catch your eye then Jijibua, played sweetly by Madhuri Sanjeev, is like the moon – a benign and soothing presence in the Vyas household. Actually on that topic, she really wouldn’t mind if Ranbir Kapoor sang “dekho chaand aaya, chaand nazar aaya” for her. I’m hoping the talented rockstar will turn up on the show for a movie’s promotion one day just so we can witness Jijibua‘s delight. Megha’s biggest support, Jijibua often helps field Renu’s taunts and her bhabhi‘s anger, and encourages Megha to stick to her principles. She feels a strong attachment for Megha because she knows what it is like to be a young widow. Even a character like Renu, Megha’s brother-in-law’s wife, is not some vicious vamp. Renu’s actions always stem from legitimate, if selfish, emotions such as worry for her son’s future or insecurity about her own status. The serial takes care to pare down the melodrama where possible and treat her in a comical manner, a much appreciated tactic for those of us who have gotten sick of witnessing endless devrani-jethaani-saas kitchen politicking on tv.
In fact, the serial’s slice-of-life approach, its balance of serious issues with light-hearted moments and its commitment to depicting emotions and situations in a realistic way are what set it apart from the rest of the serials. One hopes that the creatives will remain unhurried in their handling of the inevitable romance between the lead characters because the show has a lot more to offer than just another love story. Be it looking at how relationships evolve or highlighting social issues like bullying, eve-teasing, widow re-marriage and corruption, the serial thrives on subtlety and this “less is more” philosophy is its USP. The cinematography and the background score are not loud or garish either, and complement the serial’s tone agreeably. In keeping with the realism the show strives for the clothes of the characters don’t look like costumes and the houses they live in don’t look like sets. The continuity in the serial is also worth acknowledging – if Mohan gets injured in one episode, for example, then keen observers have the pleasure of noticing that his bandaged hand has a band-aid after a couple of episodes, and then visible remnants of scratches in the next few until the hurt is completely healed. So the next time someone exclaims that Indian serials are only about eyelocks and saazishein direct them to Na Bole Tum… Na Main Kuch Kaha and let the show work its magic.
Show: Na Bole Tum… Na Maine Kuch Kaha
Premiere Date: 9 January 2012
Production House: Sunshine Productions
Producer(s): Seema and Sudhir
Concept & Broad Story: Vineeta Coelo
Story & Screenplay: Sonal Ganatra
Cast: Aakanksha Singh, Ashnoor Kaur, Vishesh Bansal, Rohit Bharadwaj, Kunal Karan Kapoor, Dushyant Wagh, Anjan Srivastav, Madhuri Bhandiwdekar, Madhuri Sanjeev, Neelu Koli, Sachin Parikh, Rinku Karmarkar, Nirav Soni, Navin Bole
Dialogue: Subrat Sinha
Director(s): Amit Malik, Maan Singh, Shashank Bharadwaj
Creative Head: Ankur Bhatia
Art Director: Raju Yaadav
Director of Photography: Ehaan Ghanim
Costume Stylist: Vinni Malhotra
Set Design: Aparna Raina
Title and themes: Shaleen Sharma
Background Score: Ashish Rego
Lyrics: Subrat Sinha