What women are and what women want are questions which are constantly asked, joked about on Whatsapp groups and over-complicated without reason. Television and cinema often try to answer these questions by creating shows for women with women; Four More Shots Please is a recent example from the Indian landscape. Like Sex and the City, it focuses on the ups and downs of the careers and romantic lives of four best friends in their thirties. It exists to reverse portrayals of women as meek housewives whose lives revolve around waking up before the rest of the family to pack their lunches, as aunties who relentlessly gossip, as mothers who are melodramatic and as beautiful young maidens who want nothing but arrogant, chauvinistic men to fall in love with them.
Contrary to this, these women are always impeccably dressed, always doing extremely well in their careers, always dating extremely good-looking men and somehow, always finding time to hang out, drink, smoke and dance together. The idea is to show that women are no less than men; women are as intelligent and as capable of swearing, blowing rings of smoke, throwing back shots and having one-night stands with strangers as men are.
Sex and the City was revolutionary in that it was the first series on television which was focused on showing that women could be fashionable, romantic and also incredibly ambitious, passionate and sexual at the same time. Unlike Four More Shots Please, the show didn't take itself too seriously; the episodes felt light and fun, and were more likely to get its viewers lost in the glamorous concrete jungle that is New York, than make any serious points about feminism. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it stylishly and humorously showed people that women were as independent, reckless and confident as men were. The characters' lives revolved heavily around men, but tonally this felt okay, because everything about the series screamed romantic sitcom.
The problem with Four More Shots Please, made two decades later for a Gen Z and Millennial crowd who definitely know women are capable of doing all the things it considers daring, is that it can't decide what it is; it wants its 30 plus-year-old women to spend every night at a bar, but it also wants us to believe that these same women have time to wake up the next day and solemnly fight the patriarchy, injustice, mental health problems, society, and politics. In attempting to show women who have every problem and yet are also able and more than happy to spend time goofing around with friends, the show does a disservice to all these issues and the women who have to tackle them.
It's the details, which are so integral to giving a show believability that are abandoned, replaced instead with shots of the friends walking around Mumbai looking pretty. In Sex and the City, Carrie is self-indulgent and fluffy, and the rest of the two-dimensional characters, each made to represent a certain "type" of woman, are just as lacking, indicating the show is no reflection of the modern woman or her ideals. However, the focus on the careers and struggles with real-world problems of the ladies in Four More Shots Please suggest they are meant to be smarter and more worldly than the ladies of the Big Apple are, but the show leaves out everything that would make us admire them.
Damini is written the worst; in the first season it is revealed she has OCD, but nothing more is done with that storyline, other than a black and white shot of her tearfully creating a pillow fortress around herself. She's the founder of her publication, but we never see what exactly she's written that makes her so great and we never see what she writes about trolls that becomes so sensational. In season 2, she starts having panic attacks, but we never go deep enough into her character to empathise with her and to understand the extent of her mental illness. We're supposed to believe that she procrastinated writing a book for weeks, then suddenly wrote an entire one in a few days – a book which every publisher loved, but couldn't publish because of it's politics. When Damini self-publishes, everyone agrees it is one of the best books that they have ever read in a long time. She's flawless to the point of a flaw, and it doesn't help further the show's feminist ideals in any way. We never see real struggle; it is all so momentary that it could not have happened at all, and it wouldn't feel like anything was amiss from the plot.
The show wants us to see how intelligent and capable its characters are, but gives much more screen time to flings and parties than they do to their vocations. Anjana's supposedly an amazing lawyer, but instead of scenes conveying this, we get to see her somewhat knowingly have an affair with a married man. Sneha suffers similar hits and misses as she goes from being hated by her mother to being hated by her father and suffers a bad relationship while trying to make it as a stand-up comedian.
Umang's the only character whose arc is realistic and honest; she goes from struggling with her own sexuality and trying to get the woman who she is in love with to accept hers, to realising that although she and her girlfriend have grown together, she wants more from the relationships; she wants respect. We see every instance of her vulnerability and doubt; she's the only character who is allowed to really be vulnerable and to fail. In the name of feminism, the creators make it impossible for any of the girls to perform badly or to fail at their jobs. When they do face a setback, it is too slight and it's details too murky. They wish to forward a narrative of female intellect and power, but the script betrays that even these creators see a woman's life as revolving around relationships first, and career second.
We end up with a superficial form of feminism that tells viewers that women can't fail, instead of telling them that women, like men, can fail, but this does not mean they aren't capable and strong; it means that like men, they are made up of light and dark, positive and negative, and strengths and weaknesses. We end up with a cursory look into the way women are treated in relationships and at work in this world; their problems are realistic, but they are solved too easily, because in vying for an empowering show, Indian women become Indian men, and Indian women's worlds becomes Indian men's, even though we all know that is far from the truth.
What brings on a show created by women, with female producers, directors, and writers is our desire to see women portrayed faithfully rather than as weepy mothers and trophy girlfriends, but just because a show is made by women, doesn't mean it is automatically a triumph for them. To me, believing that only women can accurately represent the problems of women takes away from the idea of gender equality itself; men should be able to understand and write women, because women's issues are human issues. Men overwhelmingly still decide what roles women play and more often than not sideline them into senseless supporting roles, but as times change, many men have managed to create stories of women which garner as much understanding and empathy as the women who have written women have.
I say this because when I list films and series I like more than Four More Shots Please in terms of their depiction of women, many are made by women, such as English Vinglish, Raazi, Never Have I Ever and Fleabag, and many are also made by men like Pink, Kahaani, and Pretty Woman . The most recent is Thappad; Anubhav Sinha manages to make people connect to the movie because he boils down the slap Amrita gets to a feeling that is instantly relatable: how can she respect herself if she lets herself be disrespected by the person she loves the most? In two hours, this film does more to advance women than fifty episodes of Four More Shots Please ever could. Of course, the genres are totally different, but it is the public hailing of Four More Shots Please as some kind of win for Indian women which makes me draw the comparison.
Thappad and Pink show that sexism isn't just about a few men who are degrading, but instead that sexism is systemic, while Four More Shots Please fails to make that point about every issue it tackles. It fails to show that women are often part of the problem because they have been conditioned by society, and inaccurately absolves women of any wrongdoing. This is highly unrealistic, and in the end, does not make for a truly feminist show.
The harrowing reality of facing injustice, body image issues and sexism at the workplace and the myriad of negative emotions and feelings that come with it: anger, sadness, frustration, depression, anxiety, are all faced fleetingly by the characters, for a few minutes only until everything goes back to normal and they are on top of the world again. Such a shallow portrayal of the problems women face takes away from true feminism; the fight for gender equality must tackle all facets of the problem, rather than pretend that it is a problem that can be solved easily while having the kind of fun that men are supposedly having all the time.