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Had the series centred on four ordinary women with imperfect bodies and middle-class contexts, it would not have titillated and might not have appeared crass and cringeworthy.
With the spate of video streaming services in India heralded by Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, the entertainment industry has attained a new kind of freedom: freedom to bet on creative ideas that can be endangering as well as enabling. There has been a proliferation of series that has introduced a new kind of entertainment which is edgy and thrilling. This has had an immediate bearing on the cable TV programmes since the audience has been lured away into savouring new forms of entertainment.
The new classy theme centric series that take on opposite and often forbidden subjects in the context of urban cosmopolitan milieu keep the viewers riveted. One such series that was aired lately was Four More Shots Please which was popularly understood to be feminist. Well, apparently it is especially in terms of the subject that it has chosen and, that is, female desire and sexuality. But what is it about desire that lends itself as a lens to articulate female autonomy? Why do women’s subjectivity and assertion have to be seen through the framework of desire? And does it actually make interventions in the domain of female subjectivity or succumbs to the larger patriarchal superstructure?
Four More Shots Please is evocative at least in the sense that it makes one contemplate on these notions. It focuses on four women and thus, assures the viewers with the prospect of a dominant feminist discourse ahead. However, it is here that it decelerates. It begins with gusto and an outrageous moment of intimacy with one of the female leads hooking up in the conference room in full view of the suave board members. Anti-climactically, it turns out to be a dream but it trumpets the theme of the series, wild and loud, to a great extent. Hence, begins an exploration into the lives of these women namely, Anjana, Damini, Siddhi and Umang.
Anjana is a corporate lawyer perpetually stressed, and it seems that she has not seen much success in her professional life. She holds an executive position in her firm but is constantly exposed to regional, linguistic and patriarchal chauvinism. Sadly, the series doesn’t explore this strand much. It shows snippets of her struggle with the structure with which she wrestles every day but soon shifts the focus to her sexual life. Anjana’s sole preoccupation becomes obsessing over her ex-husband and his fiancée.
Damini, an audacious and indomitable journalist is an epitome of real journalism and its ethics. She interiorizes its ethics and fearlessly crusades for ethical and accountable journalism. It is through her figure that the feature of self-validation through her career is explored. Physical intimacy, for her, seems to be just a coping mechanism to seek temporary refuge from mounting stress. With no strings attached, she sleeps with many men and medicates her feelings, thereby, exhibiting some attributes of female autonomy and assuming control of her body. Desire, in her case, is not about the realization of female subjectivity or attaining bildungsroman but just a way to egress her tensions.
Siddhi, is an obese Gujarati girl who is bullied and lambasted by her own mother for over-indulging in the sinful pleasure of food. Her mother, whom Siddhi refers to as Sneha, is obsessed with finding a groom for her and coerces Siddhi to shrink down in order to attract suitors. Siddhi, on the contrary, doesn’t feel the same though she acts the same. Constant subjection to scorn and ridicule disgust upsets her and she recourses to an online sleazy website where she strips, essentially, for the male viewers and receives no shaming for that. What Siddhi cannot register is that stereotypes and gender-based lashing get intensified on internet because there is no accountability. This realization seeps in later when she begins to get threats of her identity being exposed.
The final and realistic portrayal is the most compelling one, of a bisexual woman who leads a stifling existence even in the permissive urban milieu of Mumbai. Umang, who lives on the threshold and yet is not ashamed of her sexual orientation, escapes the retrogressive structure of Ludhiana in the hope of discovering a space that would accommodate her without subsuming her. Mumbai seems to offer that space. She finds a niche for herself entirely on her own and begins to live on terms that she dictates. Her dilemma, fears and anxieties about the woman she loves are the most relatable. Everything about Umang, arrayed from her disposition to mannerisms evidence her sexuality. The intricate tattoos that she proudly exhibits stereotype her instead of problematizing the idea of queer identity. Tattoo, in her case, are not just body enhancements but also mark of subversion. Umang’s rejection to be co-opted by the hegemonic normative structure finds expression through carvings on her body. However, this just like the other female characters fails to be emphatic since that’s how queer identity brandishes itself. It seems to be explicitly deviant and deploys body as a medium for doing so, which is comprehensible. But this too becomes a limiting condition in popular representation since subdued voices like Umang’s sister-in-law, become non-existent. Their silent rebellion within the patriarchal set up becomes nondescript because it is not dramatic as the other characters’ dissent in the series.
So, what do these female characters do with the politics of desire? Nothing actually. Brinda Bose in the book Translating Desire: The Politics of Gender and Culture in India argues, “Post Foucault, we know that sexuality when represented or perhaps more cogently translated- is much more than a manifestation of physical desire, it is a politics. Sexuality is a “category” whose boundaries far exceed it’s a priori existence as a coded definition of physical intimacy.” The women in the series do not realize this or perhaps that’s what the series was never meant to be. Who are these women who inhabit this space and who is the intended viewer?
The women in the series are all rich urban elites from the exclusive and upmarket South Mumbai. The setting in the series is over westernized and seems like an alien land. Swanky houses, designer clothes, frequent outings with no family commitments especially in the case of Anjana who thoughtlessly leaves her daughter behind to her husband’s fiancée whom she hitherto seems to be so jealous of. In one of the scenes post the court episode, Anjana and Damini walk on the pavement parallel to the ground with Damini pointing at some ordinary men who stand ogling at them. She comments on how men occupy all the spaces and feel anxious about women constituting the same space. Damini’s superciliousness towards the ordinary men she points at is very evident.
These are women with socio-cultural capital having access to all public spaces like pubs, bars, malls etc. The Truck Bar that they frequent is their adda where they assemble, get drunk and unburden themselves. They are indulgent and splurge on themselves which reinvigorates them and keeps them going. The word ‘fuck’ resonates throughout the series and becomes a statement for verbalizing frustration, dissent and disgust. And often it’s divested of all these connotations and the characters seem to be habituated to saying it all the time. The interesting thing about the cuss words is that the same set of words sound uncouth and abusive in Hindi mouthed by the banal public but sound empowering and liberating when spoken by the rich elites. Its as if abuse too is a prerogative of the rich elites. Had the series centred on four ordinary women with imperfect bodies and middle-class contexts swearing and indulging in themselves, it would not have titillated and might have appeared crass and cringeworthy.
What we witness in Four More Shots Please is an appropriation of feminism by capitalistic forces wherein the rhetoric of feminism is determined by what is saleable. Feminism is glamourized and marketed for privatized viewership which relishes seeing women with hourglass figures consequently relegating feminist issues to just sex and not realizing the potential and politics of desire.
Image via Amazon Prime
Educator at The Shri Ram School, Moulsari, Gurgaon read more...
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Rajshri Deshpande, who played the fiery protagonist in Trial by Fire along with Abhay Deol speaks of her journey and her social work.
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