Netflix is predictable. Tick off the following boxes if you want their team to greenlight your show. Alankrita Shrivastava’s Bombay Begums does just that with exemplary lack of subtlety.
Under the guise of empowering women, show them as vulnerable, weak and eternally preyed upon.
Done. That’s the whole thrust of Alankrita’s show. Ambitious bankers Rani Singh Irani (Pooja Bhatt as CEO of Royal Bank), Fatima Warsi (Shahana Goswami as her Deputy) and Ayesha Agarwal (Plabita Borthakur, a junior-level player) put career over all else and, according to the show, infidelity comes with the territory. Because women who are career-driven must drink, smoke, and cheat on their partners.
Give us graphic sex and while you’re at it, a gay scene or two is a must.
Alankrita gives it with alacrity. So Pooja Bhatt with Rahul Bose (her lover outside her marriage to Naushad Irani played by Danish Hussain) steam it up in the hotel room, even steal a long smooch heartbeats away from her husband and his wife.
Husband Naushad has his own moments where he jerks off wearing his late wife’s lacey saree.
Shahana Goswami has sex in a tub, on the bed, wherever her firang lover makes her feel like a woman. While her husband, her junior in the bank, waits for her at home thinking she’s busy at work, doesn’t disrupt her and plans their surrogate baby, an idea mooted by her by the way.
Plabita won’t think twice before making out with an ex-boyfriend by crashing into his house as she’s forever roofless, even as his girlfriend is sleeping in the next room. She’ll walk unannounced into jazz singer Chitra’s apartment, make herself comfortable like it’s her right, smooch heavily, have gay sex, move in and out of colleague Ron’s house, smooch and bed him when she wants to. Ron is played with required cool by Imaad Shah and by the way, I lost track of how many people Ayesha smooched or had sex with. But hey, shed a tear, she’s the victim.
Actually, it got to such a point that when there was lovemaking, one couldn’t ‘make out’ who was doing what and to who until we saw their faces. So that box was firmly ticked.
Never mind the Boardroom Begums, bring in the city’s chawl for diversity
Seamless, says Alankrita, as bar dancer turned sex worker Laxmi Gondhali alias Lily (Amruta Subhash) is brought aboard as the first beneficiary of the bank’s new CSR programme. Not so noble as the sex worker was blackmailing Rani and this was the CEO’s wily way of buying her compliance and coming out like a do-gooder. With a sex worker around, yeah, one more opportunity for sighs and heaves on a grotty bed.
Don’t forget to hit the Hindus and the colour saffron
In the voice of a 13-year-old (she’s the sutradhar, a ploy Alankrita uses when she doesn’t know how to string disparate tracks together; it was used in Made In Heavan too), Alankrita introduces Shai Irani (Aadhya Anand), Rani’s stepdaughter. Obsessed with sprouting boobs and catching the eye of a classmate she has a crush on, teen angst and questioning norms and customs follows.
Box ticked emphatically with the repeated questioning of the relevance of Karwa Chauth (like it’s the only custom from across the board of religions that needs to be scanned) topped with a sleazy politician, surrounded by people donning saffron scarves, who holds the Gita to taunt Laxmi Gondhali. If the show is overarchingly offensive only to one particular religion, sorry, we don’t mean to disrespect any community or belief.
Having ticked all off Netflix’s favoured boxes, Alankrita Shrivastava (of Lipstick Under My Burkha fame) has her storyboard ready. Since subtlety isn’t a box that needs to be ticked, hammer the power of women on the viewers’ heads with trite lines like, “I feel like I’m on a treadmill from where I can’t get off…”
The saving graces: three watchable women led by Pooja, Shahana and Amruta Subhash keep the show going. If there is a point that’s made, however inadvertently, it is that actors like Pooja are unafraid of ageing and being menopausal.
While rural shows like Panchayat (Amazon) have had truly feistier women, Bombay Begums is a signal that it’s time to stop playing the victim card under the ‘empowerment’ label.