What is the story about?
The series delves into the lives of various women in Mumbai. Rani, a beleaguered banker, is trying to save her bank, as well as repair her relationship with her stepchildren, including teenaged stepdaughter Shai. She decides to promote Fatima, a talented junior, as CEO of the bank. Fatima is struggling to balance her professional life with motherhood, much to the consternation of her husband. Young girl Ayesha starts working at the bank, even as she struggles to own her identity. A chance encounter brings bar dancer Lily into contact with Rani. What happens when all their disappointments and powerless feelings collide with each other? Can they pick themselves up and stand with their head held high?
Alankrita Shrivastava’s work—be it her trifecta of films Turning 30, Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, or even her work on Amazon Prime Video’s Made in Heaven—is a shining oeuvre of work focused on the Indian woman. No other writer-director can lay claim to yanking the genre from the shadows into the mainstream, and Shrivastava has simply perfected this to a T by now. In her new work, Bombay Begums, she ambitiously decides to focus on the various machinations of a cross-section of women coming from different walks of life. There’s an assured lightness of touch that is there in the screenplay, almost as if Shrivastava and her co-collaborator Bornila Chatterjee are literally guiding the audiences through viewpoints which male filmmakers generally fail to address. A substantial part of the narrative focusses on the abuse that goes unnoticed and unpunished in the workplace, and there’s also a bit where a key character is revealed to be bisexual. However, instead of sensationalizing them, Shrivastava tells it like it is.
What seems to be the problem, then? In spite of being finely etched, the characters seem to be cutouts from Shrivastava’s earlier work. You can find flashes of Dolly, Kitty and even Bua in the characters. With time, we have come to expect stellar work from Shrivastava, but, unfortunately, the series misses its mark, especially during the middle. Certain sequences feel out of place, and kept in the narrative for shock value. Also—and perhaps this can be blamed on Shrivastava’s films—there is a tendency to pack too much story and character traits within the six episodes that make up Season 1. If there’s a second season—and I hope there is—the writing will have to be tighter, and give each character more space to breathe.
The most enjoyable aspect of this show are its performances. Honestly, at multiple points in the narrative, I wished Pooja Bhatt had come back to the screen earlier. As the beleaguered Rani, who unapologetically weathers all sorts of storms in her personal and professional lives, Bhatt is a hoot. Shahana Goswami is terrific as Fatima, who battles professional expectations, as well as her husband’s definition of what she should do as a new mother. Plabita Borthakur is solid as Ayesha, a young girl who struggles to come to terms with her orientation, and later must confront the horror of a crime perpetrated by someone she looks up to. Amruta Subhash is decent as the feisty bar dancer Lily, who blackmails her way into a scheme for women entrepreneurs. Aadhya Anand is alright as Rani’s stepdaughter Shai. The rest of the cast, with veterans such as Rahul Bose, Danish Hussain, Vivek Gomber, Manish Chaudhari and others—do not disappoint as well.
Music & Other Departments
Gaurav Raina’s score, including the theme for the title sequence, is great. Akshay Singh’s camerawork is decent. Snehal Phadtare’s art direction is superb.
The dramatic scenes involving Rani and Fatima are sharply and unapologetically written.
There are certain scenes that stick out like sore thumbs. I had a problem with a scene where a key character remarks to a surrogate mother that she “is just a womb”. Also, someone masturbates while wearing their dead wife’s clothes, which seemed pretty tasteless. The ending of the season also seemed pretty rushed.
Also, it is a bit difficult to accept the teenage Shai as the omniscient narrator of the story, considering she has no real-world experience to boast about.
Did I enjoy it?
I enjoyed a number of portions. However, the rest of the series did not appeal to me that much.
Do I recommend it?
I will recommend this, but with a necessary disclaimer: there are certain scenes that could act as triggers.