There I sat, bingeing episode after episode of The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives. Within five minutes, I knew this would be the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Everything about the show was grating, from the manipulated quarrels (like the one caused by Karan Johar, whose only purpose was to stir up trouble as if he were hosting an episode of Koffee with Karan — are we really to believe he behaves this way in real life too?) to the inane conversation masquerading as deep intimacy (for having known one another for twenty-five years, the ladies barely scratched the surface on any issues that mattered). But I kept watching. What I wanted to know was whether, under their make-up and fillers and blown-out hair, Seema, Neelam, Bhavana and Maheep were like all the rest of us, just…richer. Sadly, the show never answered this question.
Similar franchises, like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, have managed to go beyond the glamour. The Kardashians let us see them at their worst; the rolling never stopped. They allowed themselves to get messy. We witnessed them weeping uncontrollably, make-up off and sweats on, fighting and arguing amongst themselves, tearing apart and coming back together like every other family in the world. Fabulous Lives, on the other hand, seemed like an eight-episode advertisement for the four lead women, who, we are told over and over, have fabulous lives. Yet, the show glossed over anything and everything important, including Seema’s unconventional family arrangement, Maheep’s sadness at being considered part of the “unsuccessful branch” of the family, Bhavana’s need to remain diplomatic and stay “on the fence”, and the pressure Neelam faces to get fillers and Botox in a youth-obsessed world. Without those moments of vulnerability, however, only overwhelming images of access and frivolity remain. We see the opulence, but because it isn’t offset by any visible struggle, it loses value.
Which brings us to nepotism, a concept the show unwittingly highlights in every frame. Sanjay Kapoor — who is otherwise one of the more delightful and watchable members of the show (along with Samir Soni, whose reluctance to change out of his night clothes to attend a late-night dinner party was a whole mood) — whines that if there were such a thing as nepotism, he would have been much more successful. But that is beside the point. As many a star kid has diplomatically responded in recent interviews, nepotism cannot save everyone with connections. After all, there are many who have failed. No, nepotism is about access and privilege: the privilege of calling superstars like Shah Rukh Khan, Ekta Kapoor, or Raveena Tandon your close friends or “family”; the privilege of being invited to a prestigious international debutante ball; the privilege of lunching on a helipad in Abu Dhabi with a prolific director like Karan Johar; and the privilege of having a show dedicated to documenting all the best parts of your lives. And Sanjay Kapoor, his whole family, and the families of each of our fabulous wives have the privilege of access in droves, as we see over and over in the show.
One cannot blame people for resenting that privilege. Showbiz is cut-throat. People live and die by their dreams. Folks have slogged for years and made real sacrifices and still have not been able to reach these heights. When a star kid waltzes in and an “Uncle” or “Aunty” whom they have known since they were a child hands them their first film, it is hard not to hate their privilege or them, just a little bit. But that is life, and life is unfair. “What should she do? Not take advantage?” Maheep asks on the show. The question shows an amazing lack of grounding, a common thread on the show (one of the ladies shows up to a beach clean-up in heels). The answer, Maheep, is a two-step process.
First, recognize the privilege. Star kids have a lot going for them, even before they begin their careers. They have money and resources to help them look and feel their best, and focus on developing their careers. They (usually) have the genes of their talented and/or good-looking parents. They have a whole industry full of family and family friends cheering them on. They are a known entity in a risky yet risk-averse industry. They have the gaze of the world upon them already, making them great financial investments for any producer (no need to waste marketing on a newbie!). They have people talking about them (yes, trolling, but also, the saying “no news is bad news” is true: publicity is publicity). What we see on Fabulous Lives is a whole lot of privilege with almost no acknowledgement of it.
Second, pay it forward. I challenge every star kid who has the incredible privilege of hobnobbing with the decision makers of the industry to answer one simple question: how many others have you helped to get where you are?
We cannot, as Maheep asked rhetorically, expect people not to take advantage of the opportunities in their laps. But, we can expect people to use their privilege for the good of others. We saw this all the time on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, when they highlighted a local business, showcased new talent, or highlighted an important social issue. At the very least, we can expect to laugh, cry, and feel connected to the humans behind the screen. Fabulous Lives never made any impact at all because it never let its ladies get vulnerable and show their humanity. Instead, what we got was polished glitz devoid of real problems. In the end, the fabulousness was too sparkly to believe and too lifeless to wow.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.