Cubicles is a Welcome Attempt at Humanising Techies

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Cubicles is a Welcome Attempt at Humanising Techies

Illustration: Arati Gujar

In an episode of TVF’s Cubicles a female IT lead discusses with her husband the possibility of them hiring a nanny to take care of their young son. “Main apne bete ko kisi ke paas aise nahi chorr sakti,” she says. The young kid spends his time in the office, socializing with her colleagues and juniors. After his antics frustrate a younger colleague into a pointed rant this mother, instead of feeling attacked, takes away the reassurance of crowdsourced parenting. The fact that not every lesson your kid learns has to come from you. It enables her to take that call – trust another woman with her child. Streaming on SonyLiv, Cubicles, as is the TVF way is a feel-good show about unremarkable lives. In its second season now, it confronts new problems with trademark simplicity and sensitivity.

TVF is known for its do-good-by-all house of thought that romanticises, even the present, through the good-memory lens of nostalgia. It allows the studio to approach usually side-lined subjects like preparation for the IITs (Kota Factory) and IAS (Aspirants). One could argue that the treatment is simplistic, crafted like underdog narratives with an assured chance at glory and redemption. Cubicles, you could argue is a bit of the same. Led by Abhishek Chauhan’s Piyush, the second season starts after our protagonist has firmly settled into his new job, so much so to be embittered by its everyday misgivings. Piyush is not some coding genius, but an average bloke trying to figure life out. The fact that arcane corporate policies continue to sting him as new information establishes the naivety of aspiration – that it simply doesn’t understand the system.

One could argue that the treatment is simplistic, crafted like underdog narratives with an assured chance at glory and redemption.

Piyush is joined by his two colleagues Naveen and Gautam, and in this season by a new joinee who, as is the norm, raises the bar for everyone. Her ferocious introduction implies self-doubt and subsequent jealousy for Piyush. In one scene he secretly cross-checks the money this new, charismatic colleague is being offered and is left aghast to know it is far more than what he makes – while a voicer comically explains this urge to measure up.

Though Corporate offices declare teamwork as some sort of yogic ideal, the reality remains far more contested and competitive. Someone, as the show explains, has to be left behind. Hierarchy is the one true law of work, and no amount of familial diplomacy can really ascertain what branch you get assigned to. Moreover, these hierarchies, likes seasons, can change.

This second season also features Jamini Pathak’s suave and experienced man whose personal history sounds like a synonym of the country’s own. It’s an interesting way to pontificate that though India’s tech revolution has never really been acknowledged as illustriously as Bollywood superstars and champion Cricketers, men and women have shaped the nation’s present image of an IT giant with just as much commitment, creativity and vision.

Techies are often regarded as un-cultured philistines who rarely feature in anyone’s montage of India through the years, but they are, the show subtly points, creators of an economy that has not only fed the nation but in more ways than one, dictated culture – through social media apps, cinema, music and so on. We remember the artists who write, sing, or perform but not the engineer who coded the platform they did it on. Maybe, just maybe, this is a point that the show could have made with a little more conviction.

Though Corporate offices declare teamwork as some sort of yogic ideal, the reality remains far more contested and competitive.

The second season of Cubicles, like the last one, brings its own conflicts – a competitive colleague, appraisals, discontentment and all-round hustle. Though low-risk, and perhaps a little convenient in its narration – avoiding issues like mental health, harassment etc – the show makes clever use of the world it is in, to interface with the outside. The notion of ‘code phatna’, for example, is used as a metaphor for life, the point from which a ‘fix’ serves as the only bridge to a new destination.

It’s a rather potent device, poeticising the existence of something that though universal in the space of IT, also degrades its relevance on a social scale. The fact that the show wants to attempt such acts of assimilation, considering that writers, poets and singers have had enough cinema made about them, is admirable.

Subsequently, all of TVF’s ideas suffer from the problem of appeasement. The tendency to hit that listicle-like commonality as soon as possible. It’s part of the charm and popularity behind such shows, but one has to wonder that if no boundaries will ever be pushed just how long can you continue this marriage of convenience and smart-washing. Nonetheless, Cubicles is still brave for trying to entertain through a premise that itself sounds so limiting. It is no small achievement that it manages to do so from within the walls of corporate boundaries and a backlog of left-handed derision.

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