Bombay Begums review: Amruta Subhash, Pooja Bhatt reign supreme in Netflix's unsubtle yet sprightly series
Bombay Begums is a cohesive, albeit formulaic show that manoeuvres all the possible themes urban women of all ages and social strata face on a daily basis.
It's Women's Day. There's a new Netflix show, titled Bombay Begums, up for release. It stars Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Amruta Subhash, Plabita Borthakur and 13-year-old Aadhya Anand, in a show about four women and a girl as they navigate the challenges and conflicts of being modern women trying to break social shackles in a big bad city like Mumbai. The series is directed by Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick Under My Burkha, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare among others).
Everything you're already imagining Bombay Begums to be, it is. A cohesive, albeit formulaic show that manoeuvres all the possible themes that urban women of all ages and social strata face on a daily basis.
Starting with Rani Irani (Pooja Bhatt), who is the newly appointed CEO of an Indian bank, and faces patriarchal hurdles from her male-dominated board almost everyday. How much of a powerful, opinionated professional woman is too much? This is a question that is posed in front of Rani, and she does what she needs to, to get her way without being too flashy about it. At the home front, she is barely able to keep up with her two step children, who are unwilling to accept her unconditional love for them, and her second husband (Danish Hussain), who is still obsessed with his dead ex-wife. The only silver lining in her overbearingly pressurising universe is that she has an open and honest marriage, which allows her to indulge in occasional carnal desires with a certain Mahesh Rao (Rahul Bose).
Fatima (Shahana Goswami) is the second most powerful woman in the same bank, and when the show opens, is currently in her 5th round of a highly stressful IVF session. She desperately wants to be a mother (an emotion she may have second-handedly imbibed from her enthusiastic husband Arijay — played by Vivek Gomber) but is equally ambitious about her career prospects. Can a woman straddle motherhood and climbing up the corporate ladder with the same intensity? As Fatima attempts to search for answers, she will buckle under multiple pressures, make some not-so-smart choices but ultimately find her way.
Lakshmi Gondhale (the effervescent Amruta Subhash) plays a bar dancer/single mother with ambitions of a different kind. More than money or comfort, she wants to live the rest of her life with her son in a respectful environment. She wants a brighter future and decides the way to go about it is to put up a steel factory and send her child to an English medium school. Through a welfare scheme provided by the same bank, and with the help of Ayesha (Plabita Borthakur), the junior most employee, a typical greenhorn who comes to Mumbai from Indore with stars in her eyes, Lakshmi attempts to steer through a society that is reluctant to view her as anything above the strata and occupation she was forced to accept with no agency of her own.
Meanwhile, through Ayesha, we are able to see how difficult it is for women with no influence or experience to find social, professional and personal standing in a tough city like Mumbai. Her sexuality, motives and perseverance are tested routinely, as she learns new and hard lessons everyday on the job. Aadhya Anand's character Shai Irani fills in the narrative gaps with an unnaturally mature voiceover for a teenager, which in the beginning seems forced and manufactured, but eventually grows on you.
Perhaps Bombay Begums' most appreciative quality is that Alankrita, and co-writers Iti Agarwal and Bornila Chatterjee, are not interested in crafting perfect characters: the women are flawed and own it. Even if their struggles are slightly textbook, I do recognise that perhaps some of these struggles may seem overdone to me as a fairly privileged, urban, upper-caste woman. The Smash-The-Patriarchy formulae that govern the writing of the 6 episodes of the series incorporate enough conflict, but with no subtlety or nuance. This is seen in the writing of the male characters, who operate in extremes — either very compliant or downright evil. But when the women interact with each other, you can't help but smile. Each of the actors — but especially Pooja Bhatt and Amruta Subhash — internalise their characters in an endearingly watchable way. When they're together, you feel like it's a party you want to be a part of. It's a pity then, that there aren't enough of those scenes.
It's not a bad place to be in, then, if the overarching feeling one has after finishing Bombay Begums is that you expected more from it. With crisp episodes (even though clocking in at 50 minutes each), the series is fairly easy to sit through despite its imperfections.
Bombay Begums is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here: