Daily Recco, April 7: Bombay Begums is a gripping drama of conflicted women

Alankrita Shrivastava’s Bombay Begums highlights the shared experiences of women.

 |  3-minute read |   07-04-2021
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From boardrooms to the margins of society, four women and a girl in the big bad world of Mumbai find their life stories reflect on each other’s journeys. All facing patriarchy, all manoeuvring sexism, but none ready to give up and get out.

Alankrita Shrivastava’s Bombay Begums could have been the begums of any Indian metropolis and their shared stories would have been just the same. That is what you call the shared experience of women.

The show, an eight-part series streaming on Netflix, is the story of the five who are living, working and dreaming in Mumbai. The show marks the comeback of Pooja Bhatt as Rani to the acting platform and she marks it with aplomb. Bhatt plays a banker trying to salvage the fortunes of her organisation, surrounded by men waiting for her to fail, even as she attempts to be a mother to her stepchildren.

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Her husband (Danish Husain), meanwhile, is not over the loss of his first wife. The dead woman stands between the couple in their most intimate moments. Rani also has a 'secret' to keep in her closet. One that comes running to her face and body in between board meetings. She is going through menopause but won’t let the secret out lest she be judged for losing muliebrity.

She is a boss to many, including Fatima (Shahana Goswami), who is the most layered character of the eight-part web series. Fatima is a successful banker married to a non-so-successful banker. The couple wants to have a child and both decide Fatima would ‘take a break’ when the child arrives. Before the child arrives an unputdownable career opportunity arrives for Fatima. Her relationship is put through a test as is her own being leading her to a sexual dalliance with a client. The affair throws her into a whirlwind of thrill and guilt. As is always the case, there is no way out.

The worst of Fatima comes to the fore when her junior Ayesha (Plabita Borthakur) charges Fatima’s mentor with sexual harassment. Aware of her own rights and struggles as a woman, Fatima chooses to side with the mentor terming the whole thing as an-affair-gone-wrong. Ayesha, whose professional skills aren’t the greatest, fights back. She wins support from Lily (Amruta Subhash), a sex worker, striving for 'respect from society'. Lily is the eyewitness to Ayesha’s harassment and a blackmailer to Rani.

And then there is Rani’s adolescent daughter Shai (Aadhya Anand) who is struggling to fit into the 'cool girl' bracket fretting over delayed onset of periods and a flat chest. In a desperate bid to fit in, Sai suffers a drug overdose and lands in hospital. If this is an “inappropriate portrayal” of children, one would have to say their lives are inappropriate because it a realistic portrayal of many children in the urban milieu.

Bombay Begums is not a hurriedly cooked dish but one that seems to have been prepared with patience and care. The five stories are well connected and all characters help to sketch the outlines of other characters. The women have their separate journeys but their paths cross. They are mean to each other but also sympathetic and empathetic at the same time. They are driven by personal ambition but they know their individual obstacles are the shared obstacles of womankind. That is not an easy blend to achieve but that is the closet an Indian series has come to outlining the lives of working women in an urban setting.

When Fatima realises it, she goes on to support Ayesha against her mentor. Women, it is said, do not show the same gender camaraderie that men work under. So watch Bombay Begums not because it shows what women face but because it shows how they can turn things around if they face it together.

Also read: Hidden Figures of women's empowerment

Writer

Vandana Vandana @vsinghhere

Author is Assistant Editor, DailyO.

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