The end of the year was a time for nerdy live-action television. The Mandalorian pleased the eternally furious Star Wars fandom before The Rise of Skywalker undid Jon Favreau’s hard work. Netflix’s own The Witcher series, meanwhile, used Henry Cavill’s impeccable jawline to rope in a bigger chunk of the pie. But over in India, the live-action bubble was producing something a little different: a drama based on the country’s current obsession: PUBG Mobile.
Dosti Ka Naya Maidan began airing on Christmas day as a web series freely available on the PUBG Mobile India YouTube channel. In it, Monty, played by Arnav Bhasin, talks about wanting nothing more than to please his parents and live a humble life with a few good friends as he moves into his new college dorm. Surprisingly plenty, I’m sure, it isn’t a school for PUBG Mobile pros. But with dorm wings named after in-game locations like Pochinki and Gatka, the first Dosti Ka Naya Maidan plants the PUBG Mobile flag in a way that acts as a slow burn for some, and a clever nod to others.
Monty’s new roommates do a fine job of conveying to his parents the kind of person their son is bound to become in a boy’s hostel. Glued to their smartphones, they’re hard at work not studying, but yelling expletives, calling people noobs, and headshotting the competition in preparation for the Inter-Wing PUBG Mobile Championship. Monty’s mother has never felt so ashamed of today’s youth.
But of course, there’s no drama without a few bumps in the road. This isn’t some story about Monty nailing his studies while his roommates see their future disappear behind the screens of their smartphones. It’s about the comradery and brotherhood PUBG Mobile is meant to foster. So, instead, Monty lands in hot water with his would-be friends after handing them in for setting off a bunch of firecrackers on the dorm staircase in the middle of the night. Those little rascals. In retaliation, they conjure up a fake Facebook account in Monty’s name and piss off his female friend, Sheetal. Now we have some Dr. Phil levels of drama!
Somewhere along the road, Monty, now essentially living in a battlefield of his own making, gets yelled at by the dorm’s old PUBG Mobile king, Adyita, for wasting shower water. He explains his situation to the environmentally-conscious individual, which quickly turns into a private PUBG Mobile tutoring session complete with a Rocky-style training montage. Good thing Monty’s father’s scooter was worth enough for both his tuition and a shiny new phone. I wonder if he regrets that after the way these yobs treated his wife?
Now popping heads left, right, and a center, Monty gains the blessing of Aditya, who explains the only way to get back at his roommates all at once is through the game that made them friends in the first place. So Monty gets to work crushing the three delinquents at their own game, echoing his own words at the start of the episode about taking out three birds (his dreams) with one stone. That’s the kind of symbolism even my uneducated brain can understand.
Over an unspecified amount of time, Monty wipes the floor with Baba and his social media wizards as “MTank”, turning the moniker into a bit of an urban legend in the dorm. In a true Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne fashion, the three bumbling buffoons notice their biggest rival is never online when they’re around Monty, but fail to make the glaringly obvious connection; even when Monty’s phone is smashed up by the Sheetal Protection Posse.
But because we’re to expect the Inter-Wing PUBG Mobile Championship to be the major plot device of this limited series, the fragmented friendships are all tied up just in time for the end of the 30-minute pilot episode. Monty’s in-game handle is revealed to the group and they, with a little help from “Aditya *gunfire noises* Sir”, rescue the freshman just before Sheetal’s private army beat him down with hockey sticks for reasons I’m sure don’t warrant severe physical harm. They officially recruit Monty to make Squad Ki Synergy and begin training up for the big tournament. Easy.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Indian television. I curiously watched OMG: Oh My God on Netflix a couple of months back, but that’s about it. While it’s not quite “I sued god because an earthquake destroyed my store” levels of entertaining like that particular Bollywood masterpiece, it kept my attention with its noteworthy production value and distinguishable characters. But really… how can you beat that perfect premise?
Dosti Ka Naya Maidan episode one doesn’t gate its audience behind PUBG Mobile gameplay and terminology. It’s a simple story of teamwork with the message that people can be united by a common goal. You could easily swap out PUBG Mobile for any other game or sport and still end up with the same core plot. It’s not going to be climbing up to The Witcher heights of viewership in the west, but it’s something arguably easier to understand without the proper context. The only true crime thus far is Sheetal’s band of merry men not coming at our protagonist with a bunch of frying pans.
So what’s going to happen when episode two launches on January 10? It can’t be hard to imagine.