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Review Hindi

Bombay Begums review: Alankrita Shrivastava’s series raises crucial issues but is a laboured watch

Release Date: 08 Mar 2021


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Sukhpreet Kahlon

With an inadequate script and turgid dialogues, the web-series does not allow its striking elements to resonate with the audience.

Created by Alankrita Shrivastava, the buzzy, six-episode Netflix web-series Bombay Begums, with its ‘Smash the Patriarchy’ spirit, starring Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Amruta Subhash, Plabita Borthakur and Rahul Bose, examines the intertwined lives of five women who are trying to negotiate life on their own terms.

It is no coincidence that the story unfolds in the high-stakes world of finance, a traditional male bastion. Although the five women belong to different strata and age groups, they are bound together in their struggle against patriarchy. Rani (Bhatt) is CEO of a prominent bank who is trying to keep it all together with her family and colleagues nipping at her heels, waiting hawk-eyed for her to slip up. Her entitled step-daughter Shai (Aadhya Anand) shuns every gesture made by her stepmother and is dealing with adolescence issues.

Fatima (Goswami) works at the same bank, climbing the ladder to success while trying for a baby with a husband (Vivek Gomber) who assumes she will just chuck the job once the baby arrives. Ayesha (Borthakur) is a small-town girl trying to make it in the big city and discover herself while Lily (Amruta Subhash) is a streetwalker and bar dancer who takes every chance life gives her to crawl out of the world she inhabits.

Through the stories of these women, the web-series explores the balancing act that most women have to play, juggling career and home, managing children’s demands and the expectations of husbands, along with a gruelling work schedule. In doing so, it lays bare the dreams, aspirations and desires of women, presenting them as flawed flesh-and-blood characters while also examining their role as perpetrators of patriarchy.

The problem, however, lies in the heavy-handed manner in which all this unfolds, with a script that does not allow the many striking elements to resonate with the viewer. For example, the first episode itself, which lays the foundation for the rest of the show, tests your patience. Shai’s voiceover and precocity become tiresome really fast. There is also no room for subtlety with us being told exactly how to think about things. This sledgehammer approach is more evident at the beginning of the series and takes a while to settle down.

It’s a shame that the series flounders like this because it does raise crucial issues and present women in ways that have seldom been seen before. Rani’s constant battle for survival in a man’s world, Fatima’s struggle with her body, Ayesha figuring out her sexuality, the issue of sexual abuse at the workplace that take one through the shame, guilt, confusion and uncertainty of the victim, amongst other issues, are undeniably crucial subjects to be presented on screen, and for that Bombay Begums deserves to be celebrated.

With such ingredients and a stellar cast with Pooja Bhatt leading the charge, this should have been a trailblazing series. Sadly, it becomes a laboured watch. The blame lies squarely with the writing for it is clear as day that the cast, especially Goswami and Bhatt, are trying to extract the most from their characters. The turgid dialogues do not help and Danish Hussain’s character, along with the voiceover, are the biggest casualties of this. Borthakur is predictable and unremarkable but Amruta Subhash really shines, bringing Lily’s character alive.

The web-series knows its audience and what it wants to say. The problem lies in how it says it. Watch it only if you must.

Netflix is now streaming Bombay Begums.

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