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The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives: Lot of guilt, not much pleasure

The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives is too guarded to be flamboyant and too cagey to be outrightly callous.

Written by Ishita Sengupta | Bombay | December 1, 2020 6:20:22 pm
Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives is streaming on Netflix.

In an interview prior to the streaming of The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives, Maheep Kapoor (wife of actor Sanjay Kapoor) dispelled a preconceived notion people harbour regarding star wives: they do not lurk behind their husbands’ shadows anymore. She then went on to list Gauri Khan, Krishna Raj Kapoor, and even Mira Kapoor as instances and inspiration. Notwithstanding the veracity, the statement lends certain sobriety to their frivolous sobriquet — Bollywood Wives — if only the way it brings to focus their decade-spanning existence, lesser-documented ups and downs, and the ease with which they have been overlooked. Of late, social media has increased their visibility and provided space to assert an individuality beyond their surnames. The verification might be the outcome of legacy but the pictures tell their stories. The documentary-cum-reality outing by Dharmatic Entertainment, the digital arm of Dharma Productions, crafts eight episodes around visible yet little-known personalities of Kapoor, Bhavna Panday (wife of Chunky Panday), Seema Khan (wife of Sohail Khan) and Neelam Kothari (yesteryear actor, wife of Sameer Soni and a strange choice in this case), to explore their personalities through the prism of friendship. It achieves as little as providing backstories to their Instagram posts.

The show opens with Maheep Kapoor fretting over daughter Shanaya’s appearance at the prestigious charity fashion event Le Bal des débutantes as a stack of luggage (Louis Vuitton bags from a distance) stay parked near the door. And then as if to remind how basic our lives are, the ladies sit around and count the other Indians who have been part of the event– Ananya Panday, Isha Ambani and Shloka Birla. Post this, it alternates between their regular meet-ups, an insane trip to Doha where their spacious suites put the perpetually space-starved Bombay to shame, a fight at Ministry of Crab (the eatery’s name in hindsight proves to be more memorable than the brawl), and talks about an upcoming Gauri and Shah Rukh Khan party thrown to celebrate their friendship (because, why not).

The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives is a branded cross between Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Sex and the City, a love-child of privilege and tone-deafness. At the very outset, Seema Khan makes fun of Maheep Kapoor’s house help because she cannot speak English. The women wear boots and Prada outfits to clean the beach and the redundancy of the act is mirrored in the extra words in their reasoning, “this generation is the first generation that has seen changes in climate change”. They apply bronzer before getting a tan and refuse to cut vegetables because it messes up their nails. But here’s the thing: it is supposed to be this frivolous.

When you sign up to watch a show called The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives —the telling title setting the tone, drawing boundaries and tempering expectations — you consent being a voyeur. The entire idea of the series is to bait us with their fabulous lifestyles and capitalise on our investment in them. It is supposed to provide guilty pleasure — the guilt is in watching something so far-removed from reality and the pleasure residing in the access. It is almost like being added to their WhatsApp groups or being a fly on the wall in their living space.

When you sign up to watch a show called The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives —the telling title setting the tone, drawing boundaries and tempering expectations—you consent to be a voyeur. (Source: Netflix)

In this regard, there are instances which feed off our perennial curiosity about their lives. For instance, I choked laughing when Chunky Panday admitted fitting cameras in his house to check who steals his alcohol. Neelam Kothari (astonishingly relatable in her constant self-doubt) makes us privy to a moment we all unanimously refer to as “going under the knife”. Maheep Kapoor admits being an uninvited guest at Abhishek and Aishwarya’s wedding (she watched the ceremony through binoculars from her verandah) and Seema Khan hints her marriage with Sohail Khan has meandered in a very meandering way. It is also filled with star-studded cameos which reveal more than they hide: Janhvi Kapoor shares Kylie Jenner’s wish for her, Malaika Arora gives pep talk to former sister-in-law Seema and Ekta Kapoor not just convinces Neelam to make a comeback but in the same meet-up assures her of a role.

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This is the unapologetic, unabashed “fabulous lives” these women, friends for 25 years, inhabit. But apart from being overstretched, the show never basks in its flight to ignorance. And that is not because it knows better but because it is constantly aware of being a show. Karan Johar, a mutual friend and producer, keeps making brief appearances. He extends his Koffee With Karan gig but also tries countering future criticism. “Why should I watch a show about four women who don’t have jobs,” he asks. The person who literally produced that show is him. In another hilariously orchestrated moment, Sanjay and Maheep Kapoor go for a mid-day wine outing (just after her beach clean sesh) and he shares finally getting a role in a Karan Johar film. The scene serves no other purpose other than legitimising the impotency of nepotism. It all comes together at the much-anticipated Gauri Khan party where Shah Rukh Khan (as if straight out of Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance set) channels his charm and praises each one of them. The four women do the same.

The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives then is too guarded to be flamboyant and too cagey to be outrightly callous. It straddles between making the women look ridiculous and sincere (the show’s idea of depicting these women have careers is showcasing them talking to each other at their respective workplaces). It commits the cardinal sin of reality shows: being constantly on the fence about its own obliviousness. If there is one thing worth learning from Sima aunty it is to speak like no one’s watching. Sadly, no one gave them this memo.

(The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives is streaming on Netflix)

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