Director: Amrit Raj Gupta
Writers: Dr. Pravin Yadav, Puneet Batra, Ayesha Nair
Starring: Anshul Chauhan, Ayush Mehra, Sarah Hashmi, Pratiek Pachori, Gitanjali Kulkarni
What do we want from a “pandemic show”? Do we want to see the turmoil of the last year, recreated in an otherwise enjoyable web series? Do we want to take on the emotional impact of the coronavirus in real life and on the screen? These are just some of the things that watch season 2 of Dice Media Operation MBBS left me wondering.
The popular YouTube series follows three students, Sakshi (Anshul Chauhan), Nishant (Ayush Mehra) and Huma (Sarah Hashmi), who navigate the medical college and all the connections, competition and crippling pressure that comes with it. The first season was a well-played, comfortable watch filled with the distinct Dice DNA – a reliable combination of comedy, drama, warmth and life lessons. (As we saw in their other shows like What people and Little things).
While season one came out almost exactly a year ago, during the early days of the pandemic, season two was actually about the pandemic and the victims of the medical community. This is an ambitious endeavor, as a result of which the episodes are longer and the stakes are higher. But it also means that the show gets lost between focusing on Kovid and his characters.
The (far stronger) first three episodes cover the months leading up to the pandemic and focus on Nishant, Sakshi and Huma, who navigate in their second year and face new challenges. Sakshi deals with the medical negligence of a senior doctor and has to come to terms with the idea that doctors can actually make mistakes. Huma, the inhabitant of geeks and classics, has a crippling concern that he is no longer the best, and Nishant is struggling to get his identity.
For the most part, this first stage of the season gives us more than what made the first season so successful, taking us deeper into the journey of these characters. Writers Dr. Pravin Yadav, Puneet Batra, Ayesha Nair are also doing well to balance all three arcs and keep us equally invested in all of them. Season 2 also pays more attention to supporting characters, such as the kindly goofy KC Bhai (Pratiek Pachori), responsible for a number of scenes with big laughs and the stern but supportive dean of the college, played by Gitanjali Kulkarni.
Episodes 4 and 5 are when the focus shifts from people and the pandemic takes center stage. (It is also difficult not to see the irony in the fourth episode, revealed by the Prime Minister’s announcement of the (first) lock, just as we enter the second quasi-blockade). This last leg is also the place where things become inconsistent and uneven. The least you would expect from any coronavirus series would be the promise of a new perspective or angle. Something that goes beyond the facts. (Memorable examples from the last year include The game The Gonethriller approach, the migrant crisis studied in Vishaanu segment of Amazon Prime Video’s No pause or cute Delivering smiles Netflix segment Initial stories).
But Operation MBBS“The approach to the pandemic does not go beyond the well-known point that doctors have made it very difficult and have made great sacrifices to save lives. The show doesn’t do much with this statement, except that it emphasizes it and reminds us of it many times. So much so that the characters often break up into monologues about courage and difficulty, such as in a scene of a healing patient a lecture is given about their victims. (Which begs the question, since the heroic genre of the armed forces is superhero doctors, the next big trend for which we’ll see factory line projects?).
These sequences are sincere in their intentions and feel authentic in their presentation, as we see that doctors are struggling with patient overflow, lack of beds and PPE, and so on. But they rarely turn out to be more than visual images we’ve seen on the news over and over again. However, there are intermittent moments that sincerely affect, such as a sequence in which we see a young resident disintegrate under the weight of having to deliver news to family members that their loved ones have died.
But among all the pandemic productions, the series seems to lose sight of its main characters, who feel almost like a footnote to the last two episodes. I do not understand why manufacturers think they have to choose between the two and take them as one. I would like to look at what it is like to be a medical student in the last year and to study helplessness on intending to save people without yet having the means. Aspects that the series doesn’t seem to care about.
And then, there is the issue of unstable product positioning. This is something that most TV series on TVF and Dice Media are constantly struggling with. And I understand it. That’s where the money comes from, and staying through these forced sequences is the price of getting a well-produced show for free.
What I’m dealing with, however, is how painfully cumbersome the brand’s integrations are this season. The main sponsor is the educational platform Unacademy, so it is mentioned at least 2-3 times in each episode. Episode 2 even has a character that gives another a whole walk around the Unacademy app. This is a one-minute scene that drags on for a lifetime. But my personal favorites are the other products that are advertised randomly during the season. This includes a shaving kit and its benefits discussed in detail, as well as a character who gives another head massage as the camera approaches and stays fixed on the hair oil brand.
And yet, despite the pandemic bumps and branded bruises, the second season creates a mostly satisfactory clock and turns out to be what we expect from the second season – bigger, more ambitious and much more scattered. Although I take care of these characters and stay invested in their travels, I just hope that season 3 seeks more than just recreating the current lock 2.