A show called Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives needs no explanation, the name says it all. The Netflix reality show sheds a light on the lives of Maheep Kapoor (wife of Sanjay Kapoor), Seema Khan (wife of Sohail Khan), Bhavana Panday (wife of Chunky Pandey) and Neelam Kothari (wife of Samir Soni). I’m only qualifying them by their husbands because that’s what the show does too, right from the start. Maheep and Neelam are jewellery designers. Seema owns a fashion label and Bhavana is about to launch a retail clothing brand. We see a little about their career crises but not too much. Bhavana has one tense meeting with an investor but that’s all we hear of it. The show focuses more on their lives as wives to 90s actors and moms to future stars, and their fancy holidays. And let’s be honest, that’s really what we’re all here to see. I suspect you’ve probably binge-watched the show already.
The four women are extremely easy in front of the camera, their friendship of many years feels genuine and they completely own their glamorous lives. At one point, Maheep proudly says, ‘I am a woman of leisure’. I was particularly pleased to see Neelam who looks radiant at 50. She’s the only woman here who’s not really a Bollywood wife. She’s a legit Bollywood star of the 80s. Her apprehensions over coming out of retirement to do movies again and doubts about whether she still knew how to act, or if people still wanted to see her, felt relatable and heartfelt. She even lets us watch as her doctor injects fillers in her face.
But the show falls short of attaining true guilty pleasure status. The lives of these women are undoubtedly fabulous but not very interesting. At least not interesting enough for 8 whole episodes. The makers constantly bring in reinforcements in the form of their famous friends like Malaika Arora Khan, Raveena Tandon, Ekta Kapoor and the ‘OG Bollywood wife’ Gauri Khan. And then there is Karan Johar, also the producer of the show, who pops up every now and then as agony aunt. He tries to stir the pot in true Koffee With Karan style, but I think this trope is now wearing thin.
After a point, the bling and the fabulous-ness gets tiring. The women are perfectly styled at all times and there’s not a hair out of place, even before they go to bed. There’s one minor skirmish between Seema and Bhavana over a common celebrity friend who they don’t name so it felt a bit like solving a confusing Mumbai Mirror blind item.
In the last episode, we finally get a peek into what we all signed up for – a Bollywood party. I was looking forward to being a fly on the wall at these infamous parties, but instead we get Shah Rukh Khan making a speech about how wonderful each of the wives are. They return the compliment by telling us how wonderful SRK and Gauri are. It’s all very sweet and sappy and I’d normally never complain about seeing SRK in anything, but this felt a bit too stagey.
This year Bollywood has got a massive drubbing for being a closed circle of rich, entitled and powerful people who only employ each other. I don’t think this is true. It’s certainly not the only truth. But if you subscribe to this notion, then parts of this show will reinforce your beliefs. The show opens with Shanaya Kapoor, daughter of Maheep and Sanjay, being invited to a prestigious ball in Paris. As she waltzes in a grand red gown you can almost see this coming back to haunt her at interviews when she makes her imminent film debut. The show pre-empts this and perhaps that’s why there’s a bit where cousin Arjun Kapoor speaks about how she will have to develop a thick skin to face the trolls. At another point cousin Janhvi Kapoor tells us how hardworking Shanaya was as an apprentice on one her films. Then dad Sanjay tells us about finally signing a film with Karan Johar and how his patchy career is proof that the nepotism charge is an unfair one. I’m not sure if these speeches are helpful or just make the situation worse.
Through the 8 episodes, the Kardashians are brought up a fair bit. They have set the gold standard of reality television and if there’s going to be a second season, the Bollywood wives have a lot of catching up to do. In fact, even Netflix’s other blockbuster reality show from this year, Indian Matchmaking, was far more cringe and ridiculous in the best way possible. In an interview to Film Companion, Maheep had said, “It’s not Gone with The Wind or Mughal-e-Azam… I hope people laugh at us or with us, but just laugh.” She’s right about the first bit. And you’d be a fool to come in expecting a classic. But I don’t think I laughed much either. Except when Sanjay Kapoor goes all Punjabi in Paris. Give me some more of that.