Five minutes into Netflix India’s new series, Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, I found myself thinking “What am I even doing with my life?”
I mean, I usually ask myself this question at least ten times a day. But this was different. Unlike the usual bouts of existential crisis, this didn’t come from my life and career-related FOMO.
Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives—or let’s just call it FLBW—triggered a familiar sense of doom and sadness that almost every Netflix trash show has come with. It made me want to be a better person. Or rather, a better person who would never cringe-watch yet another trashy, problematic show (after Indian Matchmaking).
And yet, here I am.
FLBW dropped this afternoon—just like all bad things are packaged prettily. In this case, the pretty being the start of a long weekend for many in India.
There’s actually legit data behind why FLBW could’ve been a perfect Indian show. The Hindi film industry is valued at nearly INR 12,000 crore. India itself has been the world’s largest producer of films for over ten years, and sells the most number of movie tickets in the world. So intrinsic is Bollywood to Indian lives that it has spawned bizarre stories, from erecting temples in honour of actors so fans can pray to them, to following their idols’ political leanings.
Bollywood fandom is also notorious for a history of stalking, spamming, death threats and suicide threats. Many Bollywood icons have millions of followers on social media, including even those who claim they’d rather watch indie content. Off social media, there’s a tradition in Mumbai where several fans stand outside the homes of cult actors such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan every single day, just to catch a glimpse of them. So enamouring is the life of a Bollywood fan that even Bollywood made a movie on it.
So why wouldn’t anyone want to be a fly-on-the-wall in the homes of some of the semi-popular wives of Bollywood’s has-beens? This is why Indians hate-watched the long-running telly show Koffee With Karan, which deep-dove into the most inane aspects of Bollywood lives in carefully curated sit-down interviews with the poster boy of Bollywood nepotism (and film director), Karan Johar. Even the critics relished it, albeit secretly.
Johar’s Dharma Productions has produced this show as well.
It would be unfair to pit FLBW against what’s actually happening around us. You know—the pandemic, wars, protests, persecution of certain communities, inequalities, violence against women, and so on. Never mind that I just wrote about ongoing clashes between thousands of farmers and the Haryana Police in north India. Surely, it’s pointless to self-flagellate over the privileges of cringe-watching, especially after watching eight episodes of FLBW.
But escapism should not feel like the viscerally grimy aftertaste of raw concrete stuck under your shoes. Or in this case, your Louboutins. We’re introduced to the excessive lives of former actor Neelam Kothari Soni and Bollywood wives Maheep Kapoor, Bhavana Pandey and Seema Khan, among others. These are the women who are usually away from the paparazzi glare. The show promises you that their lives are no different from their more papped Bollywood counterparts.
The women go out, talk about friendship, love, marriage and get botox together among other things I deliberately skipped to maintain sanity and because fast-forwarding is the only way to watch such shows. The first episode features Maheep Kapoor’s daughter Shanaya’s debut at Paris’s Le Bal des Debutantes. It was widely covered by entertainment media outlets.
Thankfully, we have FLBW to break the illusion of it being all that glamorous, unlike the fancy debutante balls on American shows, The OC or Gossip Girl. Instead, it echoed very real—and very misplaced—high society aspirations of antiquated traditions that still afflict many parts of the elite world.
The showmakers would have us believe that this is how the real housewives of Bollywood live. But even the gaggle of women—despite their giggles, drama and self-indulgence—appear a tad ill-at-ease and self-conscious with living out their lives on camera. However, their discomfort can be a little endearing, because, really, nobody expects a flawless first performance, right?
Now and then, the showmakers introduce some big Bollywood names such as Shah Rukh Khan, Ekta Kapoor, Raveena Tandon and Karan Johar. We see actor Chunky Panday (husband to Bhavana) installing cameras everywhere in his house, apparently because “they” stole his alcohol from his bar, or might come after his daughter Ananya Panday’s award in his cabinet. I’m not sure who “they” is, but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s not a classist statement.
Of course, the most important—and perhaps the only relevant—discourse in the entire show is Bollywood’s favourite keyword: Nepotism.
In one scene, actor Sanjay Kapur sighs in anguish, “To dilute anybody’s career by saying it happened because of nepotism, I don’t think it’s fair.” As Bollywood kids (and now actors) Ananya Panday and Jahnvi Kapoor—who have nepotism-ed their way into the industry—waltzed in and out of the show, I could feel how nepotism can be a touchy subject for Bollywood, and make its torchbearers defensive because how else can they react to it.
The show introduces us to a few more Bollywood kids we’ve never seen before, almost like a launching pad. What good is a show that addresses nepotism if it doesn’t, well, do more nepotism? I do love some unintended dark humour in all of this.
In perfect cadence with and tribute to Bollywood, FLBW ends with what can be considered the biggest “bash” in the Bollywood universe. It’s a party at the “OG” Bollywood wife’s home: Gauri Khan, wife of Shah Rukh Khan. I don’t want to kill the curiosity of what happens at the party, because I believe you’ll watch until the end anyway.
Just before the credits rolled (of the show, and this piece), the showmakers added the spirit of the pandemic, with a concluding session of the Bollywood wives on a video call, discussing how the pandemic changed them. Mostly, they all drank wine, just like the rest of us plebs.
“It’s a bummer,” said Bhavana about COVID-19. Not as much as the show though, Bhavana.
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