Bombay Begums tries to be a show about men and women, ends up becoming about power

3.0 rating based on 1,234 ratings

Netflix releases Bombay Begums on International Women’s Day. It stars 5 amazing women who are looking to just be free and happy (or in some cases, just make the most of it), while balancing work, career, motherhood, and their own desires. The show is directed by Alankrita Shrivastava of Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare. Seems like everything came together perfectly, didn’t it? Not quite. 

Rani (Pooja Bhatt) is the CEO of a bank and has hailed from a small town – she tries to manage her overbearing male colleagues, open marriage, an affair, stubborn stepchildren – with a second in command Fatima (Shahana Goswami) who is on her final round of IVF and is just now realizing that her enthusiasm over becoming a mother and quitting a job may be a projection of her husband’s feelings instead of her own. Then there’s Ayesha (Plabita Borthakur), a small-town girl fired by Fatima, who is in a constant struggle of parental pressure, questions about her sexuality, and just trying to make it big in a city without a godfather (should it be godmother?)

Rani’s step-daughter Shai (Aadhya Anand) is the series’ narrator, whose quotes like “Love is a lonely pursuit” and “An old woman’s body inhabits my teenage body” make you wonder where Shai’s artistic philosophy will lead her. The 5th component of this wheel is Lily (Amruta Subhash), a sex worker who just wants to live a respectable life with her son, and a chance encounter with Rani’s family just might be a boost she was waiting for. 

bombay begums

Bombay Begums has all the makings of a feminist series – the titles are taken from feminist literature, it tackles issues like motherhood, sexual harassment, desires, sexuality, and freedom, – and it does look good on paper. Alas, the makers have been unsuccessful in converting their ideas onto the big screen. The role of filmmakers is to provide the story, it’s the audiences’ responsibility to understand the why. In Bombay Begums, everything is laid bare with dialogues that for some reason are written for a school play. When Fatima declines the job offer, saying she’s pregnant, Rani says, “So? Women can have a career and a family”; Ayesha’s mother pressures her for marriage, saying, “You need a strong man”; Fatima tells her friends at a dinner that she’s contemplating the new offer, adding, “I think women can do it all, no?” 

The point is, WE KNOW. We know what you are trying to say; the actresses have done a phenomenal job portraying the characters and their feelings – Shahana Goswami, Pooja Bhatt, and Amruta Subhash deserve all the glory for their acting skills – but we don’t need its literal interpretation, which is where the series falls flat. The men in the series are not fleshed out enough; either they are outright evil or feminists – there is no in-between – as if men are nothing but one-dimensional characters to showcase the strong women. We hope that real men are more nuanced and complicated than this because otherwise no amount of women’s day celebrations are going to bear any fruit. 

That being said, we have to applaud a good initiative of the filmmakers that tried to portray the story of many women in India – stepmothers, sex workers, teenagers, bisexuals – without conforming to the ‘urban high class’ narrative that many are comfortable with. We only hope to see more of these amazing characters in Season 2. 

Image via: Scroll

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