Nothing is more deceitful than appearances. Such is the moral of “The Fame Game,” a show put out by Netflix on Feb. 25. Oftentimes, we envy what we see. We just don’t know better, do we? But, we should keep in mind that what we see is not all there is. In an era where social media is present in every aspect of our lives, visuals seem to have become all that matters. So, does the truth underneath match the sparkling, outer lifestyle? “The Fame Game” explores this question.
“The Fame Game” follows Anamika Anand (played by Madhuri Dixit, known for her role in “Devdas” along with many other blockbusters), an A-list actress idealized all over India. Every movie in her repertoire seems to win the jackpot. She is happily married and has two kids. In a nutshell: she has it all. But does she, though?
One morning, her family wakes up and Anamika is nowhere to be found. All of her belongings are still in the house, yet her whereabouts are unknown. She seems to have just vanished from the surface of the world without leaving a trace. The media gets a hold of the news and the whole country is inflamed by the one-million-dollar question: Where is the legendary actress?
When interviewed by the police, Anamika’s family grapples with the questions. They wonder how honest one should be when helping the police in an investigation. Most of the time, the characters refrain from thoroughly answering. And understandably so, because who could easily reveal what happens behind closed doors? Saving face is undeniably the characters’ primary intention. As the episodes roll, flashbacks of the family’s life are disclosed to viewers. Anamika’s life turns out not to be as “perfect” as it appeared after all.
Meanwhile, Sri Rao and Nisha Mehta, the screenwriters of “The Fame Game,” do an exemplary job at leading us along. Now, I obviously won’t be giving away the finale, but one thing’s for sure: it wasn’t foreseeable. This only helps make the show worth the detour. From the very first episode, viewers get swept in by an uncontrollable thirst for the truth. The nail-biting twists never fail to leave us wanting more, urging us to keep watching. It is so gripping, you are going to have to settle in for an eight-episode marathon.
One of the elements that makes the show so good is how realistic and relatable the backstories are. Despite the fact that the central character is a celebrity, she has experiences that just about any one of us could go through. This allows us to resonate with her in a really emotional way.
I don’t know about you, but I really love the suspense that builds up in this kind of thriller. The dark tones that paint the episodes, the nerve-wracking quest to figure out how everything will untangle, wondering whether the victim is going to make it out alive and above all: What is the reason she got kidnapped? Each episode feeds viewers with new details of Anamika’s past, all cleverly adding up to explain her disappearance. The writers of the show know that viewers are good at guessing nowadays and that the harder it is to find out the truth, the better the finale. So, they managed to craftily tie the plot together. You will have a hard time grasping what is really going on, so buckle up for a hectic, confusing ride.
The show also treats us with a couple of strong female characters. For example, the policewoman in charge of the affair (Rajshri Deshpande) arc is in itself very well drawn. In addition to her empathic personal life, she shines as an investigator. She first tackles the affair in a very professional and neutral fashion. However, as the case progresses, she realizes that, to uncover what happened, the main question should not be “Where is Anamika Anand?” but rather “Who is Anamika Anand?” This drastically changes what’s afoot, and smoothly guides the investigation in the right direction.
In India, mental health issues are usually not discussed. Therefore, it comes as quite the surprise when bipolar disorder touches a character. On top of addressing a taboo subject, Manish Khanna (Manav Kaul), who is the character suffering from bipolar, represents an extremely dark side of fame through his disease. “People think, ‘he’s a star,’” he confesses in a poignant scene. However, while he is thought to “live[…] in the spotlight,” to him, it’s actually “darkness.” Sri Rao, the showrunner and co-writer of the show, is taking a stand there. His aim was to write about the unknown side of stardom. And God, he took us to the darkest place.
Madhuri Dixit has been largely acclaimed for her performance in the show. Fans say she doesn’t even have to speak, you can see all she seeks to convey in her soulful face. A fan tweeted that Anamika is “an ode to Madhuri” while “The Fame Game” is a “celebration of our favs later in their careers” (by @roohdarr). As a matter of fact, Sri Rao shared with The Telegraph India that Dixit was his inspiration and that he was going for a role that “would rise to the level of talent that she has [acquired throughout] many different roles in such iconic movies.”
A question then surfaced: Is “The Fame Game” based on a true story? In the same interview, Dixit explained that, although they both are family-oriented and have a very successful and renowned career in common, “the similarities [between her and Anamika] end there.”
Fans were quick to connect Anamika’s story to Sridevi Kapoor’s, one of Bollywood’s biggest names, who passed away in 2018, almost a year after her last big role in “Mom” (which you can find on Netflix). Her death was the source of much speculation, as the cause of her demise was hard to accept for her fandom. A few months following her disappearance, Jhanvi, her daughter, made her debut in Bollywood. These are striking similarities with Anamika’s story.
Next to all the engrossing motifs mentioned above, many other engaging issues come to light in “The Fame Game.” Equipped with domestic abuse, the patriarchy, feminism, ageism and family dysfunction, the Netflix show skillfully blends them all resulting in an intricately well-puzzled mystery drama series. To close off, as Charlotte Brontë efficiently wrote in “Jane Eyre,” “appearance should not be mistaken for truth.”
“The Fame Game” is available to stream without restraint on Netflix.