Escaype Live isn’t armed with stellar performances or even direction, but packed with compelling ideas that aren’t afraid to embrace the wild side of social media obsessions.
In the second episode of Disney+Hotstar’s Getaway live, a fiercely competitive and probably clinical psychopath pulls a gruesome prank on an acquaintance’s loving mother; all for a hit on social media. It’s the kind of prank that can kill middle-aged men and women and has likely become the bane of families who have become unsuspecting allies for ridiculous acts of “creativity” online. We’ve all seen them, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, awkwardly appear in vlogs and reels, their privacy and feeling instantly torn to shreds by the camera and the judgment that follows. Escape Live is a compelling exploration of sex, gender, class, and self-esteem in the age of this social media giddy. It’s chaotic, brutal, unwavering and a more than worthy second cousin to the dystopian series we all love – black mirror.
Getaway live doesn’t black mirror‘s humor because it’s too dreary and dark to be able to pull that off. Siddharth plays a Bangalore-born and raised tech who joins Escape Live, a social media platform that – like Tiktok perhaps – has taken the country by storm, as a moderator. The app not only serves as a platform to post content, but unlike most apps, it acts as a funnel for direct payments. i.e. people, influencers can be paid not only in likes but also in diamonds which translate into real money. The app obviously takes a cut. It is quite a good idea for real entrepreneurs in Bengaluru to jump into whiteboard to start something new. But if the model seems simple and simplistic on the surface, it hides under the sheath of its external harmlessness a double-edged sword.
Besides Siddharth, the early episodes focus on four distinct “creators”. Darkie (Sumedh Mudgalkar) is a quasi-sociopathic urban influencer with a god complex. Plabita Borthakur plays a moonlit waitress as a sleazy internet sensation. Ritvik Sahore plays a parkour athlete from the slums of Mumbai, then there is a young dance enthusiast from the city of Jaisalmer. The four are cast as creators, aspiring to the vaguely definitive throne of the app’s most beloved star.
Getaway live posits the idea that the externalization of all happiness, the craving for approval can drive people to insane limits.
“Anyone with a phone can be a star, anyone,” a business executive says at one point in the series. Possibility is the point. The visibly democratic path to popularity and thus instant success teases, almost drives people to do manic and sometimes even suicidal things.
Siddharth as a conservative technician, inside the system, gives an uneven performance in a series that demands an emotional core to keep its parts moving. The tangential stories, while tragic in their own way, are intriguing. From Darkie’s swaggering and elite ways to Plabita’s twin life as a waitress and hidden sex object available for online consumption, raises some serious questions about how much of yourself you can reveal to the world. The young parkour athlete from Thakore who does odd jobs to earn money and a young dancer from a small town walk and breathe tragedies. They see Escaype Live, literally, as a way to escape a little faster to their dreams. It makes them do insane and inexplicable things almost at the cost of their own lives.
Getaway live suggests that while social media offers power and fame, you’re never really in control of either. Rather than wishing for the seed of destiny to blossom, social media is a colonizing empire that wants to devour more and more land. Yes, it can’t live without people becoming popular, but it also can’t live without despair, angst and anxiety that cause people to live on the edge of despair, to turn that edge into trivialized content. It can be gross, gruesome, erotic, and disgusting, but as long as it encourages you to shift, flinch, even yawn, it works. This is why Escaype Live does not actually operate as a fair society, but as an electorate. He wishes to platform on each other, because without competition, there would be no survival instinct. It is only when the crown is fleeting that the greed to wear it becomes permanent.
Everything that was saidEscape Live could have been done better. Siddharth as the moral heart of the story seems stiff and indifferent. Some supporting roles, including the usually dependable Jaaved Jaaferi, are underwhelming. The production design is too basic to be called a deceptively current take on tech dystopia. Also, the show is ideally anchored by lower class characters. There is then the missing bite of the black mirrorlook esque unpeeling the rich.
Nevertheless, Getaway live fascinates with the many ideas it confronts, from gender to identity, from class to the politics of internal borders. And above all, as a fluid critique of the social media ecosystem that has spawned many fake lives, often at the cost of some original ones. The price paid in creating these lives is what Live wants to build and explore. And for that, he can have all my money.
Escaype Live is streaming on Disney+Hotstar
The author writes about art and culture, film, books and everything in between. The opinions expressed are personal.