Bollywood and television shows, on streaming services and otherwise, have increasingly become a regular point of debate in the Indian feminist movement. Ever since Lipstick Under My Burkha, a film involved in a contentious back and forth with the censor board over the censure of certain scenes, garnered support from young moviegoers across the country, more and more producers, writers, and directors have been diving in female-centric narrative.
More recently, Veere Di Wedding, a Bollywood production starring Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar, and Shikha Talsania, made a splash in the media for not only portraying the Indian female experience but also landing hugely popular actors, like Sonam and Kareena, to star in it. However, it did not receive raving reviews—people critiqued its treatment of class, body image, and feminism by saying that the four main characters, who hailed from highly privileged backgrounds, primarily concerned themselves with discussions on marriage and casual sex. While the film succeeded in showcasing women as protagonists, critics and viewers said its narrative and characters were superficial and unrelatable.
The Indian television industry now finds itself in a similar situation with the newly released web series Four More Shots Please! on Amazon Prime. The 10-episode show with an all-female crew and directed by Anu Menon, produced by Rangita Pritish Nandy, and written by Devika Bhagat and Ishita Moitra appears to emulate the lives of the modern Indian women. Viewers, however, have criticised it for its “distilled and inauthentic” representation of the same.
What is Four More Shots Please! about?
Marketed as a feminist television series, the show stars Sayani Gupta, Kirti Kulhari, Bani J, and Maanvi Gagroo, four hotshot women living in South Mumbai. Damini (Gupta) is the editor-in-chief of a digital publication called Investigator.com, Anjana (Kulhari) is a lawyer and a single mother, Umang (Bani J) is a bisexual gym trainer from Ludhiana, and Siddhi (Gagroo) has thrown her hat into the arranged-marriage ring after pressure from a highly judgmental mother, who constantly takes potshots at her weight. All four live independent lives but frequently hang out at their favourite bar in the area, Truck, to vent at the end of the day.
Damini is shown to struggle with OCD in her personal life, besides facing pressure from her publication’s board of directors to bring in more revenue. Anjana is tasked with co-parenting a young daughter with her ex, who is seeing someone else. We follow Umang navigating her sexuality and a crush on a celebrity who she is training, and watch Siddhi dealing with body image issues and an overly critical mother.
What is viewers’ beef with the show?
Like Veere Di Wedding, the four women are obviously well educated and come from affluent families. They can not only afford to live alone in South Mumbai but also in expensive and spacious houses that are lavishly decorated. This, viewers have complained, exudes privilege that immediately separates these characters from the scores in the country who aren’t financially independent or secure.
A literature graduate, Neerja Deodhar, tweeted, “Veere di Wedding and this is meant to show us a world to aspire to, except its toooo far from reality and cliched (sic).”
Damini, a journalist, and Umang, a fitness instructor, aren’t shown to struggle with their finances and bills despite their professions not being the most lucrative ones in reality. Siddhi, who lives with her parents, does not question her dependency on them, and Anjana does not appear to struggle to manage her time as a single mother while still being a model employee.
Beyond its upper class setting, the show has also gotten negative reviews of its characters that people say lack emotional depth and vulnerability. Soumya Rao wrote on Scroll.in, “The show describes its protagonists as ‘unapologetically flawed’, but there are no such compelling complexities.” What Rao means is that while Damini fields OCD in a high-stress work environment, Anjana tackles an unsatisfactory sex life as a single mother, Umang is a victim of sexual misconduct despite her obvious physical strength, and Siddhi is body-shamed constantly, none of these complexities are explored in great detail beyond their first mention. If they are, the characters are shown to deal with them in a way that positively reinforces their admirable qualities, not in a way that brings out nuanced emotion or dialogue on social issues, like mental health, women’s safety, body positivity, and queerness.
What does the show do right?
From employing an all-female crew to promoting female-centric narratives, Four More Shots Please! does get credit for bringing a female-driven plot and product to mainstream television. It also positively showcases female friendship and challenges the idea that women are too catty to be genuine friends.
While alcohol, nightclubs, racy outfits, and casual sex make up a considerable chunk of the show’s ‘feminism’, it still attempts to broach taboo topics, like sexuality, female masturbation, and mental illness. It also shows the women actively engaging in professions as non-negotiable parts of their lives. Additionally, it subverts the stereotyped binary image of an Indian woman, as a virgin and mother, and shows that it goes beyond that spectrum.
However, do shows that distill feminism to sex and drinking have a place in the feminist movement, or do they end up reinforcing dichotomies of a different kind? Do such series add value to Indian feminism simply because they focus on women, or should we critique them for their lack of intersectionality in terms of caste, religion, and class?
Veere Di Wedding raked in almost Rs 200 crore at the box office, proving to producers that investing in women protagonists is likely to result in a decent turnover and make for a sound business decision. So, whether or not shows like Four More Shots Please! modelled after Veere Di Wedding tick all the boxes of intersectional feminism, they’re definitely here to stay.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.