One is an anonymous virtual exhibitionist, brought up with the sole purpose of finding a husband. The other is a single mother, a successful lawyer and resentful of her ex-husband’s young girlfriend. The third is an award-winning journalist who has OCD and commitment issues. The fourth has a body covered with tattoos, is bisexual and can pull the double of her body weight in the gym. All four of them can cuss, and their drinking has virtually kept the corner bar in business. This is the core of the motley gang that is the lead of the new Amazon Prime Original Four More Shots Please! (FMSP!), which starts airing this week. The show boasts an all-female cast — the men though present, are incidental — a woman director of photography, a woman show-runner and a woman director. In an interview, the cast — comprising actors Sayani Gupta, Kirti Kulhari, VJ Bani and Maanvi Gagroo — spoke about the show, women-centric narratives and the #MeToo movement.
Lately, there has been a spate of shows and web content where women and their stories take centrestage. What made you say yes to FMSP!?
Sayani Gupta: What appealed to me about the show was the writing. As an actor, it is one of the best characters I have ever read. I play Damini Rizvi Roy, an author-backed part, and that’s true for all the other characters, major or peripheral. Each nuance has been fleshed out, and reflected in the lives that the characters are leading. They are real women; we all know such real people.
VJ Bani: When I met the show creators, and they had etched this character for me – it was a physical casting of sorts. I loved how Umang, my character, has her own arc — her past and her choices are shown — and why she is the way she is. She is unapologetic about her humble beginnings in Punjab, or her desires. A lot of shows don’t do that, at least in India.
Maanvi Gagroo: I play Siddhi, who even in her mid-twenties is looking for that validation, which should have been given to her in her formative years. And when you don’t get it, it builds up. On top of this, the one person who should have anchored her — her mother— is so overtly critical of her. And yes, it’s glamourous, and yes we all hang out at this uber-cool bar. What’s not to like!
Kirti Kulhari: This space — the glamour one — was very new for me. I come from a very different space, the non-glam, cotton sari space. For me, playing a mother was a point of resistance; the question of ‘will I get typecast’ was going on in my mind. But then, I am an actor, and the series is bold. I needed to do it, to be uninhibited, as an individual as well. The reel affected the real me; I got liberated through the show.
There’s a lot of talk about the male versus female gaze, as FMSP! is being helmed by an all-women team.
Gupta: Even with women-centric narratives, we need to be careful. In 2017, I was offered about seven scripts that were rape-revenge plots. While being women-centric but shot by a man, the women will be exploited by the male gaze, as it all depends on whose vision is being manifested in the story. There are skewed ways of seeing a women-centric story as well. We need a balanced perspective, which might come out when a woman is at the helm. FMSP! is written, shot, directed and edited by women. Here there are all wholesome characters, with plenty of shades of grey.
There is a lot of drinking and a lot of sex.
Kulhari: Yes, the show is breaking a lot of myths and stereotypes. I think women will be able to put themselves in our shoes. We have sex and we drink, but so do most women we know. We are normalising sex and drinking. We need to not whisper the word vagina anymore.
Bani, you play a tattooed fitness trainer, who is bisexual. Are you apprehensive about being typecast?
Bani: If I was afraid of being typecast, I would have quit long ago. People have asked me to stop training, stop getting tattoos, and stop cutting my hair. One talent agency even said that they put actors in two categories — one is glam, the other is didi/ bhabhi, and they didn’t know where to put me. I said, ‘I am niche, and you need to create one for me.’ I am quite happy to be where I am, my tattoos are even part of the dialogues of the show.
How will you place the show in the context of the #MeToo movement?
Gagroo: It’s great that we are having this movement where wrongdoers are being called out for who they are. Narratives with women as protagonists are extremely important, because we have ignored them for far too long, barring sporadic outbursts. We need to give a voice to this new generation of women who are aspirational, and not afraid of men. FMSP! is trying to counter myths like if a woman is sexually active, she is easy.
Gupta: We have only had narratives that are not just male-centric, but ‘hero’ centric, which perpetuate masculine stereotypes. Heroine is just a medium to make the hero feel good. It’s about time women are looked at as equal partners. Here in FMSP!, they are ambitious, career-driven, unapologetic, opinionated and yes, we would all like safe working spaces and safe personal lives as well. It’s the right time for a show like this.