'Bombay Begums' review: Powerful performances with an over-used narration 

Written By: Shomini Sen WION
New Delhi Published: Mar 08, 2021, 01:39 PM(IST)

Bombay Begums Photograph:( Twitter )

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'Bombay Begums' ventures out with a bold story but ultimately succumbs to predictability and that is the biggest flaw of the series.

Filmmaker Alankrita Srivastava has always had a strong, distinctly female voice in almost all her works. Her films 'Lipstick Under My Burkha'  and the recent 'Dolly Kitty Ke Haseen Sapne' have explored issues that women have dealt with for years but has not been well represented in pop culture as much. Her latest, a web series for Netflix called 'Bombay Begum' also narrates the story of five women of varied much like 'Lipstick....' did. 

Rani Singh Irani (Pooja Bhatt) is the newly appointed MD of the Royal Bank. A small-town girl who worked her way up the corporate ladder, Rani is on tenterhooks as she takes on the new job. A lot is at stake and her critics are waiting for her slip in order to replace her. 

Rani not only needs to meander the men and their cynism about her capabilities in her professional life, but at home has to manage to teenage step-children, and her husband- none of whom are yet over the death of their mother/wife. And though Rani would like to present a picture-perfect life to the world, she has to answer and prove her worth at almost every step. 

She appoints Fatima Warsi(Shahana Goswami ) as the Deputy MD's spot in the bank. A bright, ambitious hardworking woman, Fatima is more perturbed about the fact that she is unable to conceive a child with her husband Arijay (Vivek Gomber) who works in the same bank but in a junior position. 

There is also a young Ayesha (Plabita Borthakur) who first gets fired and then eventually hired back in the same bank. She is from Indore, with an MBA degree from one of the lesser-known B-schools. Homeless and friendless, she is taken back in the company by Rani who gives her to run a social welfare scheme for women. 

The first recipient of the scheme is Lily (Amruta Subhash) a bar dancer who knows wants to set up a factory and give her son the life she never could get. 

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The narrator of the story is 13 year of Shai, Rani's rebellious stepdaughter who - in her own admission- states she an 'old woman trapped in a young girl's body. She sketches her thoughts and talks to her dead 'Mummy'through the show. 

Srivastava and co-writers Bornila Chatterjee and Iti Agarwal make the women unapologetic but not at the cost of making the men the villain of their stories. The women are unapologetic, ambitious and perhaps the heroes and villains of their own story. Three out of the five lead protagonists have extra-martial affairs and are not apologetic for sleeping with other men, one is exploring her sexuality and one waits desperately to hit puberty. For their age and background, each woman is bold and powerful and has a distinct voice. 

The story deals with power, fame, infidelity, sexuality and coming of age with great detail. Perhaps for the first time, an Indian show openly shows a lead character as a bisexual who is still understand her own needs. The show talks of the female gaze, about workplace sexual harassment and how typically men and women deal when such a crisis hits upon them. 

It also deftly handles sisterhood in a society that is blurred and grey. Sure they pull each other down on several occasions but ultimately come together as each other's biggest supporters. When Fatima finds out that her mentor for years is a sexual predator, her first reaction is doubt the girl and her intentions. "He has a family, there would be repercussions," she warns Ayesha. But eventually, when she does find out the truth, she is one to take up the case and fight for Ayesha. 

Similarly, despite being fired a day before, Ayesha finds herself back in the bank because Rani is willing to give this small town girl a chance- as she reminds her of her younger self.

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To its credit, the show has some great actors aptly cast in their respective roles. Bhatt, in her comeback project, exudes confidence in the ambitious, sometimes kind, sometimes shrewd Rani. Goswami plays complex Fatima with great ease. Amruta Subhash, a credible actor who has proved her mettle in numerous films before, plays the bar dancer Lily stunningly. Lily's is the outsider in the setup -but she claws her way in as she craves acce[tance and respect much like the other women. 

The young stars Borthakur and Adhya Anand as Shai also deliver confident performances. 

While on paper, the plot may have held a lot of promise- at the execution level, the show somehow is not as effective. It does talk of a lot of important issues, from menstruation to sexuality but the whole doesn't come together that effectively. There's also a strangeMade In Heaven' hangover ( Srivastava was one of the directors) especially because of the music and the narration by the young Shai- who speaks in metaphors. The narration- in several instances- overpowers everything else and is slightly hard to digest. 



The show starts off about women, belittling or uplifting each other- as they meander through various obstacles in their personal lives but ultimately becomes a story of all of them standing up against sexual violence. 

Like her other projects, Srivastava manages to make everyone sit up and take note of her powerful women but the show never reaches a pinnacle with its plot and the ending is underwhelming. When you touch upon such pertinent points in the middle of the series, one except it to end with a bang but instead, the ending is underwhelming. 

'Bombay Begums' ventures out with a bold story but ultimately succumbs to predictability and that is the biggest flaw of the series.
 
Thankfully, the show is propelled by good performances. 

'Bombay Begums' is streaming on Netflix. 

 

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