Bombay Begums Review: Spoiler Alert
As the name explains it all, Bombay Begums, a six-part Netflix series, is about women with grand ambitions, out to achieve them in India’s financial capital, Mumbai. The story drifts around five of them (one is, in fact, a teenager) fastened to each other by fate. They fight, envy, manipulate, blackmail, control and hate one another, but the story is not about their relations with each other. It’s about their constant struggle to beat their own demon which is stopping them from attaining their goals.
Created, co-written, and co-directed by Lipstick Under My Burkha-fame Alankrita Shrivastava, Bombay Begums has Rani (Pooja Bhatt) at its centre, who is the CEO of a private bank staring at big financial crises; she counts on Fatima (Shahana Goswami), her deputy, to clinch deals, sometimes illegally, to put the bank back on the growth trajectory.
Rani cares for her reputation, so she initiates a welfare scheme to project a positive image of the bank in the media. She entrusts Ayesha (Plabita Borthakur), a junior bank employee, with the responsibility, and her first customer-to-be-entrepreneur turns out to be a bar-dancer-cum-sex-worker Lily (Amruta Subhash), who finds her way to the bank-project blackmailing the CEO whose teenaged stepson in a drunken-driving case almost kills her son.
The fifth protagonist is Rani’s stepdaughter Shai (Aadhya Anand) who is also the narrator of the series. She hates her stepmother and keeps talking to her dead mother. She has a self-developed vision about women and the world but succumbs to the teenaged fallacies falling in one-way love with a classmate and breaks apart on rejection experiencing a brush with death.
Rani strives to prove her worth battling the men’s world arriving in Mumbai from a provincial town, harbouring her own sleazy secrets finally tumbling out of her closets, but she weathers it all.
Fatima makes great strides in her career but fails to bear a child which hollows her out, driving her away from her husband who is also not very pleased with his wife staying ahead of him in their professions. Slowly, she loses track and indulges in an extra-marital affair.
Lily can’t run away from her past. She grabs the opportunity arm-twisting CEO Rani to make a good life for herself. She aspires to educate her son and start her own factory. She endeavours to fight when an old customer throws spanners in the works, but then she agrees to remain a mistress of her married-lover giving up all her dreams.
Ayesha, coming from a small town to Mumbai like Rani, thinks very high of herself wanting to be a CEO someday, but stumbles intermittently getting fired, rehired, moving in and out of relationships. But then she becomes a victim of sexual harassment, exploited by the boss she set her heart on to work with.
Bombay Begums takes a sharp turn from here changing the story of all other protagonists. It gives Rani the courage to speak out about her own exploitation exposing her tormentor. A series of revelations make Fatima see the real face of the monster in her previous boss-turned-family-friend. And Lily gathers strength to get back to her feet. The trio together get the predator arrested ensuring justice to Ayesha.
Alankrita Shrivastava’s web series has run into controversy with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights seeking to halt its streaming until some objectionable scenes involving children are removed. Bombay Begums is, of course, bold for the exhibition of its content but so is every other series available on the OTT.
Pooja Bhatt as Rani has got ample exposure to showcase her acting skill being the predominant character but she seems no different from her old-avatar minus her previous charm. Shahana Goswami as Fatima was impressive with her subtle expressions and delivery.
Amruta Subhash as Lily and Plabita Borthakur as Ayesha have their cracking moments but while Amruta sometimes appears loud Plabita looks lackadaisical. Likewise, Aadhya Anand as Shai has scenes of great impact but many a time they come across as overly done. Those are the occasions where the script and storyline appear unnecessarily convoluted. The male actors have limited space in the series but they don’t seem to be making good use of their turns.
(‘Bombay Begums’ is streaming on Netflix)