Photo courtesy Netflix
“My son just texted me saying we look like poor Kardashians,” laughs Seema Sajdeh, the former wife of Bollywood actor Sohail Khan and one of the “Bollywood wives” in the second season of the “unscripted” Netflix show Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives. By the time I reached this moment, my eyes had rolled so far back in my head that they could not possibly be retrieved.
Inspired by The Real Housewives franchise, the show also stars Maheep Kapoor (wife of actor Sanjay Kapoor), Neelam Kothari (wife of actor Sameer Soni), and Bhavana Pandey (wife of actor Chunky Pandey) as the leading Bollywood wives, who go about shopping, gallivanting across Mumbai – home to the Hindi film industry – in their burnished BMWs, meeting their rich friends in bowling alleys and kitschy restaurants, gossipping about actors, holidaying together in Qatar and finding new ways to spend their ridiculous wealth. The second season has guest appearances that include Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh, fashion designer Manish Malhotra, and interior designer (also Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s missus) Gauri Khan, among others. There was nothing by way of substantial plot or structure in the first season released in November 2020 and the same holds true now. Bhavana and her husband actor Chunky Pandey, want to renew their vows and are endlessly trolled for it; Seema and Neelam bicker over some common friend who somewhat ruined their friendship some two decades ago; Neelam can’t decide whether she wants to be a jeweller, an actor, or something else altogether; Maheep believes that dipping the milk teeth of her children into gold and putting them on a chain is a way to bring them close to her heart. Throw in a few mindless photo shoots, a sordid first episode that reduces menopause to sorry clichés, and you have the mess of the year.
One could argue that there is no point in expecting a show like this to make sense. After all, you must suspend all notions of reality before diving into drivel of such epic proportions. But what if there are layers of tolerance even within what is truly cringe-worthy and straight-up harmful for your sanity? The second season of Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives weaves a terrible tale of privilege, glamourising the cliché that Bollywood indeed lives in a bubble and that almost everything – from divorce and deaths to infidelity – is up for (bad) “content”.
In season after season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, regardless of its many flaws (and god knows there are many), we at least get an insight into how the Kardashian sisters manage to run a multi-billion-dollar empire that involves social media, modelling, fashion and acting. The Bollywood wives? Well, they are busy fighting over allergic reactions to prawns, squealing when they encounter a rock python during a safari, and assuming that they are so important that the leopard they spot during the same safari has all the time in the world to “gaze” into their eyes. It’s a cesspool that will corrode your brain cells. The safari episode that took place in the Jawai region of the desert state of Rajasthan, particularly irked me because I had worked on a story for VICE earlier this year on how fragile the ecosystem there is. It is a place where leopards and humans have coexisted for a long time, but a relationship that is currently under threat thanks to insensitive tourists and greedy owners of luxury resorts. Unfortunately, the Bollywood wives are the perfect representation of insensitivity to a fragile and culturally rich ecosystem.
Viewers know better than not to expect carefully manicured lives. Of course, most of it is heavily scripted and rehearsed. But what happens when you know that your intelligence is being taken for granted?
In one of the scenes, Seema Sajdeh removes the nameplate of her former husband from the entrance of their house and replaces it with the nameplates of her children. At just that moment, her son conveniently walks into the house and the camera captures him looking at the changed nameplates. An argument ensues between the both of them, with her son insisting that she is still a “Khan” to which she responds that she is unable to move on because of him. That’s some scripting!Such reality shows usually work in terms of viewerships because they are so outrageously unrelatable to the point of being absurd. But in this Netflix show, the “real” people end up becoming caricatures of themselves, their privileged lives gloriously fall apart, all the “fights” seem synthetic and scripted, and you are left surprised by just how detached a group of people can be from the realities staring them in the face. To say that Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives is an assault on your senses is putting it mildly. Instead, it only ends up propagating the stereotypes that people usually associate with Bollywood: an industry built on the edifice of superficial relationships, performative friendships, and vanity. Follow Arman on Twitter and Instagram.