Sock Puppet Economists? ‘Better Life Foundation’ Is a Must Watch
A sarcastic clap-off is a thing of beauty.
In the first few minutes of the third episode of Them Boxer Short’s Better Life Foundation, Neil Menon (played by Naveen Richard) and Sumukhi Chawla (played by Sumukhi Suresh) have a sarcastic clap-off over their disagreement to go to an NGO award show. It is sincere, simultaneously absurd and hilarious to watch.
But a sarcastic clap-off, accompanied by tight writing, sharp punches and subtle humour, is truly a joy forever. And with due apologies to Keats, The Better Life Foundation is the funniest show in India.
Sparkling Writing, With A Side Dish of Awkwardness
Better Life Foundation’s humour is like sushi.
It is an acquired taste. Not everyone can appreciate the rich texture of rice, raw fish and seaweed in a sushi, but once you do, there’s no going back. It’s an addiction.
Similarly, many brilliant moments in The Better Life Foundation are nuanced instances of subtle humour, with underlying incisive commentary about the state of things in the country. (A dictator who looks like Santa? Ahem.) It takes some time getting used to, but once you do, the show is addictive.
But, sushi would not find a mention in a normal Mughlai-food menu. And that’s what differentiates Better Life Foundation from other web series on YouTube is its confidence in its writing.
When every other show on YouTube is chasing the elusive ‘viral’ pot of gold at the end of the YouTube-themed rainbow, Better Life Foundation focuses solely on writing a genuinely funny, well-fleshed-out show. And we have the writer trio of Rahul Hota, Naveen Richard and Navaneeth Sriram to thank for that.
Watching Jerry Pinto (played to anarchic perfection by Utsav Chakraborty) go in for a Chak De! huddle in the middle of a tense meeting or Arman Garewal’s (played by Kanan Gill) exasperated side glances to the camera, I realised that combined with great writing, awkwardness can create brilliant comic moments.
‘The Office’ In the Room? Nah, Not Really
A mockumentary takes the form of a serious documentary, but actually satirises its subject. Set in an NGO in Mumbai, The Better Life Foundation too is peppered with well-timed eye rolls to the camera and one-on-one conversations with the camera. For those unfamiliar with mockumentaries, the initial episodes of the show might seem a little confusing.
On the other hand, if you are familiar with the genre, comparisons with The Office and Parks and Recreation are inevitable.
Do they hold true? Yes, for the first two episodes. But once you ease into the uniquely absurd lives of its characters and its no-holds-barred punches, the comparisons fade away.
So, you have sock puppets informing you that Ludhiana has the highest GDP in the country, an attempt to make a viral video on open urination in Mumbai and of course, a sari-clad NGO activist retelling what Shabana told her last night. (A reference anyone who is even remotely familiar with the social service industry in India would chuckle at.)
More of Sumukhi’s Sass, Please?
Sumukhi Chawla (played by the excellent Sumukhi Suresh) is the beleaguered program head at the ‘Better Life Foundation’ NGO.
Ambitious, dedicated, no-nonsense and with a delicious sense of sarcasm, she mostly emerges as the voice of sanity in an office filled with quirky, awkward characters. And I couldn’t have enough of her.
Sure, Anirban Sengupta (played by Kumar Varun) is delightful in his sly, shady behaviour. And everyone who has ever interned in their life can identify with Aditi (played by Sindhu Sreenivasan Murthy) and her insistence to be called an ‘unpaid volunteer.’
But Sumukhi’s showdowns with Neil Menon are the best thing about the show. She is always dangerously close to blowing her fuse, and he is perennially struggling with his awkward analogies; leading to brilliant comic moments.
Worthy of (non-sarcastic) applause.
Fallout of High Expectations?
Remember how when you have high expectations for anything, the result turns out to be a damp squib?
The first two episodes of Better Life Foundation are great. So great that they might have created unrealistic expectations. Which is why the last three episodes seem a little less tight and the punches come few and far in between.
With rumours of a second season in the pipeline, I hope that the initial freshness of Better Life Foundation remains and manages to retain its awkward humour, the absurd hilarity, and the brilliant characters.