There is a scene in Shankar Panicker’s Robot where Vasi manages to trespass into Chitti’s factory and sees thousands like his created wonder rotating their mechanical heads 360 degrees in unison, in perfect harmonious disharmony. Vasi fails to do the same and the words “Black Sheep!”, resonate like obnoxious sirens, reminding you how, if you don’t belong to the system, you don’t belong anywhere. Set against this general tone, the young Shyam in his early twenties struggles to find his calling in a “city where jingle makers become Oscar winners, actors become Chief Ministers and bus-conductors become superstars”.
Stray Factory Originals, under Rascalas attempts to interpose the flesh-and-blood real life tale of stand-up comedian Shyam Renganathan unto the reel screen where the characters, propelled by volatile and nascent ambitions, treat heartfelt emotions ambiguously and have nothing but their faults and foibles to fall back upon.
EPISODE 01: Pilot
Shyam is the engineering college rookie, way into his senior year with eleven arrears to clear and no knowledge or interest in the science. Colonel Rajendran and wife are explicitly displeased when their presumably talented son fails to toe the line of lineage that leads to respectability and class prowess. Shyam’s closest confidant, Nikhil is the antidote to his dangerously unplanned endeavours and watches, as against all well-advised directions of reconciliation, his friend barge headlong into chasing a call he does not know exists.
EPISODE 02: Are We Here Yet?
Shyam gets introduced to the idea of stand-up comedians performing at coffee house and night club gigs and a chanced witty encounter with one of them gives him the fleet-footed boost his dispirited ego had been hunting for.
EPISODE 03: Confidently Confused
Black Sheep has by now, vividly foreshadowed that Shyam is ready to act on the less practical but more liberating idea of dropping out of college, thwarting parental prohibitions and authoritarian concerns to chase, with what seems like capricious foresight (or the lack of it) in his new-found inclination for stand-up comedy. He, however, has neither the gusto nor the diligence to materialise his plan.
EPISODE 04: Road Trip
For a brief moment in this episode, you almost come to believe in Shyam’s tenacity in doing what he has apparently set his mind to. Pratyusha and Nikhil accompany him on a long, tiring drive to Bangalore from Chennai for a stand-up and sometime into the journey you arrive at an antithesis of the same belief – Shyam has not prepared a line for his performance and all throughout spends his self-obsession on quibbling to unsatisfactory results.
EPISODE 05: Open Mics – Closed Doors
This leg of the series is a physically uneasy phenomenon watching Shyam make a bleak embarrassment of himself before a millennial crowd that grasps humour but gets none from him at his stand-up in Bangalore.
EPISODE 06: Epi-Funny
The Bechdel-Wallace test is a benchmark to determine whether or not women are adequately represented on reel screen as a part of an attempt to equalise the sexes. Shyam and Pratyusha’s relationship stems from an over-demanding need for attention with little empathy on his part and submission and accommodation on hers. Invariably, the only way for Black Sheep to treat it is through the hurt and tears the protagonist’s narcissism puts his lover through.
EPISODE 07: The Warm Up
Tired of his own detrimental idiosyncrasies, Shyam takes to what he should have some five episodes ago. His preparation for stand-up comedy, the vlogs he films and the general time and hard work he puts in reaps arguably substantial benefits and before he knows, he has landed his performance before a large audience.
EPISODE 08: To B.E. Or Not To B.E.
Even as Black Sheep struggles to make its faulted protagonist meet his Bechdel Test, what the Tamil-English series does is purge him in his plethora of self-centric successes, pumped by images of personal failures to stand before a crowd and do what he does best – talk about himself.
Watch the first episode here:
Writer: Bhargav Prasad
Director: Naveen Kumar
Editor: Dorai Prakash SA