Bombay Begums(Netflix, 8 Episodes)
Starring Pooja Bhatt,Amruta Subhash, Shahana Goswami, Plabita Borthakur, Aadhya Anand
Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, Bornila Chatterjee
Like them or loathe them, hug them or hate them, spurn them or ‘sperm’ them….The 5 women in Bombay Begums(one of them, just entering puberty) leave a lasting impression. This is a series like no other, replete with plot twists that will keep you watching until the very end.And when the ‘end’ comes, you want to know what these ladies will do with their lives after we leave them. Would they continue to so fabulously flawed? Or would they…ummm… mend their ways become faithful to their spouses? Would they stop thinking of good sex being preferable to a good marriage?
Shahana Goswami’s character Fatima Warsi actually does the unthinkable… She goes out and has an rollicking sexy affair with her senior(that too a Caucasian) although she has a very loving devoted husband(Vivek Gomber, too wimpy and whiny to leave an impression). Yup, women in Alankrita Shrivastava’s universe do stray from a solid marriage in search of solid sex.A recurring image in her cinema is that of a woman lying inert under a heaving lurching man who clearly isn’t giving his partner the promised paradise.
Sex, as you must have guessed by now, is one of the most vital, if not THE most vital component of the woman’s world woven so wonderfully into the web of woe and wow in Bombay Begum. Rani Singh Irani(Pooja Bhatt) the formidable head honcho of a bank chain , is a committed wife trying very hard to win over her two adolescent stepchildren. But when Rani sneaks out for a tryst and tumble with a secret lover(Rahul Bose, the lust interest) what do we make of her?
Another woman, from another generation(there is one to choose from in every age group from the teens to the late 40s) is that smalltown girl in Mumbai finding her way across the con-crete jungle. Think Priyanka Chopra in Fashion. Think Shivani Raghuvanshi in Made In Heaven. Except that Ayesha Aggarwal(PlabitaBorthakur) in Bombay Begums is bi-sexual. As she divides her sex time with Ron(Imaad Shah, too little of him) and Chitra(Sanghmitra Hitaishi) it gradually becomes apparent that it’s okay for women to be selfish, to put themselves above the men in their lives. The missionary position is no longer the only option.
My favourite woman of this resplendent bunch is Amrita Subhash’s Lily, the sex worker who wants a good life for her son. She connives, schemes and when anyone steps on her dreams, she screams. What a volcanic performance by Amrita Subhash! And not just she. Pooja Bhatt gives to her role as a dithering wife, struggling mother and self-seeking woman the kind of menopausal imperiousness not seen before in Hindi cinema. The ever-dependable ShahanaGoswami is bang-on as the just a teensy-weensy guilty unfaithful wife(but why the symbolic cracked mirror in her bedroom?). And little Aadhya Anand as the girl who can’t wait for her periods to start is a delightfully young but wise narrator in a series that defies the norms of gender stereotyping but doesn’t make a brouhaha about being “bold” and “bindaas”. These women are what they are. Like them or not, you can’t ignore them.
It is very difficult to like these women but it isn’t difficult to love them. They are so robust, so vivacious, passionate and self-assertive, they won’t rest easy until they attain self-actualization which here has different connotations for different women.Different strokes for different fucks, I guess.
The men…oh yes, I nearly forgot. They don’t appear as just sketchy alibis for women to have fun. Manish Choudhary as a high-ranking sexual offender in the bank is brilliant.So is Danish Hussain as Naushad Pooja Bhatt’s way-too-understanding husband . When Rani is caught with her pants down ,Naushad comforts her, dries her up after her cleansing bath . Even ImaadShah’s well-played Ron is way too understanding. Clearly Alankrita Shrivastava and her partner-in-crime Bornila Chatterjee understand the women far better than men. And we are okay with that.Bad sex is just beginning of the process of rectifying the gender equations in our society.
Bombay Begums is a lavish upperclass saga of supreme sexiness. Most of the characters live the good life and are not the least apologetic about it. If Bollywood Wives was not dumb, not vulgar and not ignorant it would have been Bombay Begums.