Santhosh Shobhan scores in this Telugu web series showcasing urban relationships and family ties
Simply put, the story of the new Telugu web series The Baker and The Beauty (streaming on Aha) is a fairytale romance between a baker from a middle-class family and a female actor whose every move is tracked by the paparazzi. As one of the characters describes it, it’s a story of a boy living near the Jubilee Bus Station in Secunderabad and a girl in Jubilee Hills.
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The broad story is on the lines of what we have seen in the English rom-com Notting Hill (1999) and more recently in the Telugu film Sammohanam (2018). So when I learnt that the new Telugu series is an adaptation of a similarly-named Israeli series by Assi Azar, I was curious and watched it. The Telugu series is a faithful adaptation, down to choosing similar episode titles — the ‘Artichoke Soup’ becomes ‘Mushroom Soup’ in the Indian context. The Telugu series appropriates the happenings to the cultural milieu of Hyderabad. Appreciably, it doesn’t water down the original content. It’s a story of the baker as much as it is the story of his two siblings, and touches upon aspirations, awkward family ties and the acceptance of same-sex relationships.
The Baker and the Beauty
- Cast: Santhosh Shobhan, Tina Shilparaj, Jhansi, Srikanth Iyengar
- Direction: Jonathan Edwards
- Streaming on: Aha
The 10-episode series, averaging at 30-35 minute duration each, is a slick rom-com that comes alive with a line-up of talent. The charming Santhosh Shobhan plays baker Vijay Krishna Dasaripalle who trades his fine art dreams to help run his father Venkateshwarlu’s (Srikanth Iyengar) bakery. Vijay lives with his father, mother Padma (Jhansi), brother Vikram (Sangeeth Shobhan) and sister Meera (Sai Swetha). The brother can be silly, annoying and cringe-inducing all at once and the mother, a livewire who is so vocal that it would be impossible to hold secrets. The somewhat brooding sister, though, has her own secrets. The close-knit family is surrounded by friendly but overtly inquisitive neighbours, led by Suseela (Tarusha Saxena).
In contrast to this family is the world of female actor Aira Vasireddy (Tina Shilparaj) whose father we hear about but never see. She’s mostly on her own in her mansion, with her career and life controlled by her shrewd manager Lakshmi (Venkat).
Vijay and Aira cross paths early into the story and he finds himself sucked into her glitzy world, though always made to feel like an inconsequential outsider who can be easily dispensed with. An unlikely romance blooms but gets tougher with Lakshmi’s disapproval and Vijay’s now-on, now-off scheming girlfriend Maheshwari (Vishnupriya).
As the episodes roll by, we are expected to suspend our disbelief at how a popular actress takes a shine to a guy she met barely and asks him to accompany her on a night out with her gang; soon she invites him to a house party (where adventure sports is organised, clearly without a security clearance) and a trip to Dubai! Never mind, it’s meant to be a fairytale romance.
Inscrutable Aira keeps Vijay on tenterhooks and wondering if she’s on a brief rebound from her breakup with a Bollywood star.
Vijay’s insecurities gradually surface. He has always been afraid of ending up a loner, which explains why he hasn’t been able to firmly move away from Maheshwari, despite realising deep within that he wouldn’t want to take their relationship further. With Aira, it’s he who is at the receiving end, unsure if he would fit into her glamorous world. Aira’s indecisiveness adds to his woes. At one point, Vijay asks her if she will go on a date with anyone that her manager selects for her.
Hell breaks loose when the media gets to know of the Aira-Vijay romance. The effect that the romance has on Vijay’s family is hilariously captured. Jhansi is a treat to watch. It’s a role where she could have easily gone overboard, but she gets the mix just right — concerned about her son as well as making no mistake that dating an actor would guarantee him a better financial future. The Telangana dialect makes the lines all the more enjoyable.
Expectedly, the siblings complicate the fairytale romance. In between all this, the middle-class family is forced to introspect on their own hypocrisy — do they truly have nothing to cheer about? And, what if one of their own isn’t ‘normal’ as they perceive? Can they look past their fears and accept the same-sex relationship?
The Baker and the Beauty has multiple subplots; while the sister’s portions are dealt with empathy, the brother’s portions are often clunky and turn out to be sluggish.
Jhansi, Srikanth Iyengar and Sai Sweta keep up the momentum with good performances. Santhosh Shobhan takes the cake. He plays his part with an easy charm, and is effective in portraying the character’s insecurities. Tina Shilparaj plays the icy maiden portions well but even as the story progresses, her expressions are tough to gauge and can come off as non-reactive. Venkat’s portrayal of the manipulative manager needed more bite. Prashanth Vihari’s music deserves a mention.
The rom-com could have been shorter, rather than trying to recreate everything that happens in the Israeli original. There are a few obvious missteps. For instance, which corporate office places orders for puffs for a dinner party and asks for delivery at night? That the mother couldn’t sense something fishy is a far cry.
Nevertheless, it holds interest with its portrayal of confusing modern urban romances.
(The Baker and the Beauty streams on Aha)