- All the same, pour yourself a glass of anything and give these Bollywood wives a chance. After being in the shadow of their husbands and kids all their lives, it’s now their turn to feel fabulous.
As my husband rolled his eyes and declined to have anything to do with the show, I got comfortable on the couch Saturday night, ready to delve into the fabulous lives of four Bollywood wives. In the mood for some good, old-fashioned celebrity gup-shup, Netflix’s latest reality show “Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives,”directed by Uttam Domale, was just the thing I needed.
The eight-episode series “Fabulous Lives” as we will refer to it henceforth (as producer Karan Johar has assured a miffed Madhur Bhandarkar for title appropriation and is a story for another day) starring Maheep Kapoor, Neelam Kothari Soni, Seema Khan, and Bhavna Pandey is a desi blend of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” meets “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” tossed with a little “Sex and the City” panache.
The show had all the right ingredients to be a cringe-worthy hit — star cameos, Karan Johar’s blessings, needy star kids, actor-husbands who are colorful characters in themselves, and their four, potty-mouthed wives who run their lives and the show, but somehow missed the mark.
The four women are quite well-known, from their pop-up appearances on Page 3 and celebrity social media posts. While Maheep, Seema, and Bhavna are famous by association, Neelam acted in several films opposite yesteryear actors Govinda and Chunkey Pandey, back when both men were the go-to choices for leads. She is now a jewelry designer and married to actor Samir Soni. Bhavna is Chunkey Pandey’s wife and Bollywood newcomer, Ananya Panday’s mother, who runs a fashion label and is busy trying to open her first store. Maheep, whose spouse is ‘aati nahin’ actor Sanjay Kapoor and sister-in-law to actor Anil Kapoor, is also occupied in jewelry design. Seema, actor/producer Sohail Khan’s wife, runs a boutique in Bandra, Mumbai.
Maheep Kapoor, wife of actor Sanjay Kapoor, easily became my favorite cast member, the Lisa Vanderpump of the lot, who never minces her words and tells it like it is. She is loud, crude and makes spying on her neighbors seem less creepy and more a legitimate hobby. Maheep, towers above the other three as the feistiest one who has a penchant for drama, chaos and catfights, making her the perfect candidate for the show. She calls her friends tw*ts, stupid cows, a****les and more, but no one seems to take offence as she seems genuinely affectionate while saying the words. From her unrecognizable accent, concocted from over half a dozen countries, to all her scenes with Sanjay (who surprisingly is the best thing about the show), Maheep rarely seems to be faking it, which is a rarity on a show that seems largely scripted.
Bhavna is the diplomatic one with a silent quality about her. The saner one of the lot, she makes sense in her fights. Though, the saner side of her cannot always be trusted as we find out. She believes in tightening her skin by harnessing ‘energies of the earth’ and wouldn’t travel in the same aircraft as her husband in case it crashes and their kids are left orphaned. She is close friends with her tarot reader and has even roped in Ananya Pandey into warding off buri nazar.
Seema Khan, is the baby spice of the group, and is shown to be a fiercely protective mother with a quick temper, while Neelam maintains for the most part a pleasant disposition – epitome of the good-girl-next-door – her image back in the 90s when she was the ‘it’ girl for Bollywood directors. Neelam, whose accent courtesy her Hong Kong upbringing, is still stronger than ever, is shown to have comfortably settled into her celeb mommy lifestyle, on one hand and effortlessly designs gorgeous jewelry on the other, haggling with the vendors, all the while with that famous smile.
The show tiptoes around Seema and Sohail’s alleged strained relationship (ask “Gangs of Wasseypur” actress Huma Qureshi for the 411), but does allude to their unconventional family structure. Seema seemingly lives in a separate house across the street from Sohail Khan, who visits daily, and enjoys cookies in the kitchen and a hand-held game face-off with their younger son. Seema is a fashion designer and loves to hog attention, whether it is crying on an aircraft during mild turbulence or throwing tantrums on a holiday, Seema can definitely get on your nerves.
The women are shown traipsing around the city in luxury cars – Audis and Mercedes – with their domestic staff (a.k.a. bai) is shown running after them with their water and sundry items. The women always have full make-up on (even during a sweaty yoga workout), and never seem to have a strand of hair out of place.
We follow the Kapoors as they jet off to Paris with their Louis Vuitton cases for their daughter Shanaya’s debutante ball. And we agonize with Neelam as she mulls over the possibility of a comeback with her friends at a salon for a mid-day blow out.
The biggest problem is the self-serious, scripted tone the show has adopted. In the initial episodes, while introductions are made and the mood is set, “Fabulous Lives” is at its most entertaining in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. Sanjay Kapoor gives you genuine fish-out-of-water moments as the Punjabi desi dad that takes his daughter, Shanaya, to the prestigious and pretentious Le Bal, among the Parisian elite.
Karan Johar, who is the Executive Producer of the show, comes in with the fireworks, striking the match that lights the first and only fight of the entire season. Johar also makes multiple special appearances to set up controversial conversations or conduct an extended version of his popular chat show “Koffee with Karan.” Unfortunately, the script keeps things too goody-goody and doesn’t let the ladies show their claws in the catfights.
With not enough organic fights between the besties, the directors resort to cooking some up. There is an evidently fake stalker angle thrown in to catch pique viewer attention and even some over-the-top phone conversations seem heavily scripted.
For instance, Maheep is seemingly at an important meeting with a client, unable to answer her phone. However, once she moves three steps away, she puts the phone on speaker to scream and cuss at her friends. Surely, the client (a fake one most likely) can still hear her? The show makes very little efforts to even conceal such obvious instances on scripted action.
The show also takes the women on holiday to Doha, because if it’s good enough for Beckham, it’s good enough for them. A flight in business class, a stay in a five-star hotel, a personal shopping experience, a possible stalker and a completely random bare-chested waiter serving pool drinks are all part of the short and sweet Doha trip, a long two-episode, shoddily concealed tourism advertisement for the city. The trip ends with a big party thrown by the most fabulous of them all, Shah Rukh and superstar wife, Gauri Khan.
This is when the show takes a leap so off-theme, it is impossible to make a safe return. Shah Rukh and wife Gauri are so firmly and blatantly put on a pedestal (they are besties with Johar) that it’s hard to ignore. Now I have been in love with Shah Rukh since his “Fauji” days, but even I felt the ass-kissing got way out of hand.
The camera in slow motion follows Gauri and Shah Rukh as he makes his way around the party, bestowing his much-wanted attention on the guests. Quite tellingly, SRK stands across from the four ladies through most of his cameo, and though he is all charm and flattery, there is an unspoken hierarchy between them that is all too evident. There is a reason Gauri and he only make a cameo appearance on this show, because the really fabulous don’t have to prove they are!
But the show which was supposed to be about these women and their fabulous lives should not have needed a superstar intervention of such deity-like proportions to bring the ‘wow factor.’
There were moments in the show however, that stood out as sweet and sometimes, even emotional. Neelam revisits her younger days, teaching the girls how to do a Bollywood dance number. Maheep talks about the sadness she feels being the “less successful Kapoor” of the three Kapoor brothers, and is the classic hurt star mama, when the trolls trash Shanaya Kapoor on social media. Your heart strings will be tugged when Chunky says he will not go to Ananya’s award ceremonies because he feels jinxed, never having won an award himself. And then there’s the insecure Samir Soni, who feels pathetically left out amongst his wife’s friends.
Several of their Bollywood friends and family members also make special appearances along the way. An unshaven Arjun Kapoor, Janhvi Kapoor, a taut Malaika Arora, Siddharth Malhotra, Ekta Kapoor and Raveena Tandon are amongst the many celebrities who join in to chit-chat, do yoga, have lunch and add to the guilty pleasure quotient of the show, which is supposed to leave us envious of these women who have friends in high places.
Fabulous Lives fulfilled my voyeuristic desire of watching people unlike me in action but failed to pack a punch. It is bereft of the drama that we have come to associate with reality TV. I was counting on the Seema-Bhavana quarrel to end with a drink thrown in someone’s face, or at least a food fight (Don’t judge me! I have been fed far too much of this drivel, I cannot help but demand a spectacle of sorts to redeem my hours of binge watching).
The brazen display of wealth, the classism, the ladies’ oblivion to their privilege, and their inflexible views on nepotism in Bollywood blights the overall watching experience. But regardless of its issues, like KJo says, ‘you can love the fabulous wives, troll them, but you sure as hell cannot ignore them!’
And to partially quote Arjun Kapoor (who perhaps has the best line), “Stop taking yourself so seriously and go with the flow.”
So, pour yourself a glass of anything and give these Bollywood wives a chance. After being in the shadow of their husbands and kids all their lives, it’s now their turn to feel fabulous.
“Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives” is streaming on Netflix.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.