Netflix’s Bombay Begums depicts women in their rawest, purest and vulnerable best
A 49-year-old woman confesses a horrifying chapter of her life, when she was in her 20s and was sexually abuse by her mentor in workplace, to her step daughter. Of all people, she finds comfort and solace in her 13-year-old daughter and opens up about her traumatic past, which she had kept buried somewhere deep for years.
This scene in Netflix’s Bombay Begums, directed by Alankrita Srivastava, shines in its vulnerability, as well as strength. Here, we see two women finding refuge in each other – despite the differences they had, or their age gap. The character Rani (played by Pooja Bhatt) rightly says in one of the scenes that motherhood is not acquired by just giving birth; at times it’s the role you play as a mother to the child – who may not be yours biologically. And this also gets its meaning in this very scene when we see these women sharing the comfort that goes beyond blood.
This six episode series, like Srivastava’s previous works (Lipstick Under my Burkha, Dolly Kitty aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare), tells the tale of women in all their glory. Here, we have women from different age groups and social strata – set against an urban landscape — who are struggling to thrive in the society, while exploring their dreams, sexuality, the choices they make and more.
From the CEO of a bank, who finds it difficult to come to terms with her menopause, while she struggles in her professional and personal sphere as well to a sex worker who battles against all odds to earn respect and live a life of dignity – these women are unabashedly raw and fears none. At the same time, they are vulnerable and want to be loved.
Be it the changes a woman’s body goes through, or the sexual misconduct that they often are subjected to or are witness of – these sensitive issues have been portrayed boldly and beautifully. Moreover, talented actors like Shahana Goswami, Amruta Subhash, Plabita Borthakur, Aadhya Anand, Pooja Bhatt – gets into the skin of their characters with finesse.
After opening up to mixed reviews, this series became the talk of the town when a legal notice was issued by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a statutory body formed under an act of the Indian Parliament in 2007, asking Netflix to ban Bombay Begums for its “inappropriate portrayal” of children.
The first complaint read: “From normalization of minors indulging in casual sex we now have a web series showing minors having cocaine. Screen grab from #BombayBegums where a 13 year old is snorting coke as the party she goes to is all about alcohol, drugs.”
This raged a war on Twitter, where some agreed to the child body’s allegations while others showed their dissent on this attack on creative freedom, yet again. While filmmakers like Hansal Mehta, Anubhav Sinha indirectly bashed the body for such a move, some others like Vivek Agnihotra spoke in support of NCPCR.
So, what’s this controversy all about? (Spoilers ahead)
There are scenes which show a 13-year-old girl doing cocaine. But if viewed in isolation, it appears wrong. Rather, when we see the context and outcome of this incident, as shown in the series, we get clarity on how and why such a step was taken by this girl. Moreover, the party (of teenage kids) which shows hard liquors and drugs – that is also where the body has objected to. But it’s not some make-believe world, rather the reality reflected on-screen. And since when did depiction of the real world become a crime?
In the recent times also, creative freedom has been under severe attack in India by “moral” bodies – attempting to “restore culture” of our country. But if such stories cease to be told, then the death of creativity and freedom won’t be far.
Nevertheless, our society definitely needs more of such impactful stories of women which does not shy away to explore women’s sexuality as well as their aspirations and vulnerabilities. It requires such stories which show life as it is – without the rose-tinted glass, as was often shown in Bollywood films before the OTT boom. Thus, freedom — used with responsibility — should never pose a problem to a democratic and liberal society.