Web Series: Bombay Begums
Cast: Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Amruta Subhash, Plabita Borthakur, Aadhya Anand
Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
OTT: 6 episodes
Rating: 3 Moons
“Survival is a battle for every woman,” says Pooja Bhatt aka Rani Singh Irani in the first 30 minutes of Alankrita Shrivastava’s International Women’s Day release, Bombay Begums. The very statement establishes the crux of the next 6 episodes that are spearheaded by Pooja along with Shahana Goswami, Amruta Subhash, Plabita Borthakur and Aadhya Anand. Every ‘begum’ or ‘queen’ without a crown has the battle to win. A battle of freedom and survival in a man’s world.
In Bombay Begums, every character is associated with Rani Singh Irani (Pooja), the CEO of Royal Bank. For Rani, it is mandatory to prove herself to stay at the apex and run in the rat race to secure her position while some wolves within the system subtly strategise to pull her down.
On the personal front, she is trying to be a mother to her step-children, Zoravar and Shai. The latter, who is yet to come to terms with her biological mother’s demise, despises Rani. Not someone who expresses herself loud and clear, Shai (Aadhya) finds solace in drawing. The school-going girl comes across as a rebel but deep inside, all she wants is true love and affection.
Blame her age or simply call it peer pressure, indirectly, Shai wants to ‘grow up’ to appease young boys in the school. While Shai falls for a handsome guy who is interested in another girl, Ayesha (Plabita) has a different ‘love’ story to tell.
A small-town girl, Ayesha aspires to make it big in the city of Mumbai. However, she ends up losing her job in Royal Bank and is thrown out of the house by her landlord. As she struggles to make it through the flood of problems, Rani acts as her saviour and re-hires her.
Ayesha will surely remind you of all those girls who are staying away from home to make a name for themselves. But, there is more to her. She is bisexual. On the professional front, Ayesha plays a key role in helping Laxmi aka Lily (Amruta), a sex worker set up a ‘badi factory’ with ‘lohe ke machines’.
Rewinding a little, Rani’s stepson Zoravar accidentally injures Laxmi or Lily’s son in a car accident. As compensation, Lily asks Rani to fund her son’s education and medical expenses. In order to save Zoravar from legal complications, Rani agrees to Lily’s demands. Lily, a sex worker, wants to make a quick buck with her ‘dhanda’. However, deep inside, all she cares about is her son and her ‘ijjat’. She is a ‘begum’ who strives for respect and value in society.
The fifth begum in Alankrita’s kingdom is Fatima Warsi (Shahana). An ambitious employee of Royal Bank, Fatima is stuck between her job and her family. She is promoted to the position of Deputy MD but this doesn’t go down well with her less successful husband. Struggling between profession and personal life, Fatima’s life is no cakewalk.
Bombay Begums delves deeper into these women’s personal and professional life as they shackle societal norms and battle wars against the odds with their flaws and imperfections. Writers Alankrita Shrivastava, Bornila Chatterjee and Iti Agarwal do a fantastic job in breathing life into the characters. A lot of research and work has gone behind giving each one of them a unique arc. The all-women team has yet again proven that flaws are beautiful and one must be happy in their own skin.
While the characters are the highlights, the writers try to incorporate a lot in just 6 episodes. They forcefully try to feed the audience more than they can digest. However, the director and writers have not made it interesting enough for every person to sit back and enjoy.
The duration is one of the biggest problems. 6 episodes of approx. 1 hour each needs a tighter, engaging and grippy narrative. As we try to relate and understand one character, the focus shifts to another character leaving the whole platter half-baked.
Coming to the best part of Bombay Begums- the actresses. Pooja is feisty and a rock-solid performer. Her silences speak louder than words. She carries herself gracefully and is a delight to watch her as Rani, a headstrong woman who leaves no stone unturned to ensure things work in her favour.
Shahana as Fatima is absolutely fantastic. She brings to life a character that is relatable. She makes sure you root for her throughout the season. Amruta is a powerhouse of talent and Bombay Begums is proof. She lives the life of Laxmi/Lily just to showcase what sex workers have to go through for something as basic as respect. Plabita does justice to Ayesha. She is a surprise package. Aadhya as Shai delivers a mature performance.
Production designer Shruti Gupte has done a great job. Bombay Begums is a visually satisfying show. Editor Charu Shree Roy could have kept the duration shorter as there is too much to digest. Director Of Photography Akshay Singh captures the city beautifully.
Queens Pooja, Shahana, Amruta, Plabita and Aadhya are the rulers of a kingdom built on an uneven foundation. It seems the second season of Bombay Begums is in the making. Until then, sit back and watch the show for some amazing performances.
PeepingMoon gives Bombay Begums 3 Moons