Why did I watch “The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives” is a question I have been getting a lot recently, especially in light of my frequent pronouncements to conserve my few remaining moments for the better things in life.
Here is the thing.
While the content of the reality TV show may be vacuous and inane, the subtext of it definitely is not.
Of late, Bollywood or rather the power structure that exists in Bollywood has been challenged to open itself to people outside “the circle”, especially in the light of the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. While the high and mighty of Bollywood try to parrot what Hollywood is doing, in the same way that Roy-bans pretend to be Ray-Ban knockoffs, declaring their new found “social awareness” by coming down hard on existing institutions of the country for its medievality, it has been loathe to live upto the standards of progressiveness it preaches for others. Diversity for them has been restricted to whether to cast Chunkey Pandey’s daughter or Sanjay Kapoor’s daughter or Boney Kapoor’s daughter for the next “Student of the Year” franchise entry. And not one of the existing fiefdoms of privilege and power have “stepped back” consistently in any shape or form to give voice and opportunity to those historically under-represented in Bollywood—namely those not born a Chopra or a Khan or a Kapoor or a Roshan or a Kumar or a Bhatt or not married to them, despite myriad public pronouncements with the proper juxtaposition of woke words.
While one could perhaps give them the benefit of doubt in that it takes time to change a system that is this old, and that the intentions are in the right place, the “Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Lives” shows definitely that it is not. This is, for anyone even mildly clued into the sub-text, a gigantic middle finger from Karan Johar to those that want the circle of privilege to change in Bollywood.
In a season finale that reminds one of Godfather, Shahrukh and Gauri Khan, (ironically two individuals who were “outside” the industry but then went on to become its biggest insiders on the back of Shahrukh Khan’s undoubted prowess for ensuring box office returns), hold court, and tell the four “wives” of Bollywood, how they are all a family, how they will always be there for one another, no matter what happens. While it is difficult to get genuinely touched by something as botoxed as “The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives” because you have no idea what is real and what is scripted, the interaction, if we are to take it at face value, is poignant in a way, coming across as a genuine statement of how the high and mighty that represents Bollywood royalty are committed to “looking after another” in the way a family does.
Chunky Pandey may not have won a Filmfare and may never do but his daughter won on her first try, and that’s how it is, and Sanjay Kapoor may have bombed more times than the Allies at Dresden, but he still gets opportunities to redeem himself, and that is what privilege and connections give you.
Hope. You may have dropped off from movies for decades, but Ekta Kapoor instantly grants you an audience and an offer for a project is only a conversation away. This is what being in the circle gets you.
The message, at least to me, is clear as clear can be. We stand together, seems to be the statement, through good times and bad, and maintaining the privilege of the elite through to the next generation is our collective responsibility. While one supposes that social media posturing will remain for public consumption and for the woke Netflix series, the kernel of Bollywood power remains as strong as ever, committed to advancing the interests of families with the right surnames.
That to me is the reason why I watched it