Does being fun make a show less feminist? What 'Four more Shots Please' and 'Veere Di Wedding' taught me
The two flicks are about upper-caste, upper-class, urban, privileged women, distant from the reality of a large part of India. But they do hold important feminist lessons.
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Four more Shots Please is the latest to join the band of ‘feminist’ flicks, coming in the wake of two successful movies, Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017) and Veere Di Wedding (2018).
Four More Shots Please, an Amazon Prime web series, centres around four women who navigate their lives in glitzy south Mumbai. The four — Damini, Anjana, Umang and Siddhi — are as different as chalk from cheese, yet bound by the bonds of ‘sisterhood’, and thereafter, ‘buddy-hood’.
Their differences and problems are downed in the shots they have at The Truck Bar — a watering hole which provides them with the right space (a non-judgemental one) to celebrate hard-earned victories and also drown away woes the world hands out.
The show is about relatively elite women. And it raises a celebratory toast to female friendships. (Photo: Twitter/Still from Four More Shots Please)
Damini, Umang, Anjali and Siddhi are new-age women who don’t feel the grasp of guilt as they drown shots and sex. In a sense, the four hand down to the viewer a sense of liberation and a breath of fresh air, even as they deal with the compulsions of their own lives.
Veere Di Wedding too dealt with four friends, played by Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania. The template is similar, as is the chemistry among the friends and their attitude — bold, sassy, unconventional.
The characters raise important questions about marriage, relationships, sexual liberation, friendship, etc., as seen through the looking glass of women who are modern, educated and articulate. These 'Veeres' are unwilling to sacrifice themselves at the altar of patriarchy. They redefine rules in a way that draws applause. All of them are unapologetic about their views and take on problems without violent outbursts.
No 'paap ko jalakar raakh kar dungi' driving force here.
One criticism of Four More Shots Please and Veere Di Wedding (or even their predecessor Sex and the City) is their inability to include intersectional feminism — thereby keeping a large set of issues outside their purview.
In contrast, Lipstick Under My Burkha engaged viewers with the perspectives and challenges of women across age, caste, class, community and profession. The four women in the film exhibited that women across societies were subjected to patriarchy, albeit in different ways. The film emphatically argued that women’s issues needed to be looked through a cultural, contextual as well as a global prism.
Lipstick Under My Burkha saw 'liberation' climb down from dizzy social heights to grounded reality. (Photo: YouTube/screengrab)
Four More Shots Please and Veere Di Wedding have largely engaged with issues faced by urban, urbane, upper caste, upper-class women, coming from relatively privileged backgrounds. No harm there — but it’s good to acknowledge that there could have been more.
In Four More Shots Please, the issues centre around body shape and size, sex (too much or too little) and sexual orientation. Yes, there is some decent conversation about professional pressures, single parenting, obsessive compulsive disorder and professions not considered typically ‘female’; yet, for the major part, the series is pockmarked with several unnecessary stereotypes.
That a girl who is well endowed and ‘large’ in proportion is also a virgin, while one who is different in sexual orientation (bisexual) is also more sexually liberated, are faithful stereotyped representations. There is also thrown in for good measure the professionally successful woman, Damini, who cannot handle pressures and suffers from a form of neurosis, unable to find stability in any relationship.
When it comes to mothers too, Four More Shots Please walks the stereotyped path — it shows mothers either obsessing over their daughter’s wedding plans, or giving themselves up to parenting so absolutely that it entails having little or no time for anything else, including any sexual indulgences.
Anjana, the protagonist in the role of a single mother, hasn’t even heard of masturbation, leave alone attempting it — Siddhi’s mother is openly critical of her plus size, contributing to her body issues and lowered confidence. In Veere Di Wedding, Neena Gupta’s character drives herself to sleepless nights over her daughter’s single status.
Mothers in Indian cinema have always been portrayed in an asexual light — a change in sartorial choices or a headier lifestyle cannot obliterate the ‘Nirupa Roy-Ma’ persona sunk deep within the psyche. Therefore, films fail to shoot away the stereotypes that millions of women continue to face.
The protagonists represent a certain section — professionals — and yet, the makers failed to highlight the innumerable challenges dogging women at the workplace. Gender-based discrimination in terms of roles and pay slips, workplace violence, unsupportive working culture, commuting woes — the film did not pounce on the potential it had to bring out these issues.
These women have glamour. But they also have gumption. (Photo: YouTube/screengrab. Still from Veere Di Wedding)
Despite these failings though, Four More Shots Please and Veere Di Wedding cannot be ignored, because they do address the new age feminist discourse.
Modern-day feminism poses women with conflicting viewpoints. While it is no more about bra burning, and one could decide to be a stay-at-home-mother and still insist on being treated as an ‘equal’ partner, run out and buy a packet of condoms and morning-after-pills without averting one's gaze, have casual sex without the baggage of guilt, yet, the patriarchal hold does not in truth relax.
The challenges for women remain.
For instance, new age sexual liberation has come hand in hand with violence, often in newer, more terrifying forms. Cyber criminals stalk and prey on women who don't know how to deal with such camouflaged predators. Also, speaking out against gendered issues brings with it the label of being a ‘feminist’, often with the problematic connotation of being 'anti-men'.
The feminist agenda has to keep pace with these changing dynamics and equations.
The movement must deal with ambiguities in assimilation. Who are we? Where would we like to be? Must we reduce ourselves to dull, drab entities in our fight for equal status, or can we choose to wear red lipstick without diluting the feminist agenda?
Perhaps Veere di Wedding and Four More Shots Please can answer this one for us.
Does the shade of my lipstick stain my feminism? (Photo: YouTube/screengrab)
We ought to break patriarchal bondages and celebrate the uniqueness of being a woman. We must rejoice at the bonding among women that provides us with perspective, energy and support in our dealings. We ought to celebrate choices that are different — that mark us as women. Like the sensual pleasure we take in fabrics, cuts, colours, shine in clothes, jewellery, accessories, gossip sessions over chai, vodka shots — we ought to celebrate the supportive mechanism that girlfriends provide, good, wholesome fun which entertains and repairs.
Both the creative offerings do just that.
Despite the criticism they have attracted, the fact is, these films chronicle the hard work and struggles of women as well as their joys, celebrations, sheer rowdiness and zest for life. They are about expressions of the ‘new feminine self’. And they do teach us a thing or two about ‘liberation’.
We could be from Malegaon, Mumbai or Manhattan, the setting could be culturally disparate — yet, our experiences would be the same. Feminism is ultimately about ‘sisterhood’ — about the bonds that tie disparate women together.
In that sense, both Veere Di Wedding and Four More Shots Please do offer a feministic perspective.