Swara Bhaskar’s entry into a small-town leads to quite an upheaval. Young men of the town, lead by teenaged Nand Kishore (Ayushmaan Saxena), cannot stop dreaming about her, and neither can their fathers. Through the trope of hot teacher, this Amazon Prime web series Rasbhari directed by Nikhil Bhat explores our prurient society and its need to suppress the sexuality of women.
Rasbhari captures the small-town milieu of Meerut perfectly. English teacher Shanu (Swara) comes to live in Meerut with her husband and overnight becomes the fantasy of her students and neighbours. Comfortable with her beauty and sexuality, she is branded a ‘husband snatcher’ by the women of the town while the men cannot stop thinking about her.
Writer Shantanu Shrivastava and director Nikhil Bhat introduce an interesting alter-ego for Shanoo – the ghost of a courtesan, Rasbhari. Is Shanoo really the husband snatcher she is said to be or is it Rasbhari, the ghost, calling the shots?
A metaphor of how sexually repressed India is, the series takes its own sweet time before it gets going. The first few episodes will particularly try your patience as they establish Shanu as the sex siren of Meerut, without her not contributing to her ‘reputation’ in any way. Her narrative is written by those around her, and only the blame is her own. It is only when you cross this hurdle that you discover the interesting characters that inhabit the show.
Rasbhari is far more layered and mature project than what its rather juvenile trailer let on. Without ever getting preachy or sanctimonious, Rasbhari shows us how women are suppressed and stereotyped in our society for expressing their desires, including by other women. Shanoo aka Rasbhari’s mother is the first person to object to her “wild ways”. Shanoo’s brother can hang out with friends, misbehave and stay out as late as he wants because he is a boy, but her limits are cast in stone due to her gender. She must learn to curb her needs, desires and wants, because she has to learn and adapt in her in-laws’ family someday.
Makers of Rasbhari have cast well for the show and each actor fits the role perfectly. If Swara reminds you of Sushmita Sen’s Chandni from Main Hoon Na on her entry, Ayushmaan Saxena is apt as teenged Nand Kishore who is obsessed with his teacher.
Rasbhari treads the thin line between sleaze and erotic well but falters at certain places. For instance, Shanu’s interaction with the cable guy is dealt with voyeuristically. Many in the audience may also find the idea of accepting extramarital affairs morally questionable.
An interesting take on sexuality, Rasbhari falters as it tries to do too much without focusing on one theme. Sexual awakening, oppression of women, social pressure on women and small-town desires are all rammed into the eight episodes with desultory results
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