Another really good episode with a lot of smart observations! Man, just adding those extra 7 minutes added a lot more depth too. (full index of Little Things reviews here)
In my review of the final episode of season 1, I said that it retroactively made the whole season into Mithila’s story. I don’t know for sure what is going to happen this season, but right now it feels like more Dhruv’s story. And that’s okay, that’s really interesting, especially for a show about a couple. Last season, Mithila was a little bit struggling in life, and working hard to keep the relationship going despite her struggle. This season, it’s Dhruv’s turn to be lost and confused and work hard to at least make this relationship work even if nothing else in his life does.
But because Mithila is the woman and Dhruv is the man, it’s different. Money matters differently for couples. When it’s the woman, it’s her money. When it’s the man, it’s our money. No matter how progressive and young and liberal you are, it’s hard to let go of that rule. From both sides.
This episode is about Dhruv quitting/being fired from his job the same day Mithila gets a big promotion. They have to go to a house warming for Mithila’s boss that night, Dhruv puts off telling Mithila what happened, finally tells her in the cab on the way home expecting her to be understanding, and she is furious with him.
There is so much other stuff that happens along the way, but the big question is what we give up in return for money. For one young party goer, who Dhruv stumbles upon crying over her phone, it is distance from her parents. She is alone in the city working and will see her parents only a few days put together before they die. For the hosts, who we see talking in their room, it is constant worry over appearances, they cannot afford this flat, they are borrowing from relatives to pay the downpayment, and yet are casual and confident in public, enjoying everyone else being impressed with them. And for Mithila, it is the ability to be generous.
Generosity lessons the more money you have. Suddenly you start to enjoy the comfort of it, the luxury, and it is hard to think about sharing it. Especially for a woman in Mithila’s situation. Last season, she and Dhruv were splitting expenses and that was part of her concern when considering quitting her job. But Dhruv was reassuring, told her he would carry her for a bit, and Mithila relaxed and accepted that. The gap between seasons means we missed seeing how they worked as a couple when Dhruv was working and she wasn’t. But that kind of fits with relationships too, they have moved on from that period, and they can’t remember what it was like, they are fully in the now of how their relationship is in the moment instead of how it was then. And for now, Mithila’s identity and confidence and happiness are increasingly tied into her professional success and monetary success. Dhruv quitting his job is about her suddenly being afraid of losing that, and afraid of what it means when Dhruv doesn’t have it. Mithila is scared for her money, and scared for what it means when Dhruv has no “value” in money terms any more. Can she still love him? Should she?
There is a great moment during the party when a group of women are sitting around and Mithila is holding forth on how great it is for women like them “upper middle class” to have the freedom to just buy an expensive pair of shoes without needing to ask a man about it, the freedom and power it gives. This is, obviously, a very privileged statement to make. It starts with the premise of “woe the poor rich woman, who doesn’t have the freedom to work like the poor woman does”. A ridiculous statement which has been repeated by women all over the world. I am sure every woman reading this has, at one point, been part of a conversation in which a woman who has never known hunger says “oh I am so jealous of woman who are allowed to work!” Beyond the whole “no one is as oppressed as the rich women not allowed to work” premise, their is the blindness in Mithila’s example of financial freedom. Sure, buy the expensive shoes, that’s great. But your true freedom is in paying rent, buying food, being able to survive (literally) without needing to rely on a man. The blindness is that none of this women think of “their” money as something that would necessarily go to things like that. Money is a bonus, a pleasant thing to have, for the little extras in life. The necessities come from somewhere else.
That’s what is swirling around this whole episode, with Dhruv’s bombshell coming towards Mithila all along. At this party, Mithila’s boss is worried about paying for the down payment on the house and might need to borrow money from his sister to do it. Meanwhile Mithila is talking about spending her massive salary increase on clothes, and encouraging a friend who is “bored” at work to just quit and find something she loves, and complimenting her boss’ wife for staying busy and working. And then there is the young woman who cries because she realized she is making money in Bombay doing silly things when she could be spending time with her parents. All these women who take these jobs as a status symbol, a bonus, but don’t actually NEED to work.
I don’t think the show is judging these women as evil, any more than it judges any character, it is just observing. No one at this party really understands working-to-live versus working-for-a-living. And that is a trap for them, Mithila’s boss and his wife are trapped in this apartment they can’t afford which, at the end of the episode, is revealed to have cracks and water damage. The young woman is trapped away from her family and lonely. Heck, everyone at the party is trapped by being at this party. It’s a networking event and a work event, not like the casual rumpled Taboo game party we saw last season.
The end of the episode, Dhruv imagines telling Mithila in the car and imagines her saying “okay, we will figure it out”. But when he actually tells her, she is horrified. He points out that she did the same thing, quit a job she hated, but she says that was different because they talked first. He says that she knew he hated his job, she knew he was struggling, and his boss just put it to him today that he should quit or be fired, it just happened. Mithila’s wrong, she is, but after seeing the whole episode I can understand why she feels like that. To be brought down suddenly from thinking “jobs are so satisfying and wonderful, money is for luxuries and a mark of success, of course I don’t really care about it but it is nice and feminist to have it” to face to face with “I can’t picture myself with a man who doesn’t have a job” is a very ugly bucket of ice water.
Mostly though, I love watching those woman talk with the camera silently showing us how empty the talk is. Over and over again in Indian films, and in Indian society, I see how proper wealthy woman now work. But there is a difference between how they work, and how men work. Or how lower class women work. They have boutiques, or decorator shops. Or they open and close agencies, or start fashion lines, or write books. Sometimes they have office jobs, but very fancy office jobs at very fancy offices. Having a job is the extra proper thing to do, just like having classical dance or instrument or singing training. But these women don’t actually NEED to work. That would be humiliating, disgusting. The work is a little bonus for them to talk about at parties, and for everyone to feel very modern and feminist about it. But if they want to quit, they can quit, their male relatives will take care of them. A woman who works and supports her family? That’s just low class.