Between the two, these actors have a collective marriage experience of 28 years.
Indian actor R Madhavan has been married for the last 22 years to Sarita Birje, while his co-star from ‘Decoupled’ Surveen Chawla has found her sweet spot with Akshay Thakker for six years now.
But this unlikely pair — who play the snarky and estranged married couple in the eight-episode Netflix series ‘Decoupled’ — have no concrete answers on what constitutes a happily-ever-after union, despite their wealth of marital experience.
“What is the concept behind that fairy tale happily-ever-after ending?,” asked Chawla over a Zoom call with Gulf News, before answering her own question.
“Let’s get real, there’s no such thing. But there’s joy and happiness to be found in a marriage, but it is not always so perfect.”
Chawla, who found fame with her 2015 film ‘Parched’, married her doting husband willingly because he felt right and “jumped into it” joyously. No regrets, back then and now, she said.
“It’s only been six years of marriage, but I have realised there’s constant change because we are evolving as people. A marriage is about acceptance of each other and the changes in our partner over time. Change is inevitable and constant,” she pointed out.
In the latest glossy Netflix series directed by Hardik Mehta and written by Manu Joseph, which coughed up polarising reviews, Chawla plays the sophisticated and emotionally unavailable Shruti Sharma entangled in complicated separation proceedings with her obnoxious husband Arya Iyer (Madhavan).
This upwardly mobile couple have clearly fallen out of love, but their affection for their young daughter binds them together and prompts them to take some unconventional decisions like staying together after their impending divorce for the sake of their child.
It’s one of those rare English-language Indian web shows with homegrown talents that tackle the tricky dynamics of a married couple and explore the concept of open marriages and polygamy, without judgement.
“The series may even be a portrayal of marriages around the world. Sometimes, a couple grow into each other’s fondness and create memories, but sometimes a couple grows apart and become people that they don’t recognise,” explained Madhavan. “In this case, they both love their child and their paternal instincts kick in even though they want different partners. This series looks like an ultra-modern exploration of a relationship, while coming back to what is the basic definition of marriage towards the end.”
In one of the scenes, these two characters are shown discussing the idea of dating other partners, almost seeking each other’s approval and hinting that the two have some remnants of respect and affection towards each other.
And such plot twists are what attracted these two actors to this project in the first place.
Interestingly, Madhavan — who earned his stripes as an actor playing a multitude of perfect boyfriend/husband roles in his career with hits such as Mani Ratnam’s seminal romance ‘Alaipayuthey’ — has a sobering perspective on marriages of today’s times.
“In India, you may be living in the same house, but you don’t have much love and affection for each other. Yet, you stay together. But at the same time there also a billion rupees wedding industry that’s thriving off these couples who dream of happily-ever-after endings,” explained Madhavan, while comparing two polar extremes.
Yet, it isn’t just the social commentary of the series that interested him.
Madhavan had a more selfish reason for taking up ‘Decoupled’, a series dubbed as a satirical-yet-searing portrait of a fractured married couple in the throes of a divorce.
“I have never done something like this before. I am pretty obnoxious in this series, but the question is how do you keep him endearing still? And honestly, I am bored by playing those perfect boyfriend/husband roles. My wife and I have our own eccentricities,” said Madhavan.
In the early reviews of this show, Madhavan’s character Arya hasn’t curried much favour since his character reeks of entitlement and male privilege.
His attempt at being an ‘obnoxious-but-lovable jerk’, who utters jokes that are sexist and openly body shame, haven’t gone down too well with several viewers. But in this interview, conducted before the series aired, Madhavan seemed pretty kicked about playing a role that goes against the grain.
“I am quite a jerk when it comes to approving a project. I make people run through hoops and they will all tell you all that I am a jerk when it comes to approving something ... But I was instantly sold when it came to this series” said Madhavan.
His co-star Chawla also loved the brazen concept of the show and appreciated its non-didiactic tone.
“Both these people Arya and Shruti are very endearing in their own ways. The idea was not to show them hating each other bitterly … The show is bitter-sweet because the two have made peace with the fact that their marriage is not workingm… They have called it quits but do not hate each other, and they are both still a work in progress as individuals,” explained Chawla.
The series, created and written by Manu Joseph, also explores the murky landscape of monogamy in modern-day marriages.
“What’s happily-ever-after anyway? … Sometimes it’s perfectly imperfect,” said Chawla.
So is the key to enjoying the series about being morally ambivalent? Madhavan had an interesting theory around it. He claimed he could never imagine his parents ever divorcing because they never over-analysed their relationship or their bond. They just took it easy.
“They didn’t over-think anything nor did they dive into depths of what everything means ... It wasn’t always a bed of roses for them, but they still walked the road filled with thorns. They moved on and that was the success of their marriage … But it’s not like that anymore. The definition of love and the definition of a happily-ever-after has changed,” explained Madhavan.
For his parents, the idea of divorcing each other was a sacrilege. But that isn’t the same for the young couples who get married today. The advancing age at which people marry today have altered the success-failure ratio, Madhavan stated.
“When people got married at a younger age, you probably grow into those changes together and it becomes easy to save your marriage. Nowadays, most people get married at the age of 30 and want to have a baby by 35 or 40 years … But the problem is that you have grown into their own eccentricities. You become a person who has difficulty adapting to change!,” Madhavan pointed out.
And while they don’t have all the answers, he reminded us, their series might.
“Let’s not try to define everyone and everything or put them in a box … Our series has such a broad canvas and has such refreshing content,” he said.
And personally, Chawla is done watching and consuming grim and dark thrillers with gory twists. She wants a break from them.
“‘Decoupled’ will be like a perfect anti-depressant … So just enjoy the show and try to laugh, relate and connect to it. We want people to get a break from what they have been seeing so far. This is not some dark, domestic family drama,” said Chawla.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Decoupled’ is streaming on Netflix now.