I have met a lot of "movie buffs" who take movies as seriously as a job interview or a government exam. Ask them about their favorite films, and you will hear generic answers like Citizen Kane, La Dolce Vita, There Will Be Blood, etc. What about favorite directors? Well, brace yourself for another set of generic answers (Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and so on). The problem with these "movie buffs" is that they have a very limited perception of cinema. Yet, they confidently look down on someone who might have made the mistake of enjoying, say, a Pop Kaun? or Pathaan (you can also add There's Something About Mary to this list). In their opinion, great movies should be serious, and anything simple and light-hearted deserves the utmost contempt. I find such people insufferable and avoid them as much as possible.
I have brought this topic up because some filmmakers don't seem so different from the "cinephiles" I just mentioned. They think if they make a "serious" film or show, it would garner respect, critical acclaim, and analytical essays. Directors Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D'Sa seem to come under this category. Their latest erotic thriller, Obsession, is so full of self-importance that it leaves us cold. The series is about a married surgeon, William (Richard Armitage), who starts an affair with his son's girlfriend-turned-fiancée Anna (Charlie Murphy). The premise promises steamy sex and forbidden pleasures. The sex is serviceable, but the pleasures are limited.
Wikipedia tells me that Obsession is based on the novel Damage by Josephine Hart. I have not read the book, but based on the series, I don't see why the creators needed to adapt a novel when a cliché like this is as old as sex. Forbidden affairs have looked much better and more arousing in many other movies. The one in Obsession is simply not that fervid. Anna and William fornicate like animals, but the erotic spark never turns into a fire. The carnal energy quickly dissipates because the series is obsessed with psychological turmoils. "Damaged people are dangerous," says Anna at one point, and Obsession wants to observe the destructive actions of these damaged goods. It suggests that damaged people can only have a damaged relationship. They cannot ride off into the sunset. Without giving us a chance to revel in the illicit relationship (the chemistry is bland, and so is the sex), the series deprives us of vicarious pleasures and, from the beginning itself, comes with the indication that there is no joy in a sexual liaison.
That's why the points that are made later in the series feel repetitive. Obsession has nothing new or enlightening to say to us. A plot point regarding a deceased brother is used to justify the solemn mood present here. It also gives rise to weepy discussions that are (unintentionally) hilarious. Obsession pretends to have a deep and meaningful conversation with us, but everything here is shallow. This series reminded me of Shakun Batra's Gehraiyaan. Both the productions are infected by a similar problem. They make the mistake of treating trash as great art. It wouldn't have been an issue if they actually offered some insights or depth. But both Obsession and Gehraiyaan are superficial products. By putting up a pensive front, they merely expose their pretentious and hollow interior.
Almost all the actors in Obsession are charmless. They show up on the screen, deliver their lines, and exit. They fail to make an impression. Armitage mostly scowls as if regretting saying yes to this project. He makes William so unappealing that it becomes impossible to see why Anna would be attracted to this character. Only Murphy gives a decent performance. Her eyes exude so much lust and desire that you believe she could hold a man even though he might know almost nothing about her or command someone to follow her orders like a pet. Murphy deserves a better outing, and we deserve a better erotic thriller.
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