Cast: Maheep Kapoor, Seema Khan, Neelam Kothari, Bhavana Pandey
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
How fabulous you think the lives of the four sassy Bollywood wives featured in this puffy Karan Johar-produced Netflix series are will depend on how you define the adjective. Looking for rip-roaring entertainment in the form of a no-holds-barred peep into rarely seen innards of the Mumbai movie industry? Dial down your expectations. Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives is anything but fabulous. It isn’t even passable piffle or, at a stretch, “guilty pleasure” kind of fun.
Loosely modelled on American reality television shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives will definitely find takers. But it isn’t a deep dive. The eight-episode series provides no real insights. When it wants to be flashy, it is flimsy. It is not even breezy enough to pass muster? It peddles lifestyles rather than lives.
The four women in the series – Bhavana Panday, Maheep Kapoor, Seema Khan and Neelam Kothari Soni – are celebs. But they have lives beyond the glare of the media spotlight. Bhavana, Chunky Panday’s wife, owns a fashion line. Maheep gave up her acting aspirations for the sake of marriage to Sanjay Kapur and motherhood. Seema Khan, Sohail Khan’s wife, is a busy fashion stylist.
Neelam, married to actor and director Samir Soni, had a thriving Bollywood career in the 1980s and is now a jewellery entrepreneur. Had all this been factored into the series in a more pronounced manner, the show wouldn’t have felt so lightweight. The glitz and glamour of being a part of Bollywood, no matter how tangentially, is what the show emphasises instead of turning the spotlight on the “mundane lives” of the four women as they tackle their personal and professional commitments.
Bhavana, Seema, Maheep and Neelam have been friends for a quarter of a century, a fact they flaunt as they wine and dine, attend parties and go on girls’ holidays. But much of what they are made to do in the show does not appear entirely unscripted and is largely wasted on flippant pursuits and juvenile commotions.
Parts of the show do tell us a bit about their 24/7 roles as mothers while they keep themselves in physical shape and run their businesses. But nothing can dispel the feeling that Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives is selling us fluff.
We do not get to see much of the women’s interactions with their husbands or children. The focus is on them fretting over what to wear to a party, getting into a major kerfuffle over a minor point of dispute between two of them on one occasion, and going into a difficult-to-explain huddle when one of the husbands, on a night out, mentions the prickly millennial abbreviation MILF.
At one end of the spectrum, Neelam, who turned her back on her acting career many years ago, plans to return to the thick of the action. At the other, Maheep and Sanjay Kapoor’s 19-year-old daughter Shanaya takes baby steps as a public figure in preparation for a Bollywood career. After an event in Paris, where the Kapoors have a whale of a time, the young girl is brutally trolled back home. The mother understandably takes it badly. She seeks nephew Arjun Kapoor’s help to tide over the crisis. It isn’t easy being a star child, be thick-skinned, the actor counsels.
When they are not planning their next rendezvous with Karan Johar – who surfaces a number of times and merrily hijacks the show – they give Maheep the responsibility of putting together an itinerary for a vacation in Doha. Two of the episodes are devoted to the Qatar sojourn. We wonder if this series will do for Qatar (when the pandemic ends and we can travel freely again) what Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara did for Spain.
Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives also plugs Bhavana Panday’s fashion brand and Gauri Khan Designs, besides throwing some light on Seema Khan’s styling work. Gauri pops up in the final episode, as does a charming-as-ever SRK. But you have to wade through a mound of silliness before the big bash of the series finale.
The show is content to project the foursome as fun-loving, exuberant women who love being who they are. That is perfectly in order. Some of the more interesting moments occur when the subject of Bollywood careers hitting rock-bottom is broached – Sanjay Kapoor is inevitably mentioned – or when an actor who has spent three and a half decades in the industry without ever winning an award rues his lot.
Chunky Panday refers to the disappointment of not winning a statuette for his performance in Tezaab even as he clings proudly to a best debutante prize bagged by daughter Ananya.
Drama is also sought to be generated as the girls take off for Doha and the fear of flying reduces Seema to a mental wreck. The other girls have to work hard to help her get over the phobia. The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives is in a sense a gender-reversed, reality TV version of the flighty bromances that post-designer cinema Bollywood churns out. The conflict points in the series, pretty much in the manner of how things generally are in a Karan Johar entertainer, are devoid of depth.
Probably the most interesting male character in the series is Samir Soni, a man who candidly admits that he has no social skills and has no patience for Bollywood parties. When he does agree to accompany his wife to a do, he wants to slink away early. The glare of publicity isn’t obviously everybody’s cup of tea.
Besides the Bollywood Wives Club, the focus is squarely on members of the Karan Johar coterie who, whenever they are presented with a chance, talk up the hard work that kids born in the industry have to do in order to hold on to what they have inherited, thereby implying that accusations of nepotism levelled at entrenched Bollywood biggies are unfounded. And then we see Ananya Panday and Shanaya Kapoor unabashedly extolling their links with the industry’s power centres.
Around a swimming pool, the four ladies are given the opportunity, as Bollywood’s A-listers were on Koffee With Karan, to tell us who among the present generation of Bollywood male stars is the hottest. Their answer is unanimous and Neelam says she would forgo her remuneration if she is cast opposite the actor in her comeback film. You scratch my back and I scratch yours: that is the name of the game here. Doesn’t make for a particularly great spectacle.
The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives does not offer any meaningful glimpses (this isn’t a failure but an obviously deliberate choice) into lives of the stars and their families in an exacting, unforgiving movie industry where those with the right surnames are like cats. They have nine lives.
Perhaps more. And that is the phenomenon the series makes no bones about celebrating. Like it or lump it.