Biswa Kalyan Rath, 29, is many things. If you follow India’s stand-up comedy scene, you’ll recognise him from his appearances in Amazon Prime shows like Comicstaan, and as the co-host of the now-defunct YouTube series, Pretentious Movie Reviews (where he and Kanan Gill use a heavy-handed dose of sarcasm to comment about Bollywood hits).
He played a small role in the 2016 Netflix original film, Brahman Naman, but his first big foray into the world of fictionalised storytelling was with his Amazon Original series, Laakhon Mein Ek (2017), which garnered positive reviews for its realistic portrayal of life in small-town India. Created and written by Rath, the first season of the anthology series explores the life of a boy from Raipur who, against his wishes, is sent to an IIT admissions coaching centre. There’s comedy in the show, but it still deals with a serious topic: the cracks within the Indian education system, and its obsession with elite engineering institutions.
Now, Rath returns for season two with another hard-hitting topic, with Shweta Tripathi playing the lead (he also has a cameo in the show). Released on April 12, this season (unconnected to the first) is about rural healthcare (or the lack thereof) and the dark underbelly of the pharmaceutical trade in India.
Light to heavy
“Season one was based on my personal experience, so it wasn’t a conscious choice,” says Rath, when asked about switching between serious topics and a career in comedy. But he admits that it set a precedent of sorts for the second season, which also deals with a “broken system”.
One difference, though, was that Rath had little experience or knowledge about the medical system. So the team relied on extensive research and interviews with health professionals. “We also hired a researcher,” he reveals. “We learned that things are much more complex than superficial, and that it would be important to show all points of view.”
Directed by Abhishek Sengupta, this season follows Tripathi’s character, Dr Shreya Pathare, as she moves to a rural village to run a cataract camp, where she faces a series of challenges, including corruption and sexism. Having a female lead, Rath explains, “just felt right, and the story kept growing around Dr Pathare.”
And Tripathi, he believes, was the perfect casting choice. “She gave 200% to every shot in the series, and her understanding of the character was in sync with the director’s understanding.”
Streaming platforms have been around for long enough that many actors and content creators can credit them for the launch of their careers. Rath is no different. He believes that Amazon has helped democratise the world of content, giving more creators the opportunity to shine. One example is how the Indian web series model has helped give anthology shows such as this one an opportunity to reach large audiences. The decision to make it an anthology, explains Rath, “just felt right.” Audiences are likely to agree with that sentiment, going by the reactions to season two.
Laakhon Mein Ek is streaming on Amazon Prime