Bestselling Review: The amazingly inept Amazon show is one of the worst originals Indian streaming has ever produced

A wise man once said that the surest sign of good direction is that every performance in a film or show – from the award-winning lead to the character actor with a two-liner role – is excellent. People always associate good directing with visual style or other forms of extravagance, but rarely with acting. It’s possible for a skilled actor to do a good job despite a bad script. But if the entire cast is in sync – think of the youngest The power of the dog, or Inglorious Basterds – it’s probably always good filmmaking; a sign that the actors were being treated by someone who knew what they were doing.

But what about the opposite of this theory? Who’s to blame when every accomplishment on a project is uniformly terrible? Is that the director’s fault? Or do the problems in an author medium like television start with the script?

There are no straight answers, but if you watch a show like Prime Video’s Best Sellers – sort of a tribute to Hindi pulp fiction, just like Haseen Dillruba and Yeh Kohl Kohl Aankhei— You don’t blame the sea mortals. You turn your anger on the gods.

Forget pointing fingers at the director (Mukul Abhyankar), but even Meryl Streep couldn’t polish this screenplay, written by Anvita Dutt (Bulbbul, uh oh) and Althea Kaushal, who credited films like Happy New Year Abhishek Bachchan-Starrer Game and Sonakshi Sinhas Noor. An impressive record.

I never thought Prime Video would ever release something as pathetic as Breathe: Into the Shadows again. Tandav and The Forgotten Army came close, but Bestseller’s all-consuming ineptness transcends Amazon. It really could be one of the worst originals ever produced any Indian mainstream streamer. And I sampled Ullu and Hoichoi tracks.

Only Gauahar Khan somehow manages to escape this mess relatively unscathed, which also stars Shruti Haasan, Arjan Bajwa, Satyajeet Dubey and Mithun Chakraborty, who has top bills but doesn’t make his debut until episode three.

Four episodes (out of eight total) have been made available for preview. And it feels like they were written in less time than it would take to watch them. Shrillly presented, amazingly structured and aggressively poor in every respect, the bestseller has the nerve to describe itself as a “fast, dark and intense psychological thriller”. But every minute feels like five, and every line of dialogue feels like a personal stroke.

And it’s not like the show is getting worse over time. It tells you exactly how bad it is in the first five minutes, which are so crammed with exposure that it makes them gold seem like holy games in comparison. It’s almost as if the bestseller wasn’t written by humans, but by a bot that was fed a script “Kunji”.

Each character announces what they do for a living when we first meet them, for people who ideally should already know. It’s so unnatural for writers to deliver exhibitions in this continent and it’s beyond me why so many of these desi streaming shows still do. For example, pulp novelist Tahir (Bajwa) tells his wife Mayanka (Khan) in their first scene together: “Tum 30 seconds ki ad banati ho, usme 2 seconds ka Dimaag lagta hai fledged book? “ Thank you for telling us what your wife does, Tahir. But maybe we could have seen them in action instead? That would have conveyed that information as well, maybe a little more gracefully.

The premise I’ve clearly avoided talking about involves Tahir – a horrible, horrible writer who happens to be a much worse human being – and the mess he finds himself in after stealing a fan’s manuscript and trying it has to pass it off as his own. Haasan plays the fan, Mithunda plays an “eccentric” cop, and Dubey plays a guy whose main job seems to be looking at the camera at the end of each episode and deadpan “chapter one” and “chapter two” later, you got it guess “chapter three”.

I understand that “Mumbai Noir” is a sensitive term in a postGehraiyaan world, but never has the genre been so tastelessly disregarded.

best seller
director – Mukul Abhyankar
to water – Shruti Haasan, Arjan Bajwa, Mithun Chakraborty, Gauahar Khan, Satyajeet Dubey
rating – 0.5 / 5


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