Small Town Quack:
This eight-part web series (on SonyLiv) is set in the late 1990s, maybe because there was more squeamishness and ignorance about sexual matters then as compared to the present.Now family newspapers carry sex advice columns (in the past, the Page 3 pin up was as far as bold went), there is a lot of information on the net, and mainstream films like Vicky Donor, Shubh Mangal Savdhan, Khandaani Shafakhana have ripped the bandage off hitherto taboo subjects and Dr G is coming up, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, who seems to have become a specialist of small town foibles.
In Central India, where Dr Arora : Gupt Rog Visheshagya is set, and also in the north, ads informing of the services of sex doctors used to be painted on the walls of bus stands and railway stations. Newspapers carried classifieds – and still do—hawking the expertise of dubious vaids and hakims. The eponymous Dr Arora, played by the talented Kumud Mishra, is not ashamed of what being a ‘sex doctor,’ but passes himself off as a medical representative to his mother.
Vishesh Arora took to this profession, because as a young groom (Aditya Pandey), he could not ‘perform’ and his bride left him. He researched and taught himself about various sexual problems, and runs a thriving practice in three towns (the viewer is informed where he is at any given point, though the towns look so similar—uniformly congested and ugly—that it hardly matters). He is not really a qualified doctor, but none of his furtive patients ask for his degrees.
Created and co-written (with several others) by Imtiaz Ali, directed by Sajid Ali and Archit Kumar, the show cannot quite decide if it wants to be a comedy or a serious sex education show, and it ends up as neither. While several common issues like impotence, nightfall, premature ejaculation and sexually transmitted diseases are talked about and treated by the kindly doctor, when it veers into other unrelated areas—like the bits about a Firangi Baba (Raj Arjun, affecting a weird accent), a nasty politician (Shakti Kumar), a industrialist (Shekhar Suman), or an arrogant newspaper owner (Vivek Mushran), you wonder what is going on and why. If these sub plots have been thrown into the air to be dealt with in Season 2, then the makers are rather too optimistic about the reception to the first season.
The attitude towards women is appalling—the next door ‘bhabhi’ stereotype who leads on a young man and then acts shocked when he picks up her come-hither signals; the doctor himself being rude to a sex worker (though he regrets it later), and his ex-wife Vaishali (Vidya Malavade) now remarried saying that she deserves to be sexually humiliated for what she did to him. The town’s women queue up outside the Baba’s residence for ‘private’ meetings, and there is no doubt left about what that entails. For no discernible reason, after 18 years of his marriage ending, Arora stalks Vaishali in the most creepy way possible.
Like in his earlier series She, Imtiaz Ali slathers on the sleaze—scenes like the Baba running through town in the nude, or the ‘V’ of bare legs when Arora examines patients.
A documentary titled Ask The Sexpert by Vaishali Sinha was made on real-life sexologist Dr Mahinder Watsa, who used to answer reader questions in a newspaper with a blend of sympathy and humour; Dr Arora could have used some of that knowledge and wit. But the idea seems to have been to titillate; sadly, the writers, directors, and actors exert themselves without much effect.
(This piece first appeared in seniorstoday.in )