‘Decoupled’ on Netflix is Less About a Failed Marriage Than Failed Satire

If you can’t do humour, at least don’t make it horror. That was my reaction after just the opening episode of Netflix’s eight-episode series Decoupled starring R. Madhavan as Arya Iyer, the second most successful novelist of India and Suvreen Chawla as Shruti, his venture capitalist wife. The show uses decoupling as a term to glamorise divorce and show that divorces can be happy. The decoupling ceremoniously involves flinging wedding rings, throwing a party to announce it, checking out male escorts and new partners for suddenly heightened sex drive, and celebrating the delusion of newfound freedom in co-living.

All for what? Only to see the whole liberating idea of divorcing boiling down to living together for the future of the kid. Isn’t this something most Indian parents are already doing without glamorising it? Mine say deliriously, “Who will marry our kids if the parents get divorced,” underscoring the stigma attached with divorcees. If kids are only meant to mechanically conjoin two passionless souls, is this newly glamorised co-living set up healthy for seperated parents given they have to share the same four walls and same people in the house? How can two departed souls enter a new life when they technically haven’t bid adieu to the old family set-up? Had Decoupled dived deep into what happens after decoupling, that’d have been more groundbreaking for the Indian marriage system to introspect. The series alienated the troublesome realities post decoupling using slapstick humour that detached us from the inner turmoil of the characters and glorified the most condemnable traits in humans, that were intended to be satirised.

The show aims to ridicule the misogynistic, sexist, casteist, obnoxious man Arya but does exactly the opposite by trumpeting his demeanour. His character is made to sound quirky and witty in his most demeaning jokes, half of which are on women, a reason fathomable enough why his marriage is ending.

Arya’s erudite brain comprehends that “vaginas are like flowers”, that females fake orgasm all the time and that women ruin marriages believing it’s “hard work.” The messiah of male ego inflates with pride as he comprehends “if domestic workers are hot, memsahibs don’t hire them”. I wonder if he has ever stepped out of his posh Gurgaon home to see the standards of domestic workers working in South and West Delhi houses. My masi, living in West Delhi is so enticed by her domestic worker’s fashion sense that she has to dress up especially for an hour when the latter comes for cleaning, to hide herself from the embarrassment of looking dull. “I can never even think of giving her old H&M or Mango clothes, she’d feel very demeaned,” masi once said to me on why she won’t give old clothes to maid. Now that’s good humour that the duo of creator-director Manu Joseph and Hardik Mehta failed to understand while depicting satire comedy.

Coming back to Arya who can get on the nerves of most women watchers of the series, he suits himself in every situation. Such is his self-aggrandisement that even his OCD favours him. Check Arya’s OCD meter:

Stage 1: OCD is high when he has to shake hands with teenage boys whom he believes they don’t wash hands after masturbation.
Stage 2: It’s even higher when he sees his likely to be girlfriend’s hairy armpits in mid of makeout.
Stage 3: It reaches zenith when he sees an aviation officer who has just touched his own groin to ward off itchiness.
Stage 4: OCD vanishes suddenly when he himself puts his hand in his pants, in revenge, to feel less loathsome while shaking hands with an aviation guy.

Arya’s chauvinism is concretised even more in the company of his two male friends, a shallow director and a lusty Guruji. Together, they seek pulp by fictionalising women in their fantasies. For the director friend, something that’s women-oriented sells the most on Netflix, an abject commodification of female-centric content for profiteering motive. For the Guriji, who runs an ashram with only female yoginis, women panting after yoga is equal to women moaning and craving for sex.

The show is replete with “turn-on” jokes like “all women are very horny when they are ovulating”. For the men, the ovulation app is like a sex toy to determine a women’s level of sex drive but uncles didn’t know ovulation apps can’t tell how much or if at all a woman is horny. This is Manu Joseph for you mansplaining female orgasm where either a woman wildly wants sex or is faking orgasm. However, the show never dives deep into, if at all, why women fake or are they really horny on ovulation? I wanted to share my two cents with Joseph in case he’s preparing for season 2: “Dear Manu, most women are boring. They open ovulation tracker mainly to check their periods’ date, what’s their fertility window, or maybe some tips during periods but never to see how much horny they are as the tracker can’t tell us that!!”

As the series goes on, we see men fearing being “MeTooed” but the same men do not leave a chance to flirt with women despite knowing their discomfort. Did the writer forget to read his own script while giving oxymoronic lines to the same character?

We see men saying, “it’s easy for men to be happy”. Is that a declaration or mockery because if the viewers cannot figure out the difference, the satire has completely fallen from grace. Sadly, this is our confusion throughout the eight-part series. Viewers were expecting Shruti to maybe shun the celebration of misogyny. She’d have done so had the makers planned to make her less sketchy. She was carved part classy or classist, I still can’t figure out why she existed? Most viewers would have wanted to go through the relationship trajectory of Arya and Shruti to understand the frailties of their marriage. Sadly, the show only added a five-line monologue in the climax, to sum up more than ten years of married life.

Altogether, it was not just the marriage that was a disaster, whatever topics the show touched on turned to an apocalyptic ending – nationalism, climate change, sex education, therapy, gender identity and many more with its failed satire.

I wonder, what if people actually find the series funny? My horrors would just soar!

Priyamvada Rana is an IIMC alumni who is currently working as a journalist.