“In that parallel universe where life is perfect, I was Miriam Maisel – spick and span, ambitious, courageous, unfettered and unapologetic,” writes Vidya Bhandarkar.
At a juncture of heightened drama in the series, Mrs. Maisel; a newbie in the business of comedy, takes a shot at the then reigning comedy icon Sophie Lennon; before a full house –
“Why do women care about how people look at them or see them? All women. Beautiful women. Successful women…… She told me that men won’t find me funny because I don’t look like a dump truck or have a dick. Why do women have to pretend to be something that they’re not? Why do we have to pretend to be stupid when we’re not stupid? Why do we have to pretend to be helpless when we are not helpless? Why do we have to pretend to be sorry when we have nothing to be sorry about? Why do we have to pretend we are not hungry when we are hungry? Fuck you, Sophie.”
I whooped and applauded with her audience, stopping short my six-month-old daughter in the pursuit of her own shadow across the room. It is moments like these, when Mrs. Maisel (Miriam) takes a dig at the powerful, the sneering men in the room and the eccentricities of her own family with thrust, energy and earnestness that kept me hooked – my eyes flitting nervously between the screen and a child strapped to my chest, feeding; or coiled around my ankles; or moments away from swallowing the next colorfully enticing object or falling off the edge of the bed.
Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel happened at a curious stage in my life. Having bid a goodbye to life as I knew it, I had retired into the quite of my home to be a full-time mother; willingly of course! Now, I was only the second most important person in my life; my body groaned under an additional ten kilos, each time I called it into action; the world outside – except the stretch of road visible from my bedroom window – may have been lost to a deluge and I would be none the wiser. So, Mrs. Maisel going from strength to strength in her journey towards self-determination and a career in stand-up comedy spoke to me. In that parallel universe where my life is perfect, I was Miriam Maisel – spick and span, ambitious, courageous, unfettered and unapologetic.
Miriam Maisel lives in Upper West Side, New York in the 1950s; which means that she is a housewife, has two children to show for four years of married life, lives in a swanky apartment with a powder room, owns all the pretty dresses and shoes, takes two-month-long vacations, does not know where the money comes from, or how much. She is a loving and dutiful wife until one day, her husband decides that life is less than perfect and walks out on her. Free of a husband and free of any remorse (the have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario), she stumbles onto the stage in a downtown cafe – dressed in a nightgown, a bottle of champagne in one hand and a mic in the other, dripping sarcasm, wit and profanity she reproaches her husband; discovers she is a natural at stand-up comedy. So, in the Pilot she goes from comely, compliant homemaker to a maverick who discusses her sex life before a roomful of strangers.
Admirably, Miriam does not dwell too long on the incident of her desertion. She picks herself up, dusts herself off, and is soon busy building life up again. She moves in with her parents (learns to tune out the ‘find yourself a husband, old or new’ tirade), lands a job (to buy a television of her own) and makes strides in the world of comedy. There are some winning scenes – the one where she tries to convince an official at the employment bureau that she is perfectly suited for the job of a liftman, the one where she makes a case for freedom of expression before a court, the one where she bombs onstage for the first time (and wonders what was wrong with the people), the one where she accidentally jibes at the rabbi, the bride, and the groom at a friend’s wedding in the style of a comedy act, when asked to make a speech (and is dismayed that she has lost her ‘societal filter’).
Offstage Miriam can be quite unremarkable. She is vulnerable and is often rendered helpless or finds herself defeated by circumstances – parents who cannot comprehend or accept her life outside of family, the comedy circuit rife with misogyny (she is always asked if she is a singer before she goes on stage; her father too suggests that she learn to sing), a world with too few opportunities for women and too judgmental of them. But keen observation and a wicked sense of humor mean that she is menacing onstage. She often reserves her response or behaves civilly until she has an opportunity to be on stage and then sets sparks flying – these moments are particularly rewarding.
At the end of the day, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is more dramatic and sensational than real. Miriam is strikingly beautiful, does not have to work for money, her children seem to grow up on their own while she is out working during the day and doing her acts late in the evenings, she is magically transformed onstage and almost always wins over her audience, there is feet tapping music to which Miriam walks the pavements of the city in brightly colored flares while swinging her handbag, there are far fewer cars on streets, no mobile phones, no rush – the stuff dreams are made of. But Miriam teaches you a thing or two about doing what you love and doing it well, getting your hands dirty, humbling people who snort too loud, being selfish about your life. She teaches you to be your own hero.
Vidya Bhandarkar is a resident of Bengaluru and an avid reader. An engineer by profession, she has written short stories and reviewed books and films in the past.