Netflix India does it again. After bringing the cringe-fest that was Indian Matchmaking, the streaming giant is back with another docuseries featuring the rich and elite’s exploits. If Netflix’s statistics are believed, it is the number one show in India currently on the platform. Its arrival coincides with India facing its first recession in decades. I hope and pray that its audiences are only watching it for mindless escapism rather than admiration.
There’s little redeeming about Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives and the so-called “fabulous” lifestyle and people it attempts to sell. It’s very much an Indian take on Real Housewives or Keeping up with the Kardashians, albeit with Bollywood wives. The four leading ladies are Maheep Kapoor, Neelam Kothari, Bhavana Pandey, and Seema Khan – all of whom are connected with the who’s who of the film industry. They repeatedly clarify during the episodes they have jobs and responsibilities of their own. Yet the irony remains they’ve consented to a show that reduces their identity to ‘Bollywood wives’ in the title itself!
Maheep is the spouse of Sanjay Kapoor (yeah, he’s still around, in case you were wondering which lemme guess, you weren’t). She brands herself as a frequent flier, avid shopper, and protective parent. In the first episode itself, she flies to Paris with Sanjay for their daughter Shanaya’s Le Bal des Débutantes. She’s your typical cosmopolitan ‘modern’ Indian. She worships everything Western and takes pride that her daughter gets to fulfill her ‘Cindrella dreams,’ complete with a ‘hot’ White-guy and suffocating elite affectations. Neelam is married to Samir Soni and is the only recognizable face among the four women, having had a streak of successes in 80s Bollywood. She’s presently a jewelry designer who’s pushed by friends for a comeback in films (because what’s Bollywood without its unhealthy pressures to take on things you don’t really want to). Bhavana’s spouse is funnyman Chunkey Pandey. She manages a clothing store herself, which she would grow as big as Zara. Seema is married to Sohail Khan. Apparently, the two do not share a ‘conventional’ married couple dynamic (as though most cishet couples do!). My bets are it’s going to be drummed up for drama’s sake over the season. An independent designer herself, Seema has to put up with these self-absorbed female customers who cannot fathom an ounce of flesh peeking through their dresses (fatphobia alert, yuck!).
Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives’ characters happily partake in neoliberal capitalist machinery powerfully prevalent in Indian urban metropolis. Individual self-discipline and self-branding are prized here, while questions of privilege and social disparities are casually sidelined. So we have the likes of Malaika Arora advising Seema how she must work harder on her brand image. Of course, this also implies she must hit the gym more often. Malaika jaise body hogi tabhi toh capitalize kar sakte hain zyaada khudko! There’s Maheep who remarks at one point something like, ‘should I let my daughter take advantage of their privilege?’. The thing is, she’s in no way conflicted about this, and for that matter, no one else is. Conversations on privilege are raised now and then only to doubly justify it. Kangana Ranaut, regardless of her several controversial and problematic opinions, was bang on about one thing. Nepotism is rampant in Bollywood. The cultural and social capital which insiders inherit and leverage can rarely be afforded by those deemed outsiders. Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives does everything in its power to confirm the rot in Bollywood.
Two episodes in, I was squirmed just about enough at the excesses and ignorance to watch it any further. The preview of the third promises some drama and gossip as gay-icon-by-convenience Karan Johar enters the scene. Lekin nahi, yeh zulm humse naa jhela jaayega! So-called ‘fabulous’ log, kuch dhang ka karo apne paison aur privilege se!