In the picture

March 21, 2021

Bombay Begums is lifted by its impeccable cast, beginning with Pooja Bhatt

Bombay Begums☆☆☆1/2

Staring: Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Amruta Subhash, Plabita Borthakur, Aadhya Anand, Manish Chaudhry, Imaaduddin Shah and Rahul Bose

Creator: Alankrita Shrivastava
Direction: Alankrita Shrivastava and Bornila Chatterjee

A woman becomes the CEO of a major bank. A dancer yearns for a better quality of life for her son. A prepubescent girl misses her late mother while pretending she is old enough to get a boy’s attention. A woman who works above her husband in a bank has to choose between career and motherhood. A young woman is fired from her job only to get roped into CSR (of the strangest kind) whereas her interest lies in finance.

All of these women, some of whom should never have crossed each other’s paths in life, call Mumbai (Bombay) home and in one way or another, their stars are intertwined.

Led by Pooja Bhatt (Rani), who is riveting in each scene, the first season of Bombay Begums is off to a promising start.

Indian producers have placed their bets on streaming services providing daring content that may never fly in an Indian theatre. And on Netflix, anything goes. Taking its cue – perhaps from previous shows – Bombay Begums, set against the city of Mumbai, is not about male characters. It picks on issues that reflect the changing sensibilities of actors and writers in ways that are both nuanced and OTT.

These five women, who share circumstances due to inevitability, may not have typical female friendships but don’t mistake it for women just being catty frame of reference that is used as a common trope, in Bollywood and right here at home.

From Pooja Bhatt - who leads the cast as Rani - to Shahana Goswami who essays Fatima (A Suitable Boy), Amruta Subhash who plays Lily (Gully Boy; Sacred Games), Plabita Borthakur who essays Ayesha and Aadhya Anand who essays the young Shai, the women carry the series.

The men go from understanding to misogynists to vile while the story develops deeper as the episodes go on. Why is Lily holding Rani’s position of CEO hostage with her demands? Why is Fatima relying on her former boss instead of going to the CEO who gave her the promotion? Why is her husband so unsupportive? These are just surface value questions.

Bombay Begums goes further into the lives of the denizens of Mumbai and as it does, we see the effect of classicism in a maximum city and how gender equality on any level of the social strata is difficult to find.

There are affairs, drunk-driving children, men still in love with their late wives, political goons and much more that is part of the larger narrative.

A creation of Lipstick Under My Burqa’s Alankrita Shrivastava, Netflix has been asked by Child Rights body to halt the series since it can corrupt the minds of the youth. But what if the series is (a) educational and (b) a dramatized depiction of society? Should it not be allowed to run?

Bombay Begums doesn’t pretend to answer questions. It builds to a thrilling crescendo where loyalties become questionable and self-righteous morality is non-existent (which is a relief). No saas bahu saga here.

Bombay Begums isn’t perfect; it has its flaws (like editing) but to dwell on them is to give the plot away. What is clear is that women can lead shows and this ensemble cast is as good as it gets. It makes you wonder why Pooja Bhatt hasn’t been seen in a substantial role and how Bollywood’s ageism is not a problem for streaming giants.

Between Amazon Prime and Netflix, shows such as Sacred Games, Tandav, Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega and Mirzapur are among the most watched shows. But Bombay Begums puts the spotlight on female actors and lets them shine far more than preceding series.

Mumbai is both vibrant and vulgar, a cosmopolitan city and a slum and it all connects in peculiar fashion. Language, however, is not laced with too much cussing which also comes as a release.

The male actor(s) play supporting roles here. From Rahul Bose to some of Indian TV’s biggest names, they only connect to the series via the women. It’s about time. As the Bob Dylan song goes, the times are a-changin’.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

In the picture: Review of Netflix's Bombay Begums