Writer-Director Alankrita Shrivastava has found her niche in sketching women in the greyest of the shade and letting the chinks in their armour shine like a medal. Bombay Begums brings five women from different walks of life to Mumbai and takes us through the chronicles they go through because of their gender. Pooja Bhatt, who has aged like fine wine, headlines this story like a pro.
Cast: Pooja Bhatt, Amruta Subhash, Shahana Goswami, Plabita Borthakur, Aadhya Anand, Vivek Gomber, Danish Hussain & ensemble.
Set in the urban landscape, five women from different generations and walks of life come together and battle for their desires, ambitions, pride, bodies and sit on the throne-like queens.
If there ever happens to be a crossover film where Alankrita Shrivastava’s women meet and discuss society, I would be the first to buy a ticket. Bombay Begums, created and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava – Bornila Chatterjee and written with Iti Agarwal, is again a close look at women from the different strata of the society. An elite CEO of a bank Rani (Pooja Bhatt), has strived hard to reach the top. She is at the top of a hierarchy that wants to pull her down. She makes the crisp sarees her armours and her brain her weapon.
Lily, a bar dancer, is out to win respect from a society that wants her to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. She wants her son to be a gentleman, contradictory to the fact he is labelled as a son of a wh*re. Fatima, a woman battling both professional and personal issues is climbing the stairs to success with speed but is struggling to become a mother. Ayesha, the most clichéd of these characters, in my opinion, still has an edge to her. She is part coil part robust and resembles a lot we meet. Shai, a teenager who is discovering her body and struggles to become an attractive version of herself.
In their writing, the three (Alankrita, Iti and Bornila) sketch these ladies without judging them. All the above-mentioned characters are not the statues of righteousness but keepers of dark secrets that they keep close to their hearts. When a prostitute says “Apneko ijjat mangta”, while in another part of the city, a woman stands in the most immaculate of the conference rooms and asks for the same “ijjat” but professionally, you see there is no much difference. The writers see them as women regardless of their profession and show how it is the same for the gender altogether.
In their collective 6 episodes in Bombay Begums, the creator highlight various issues that a woman goes through. Metaphorically it pitches men to be soldiers and the women, the queens running the show. In other underlined message, a woman’s body in itself is a war ground. From being subjected to abuse, to standing against it, to ageing gracefully and hiding it, to discovering menstruation, sex and growing up. These 5 women go through all the above stages and are at different ones depending on their generation.
When a boss lady (Pooja Bhatt) hides her menopause phase and stands in a washroom drying her armpits under a hand dryer, it is that moment you see her vulnerability. Or when Shai (Aadhya) is curious to buy a bra and celebrates wearing it the first time, you see the unknown. For women, it is normal, but for men (including me) these scenes shine like a lighthouse. Because I was never told about them, and to confess never really gave attention to the women around me to understand these details. Kudos to the team for showing them.
Though I had a few problems with Bombay Begums, but the begums never really let those chinks overpower. Each of the five ladies on board, in a way, are telling their stories that are personal to them. As said, it is about gender in general, and they have lived their lives enough to narrate the ordeals. Pooja Bhatt making a full-length comeback is a winner. She uses her age and mature elitism to the max and makes Rani one of the people we watch in those financial conclaves. In a scene, we see her washing her underwear in the basin, and that’s the attention to detail she brings on the table.
Amruta Subhash, my most favourite, embodies Lilly, a Bar dancer with the smallest of the details and brings her alive. Her journey through greed, to craving respect, to starting a new life is what gives the show an emotional layer. Subhash is an actor who uses her physicality to create a character, and with Lilly, she gets to do that completely and does a brilliant job. Shahana and Plabita manage to bring the same vulnerability to Fatima and Ayesha with conviction. I am happy to see these ladies taking the mantle on OTT in their able hands.
Bombay Begums can be safely called Alankrita using the Made In Heaven formula of storytelling and succeeds in making it look amazing.
Plot twists at some points become too daily soap versions of them, and even the handling of gives the same vibes. In the part where an affair is busted, or a girl paints her skirt red so she could fake getting her first period, it all becomes too melodramatic, thus making you a bit out of the experience.
Netflix’s Bombay Begums is about the five characters representing their gender and asking the world to look at their desires, struggles, needs and cravings. Watch it to see some terrific actors and writers collaborate to give the never seen before details. Watch it for the battles they fight.