Why is it that the Fab Lives show has attracted so much criticism? What is it that we are missing out on examining instead?
So arguably, I am a few weeks delayed in writing this because like most, I finished binging on the Fab Wives a couple of weeks back. But with the confluence of the pandemic with year-end fiascos (no less of which is the circus the US 2020 post-election behavior has devolved into and the conversations around love jihad), we are all allowed to be a little slow.
And there’s some benefit to that. By now, the ‘vacuous’ and ‘ridiculous’ show judgments have come out in scores. An overall tone has been set on what India feels about a show like this coming out at a time like this.
Now, to be fair, it is obvious of course from the show’s timeline and it’s wrap up, that it was shot before the pandemic. And yes, probably releasing it now is not the most tasteful. But then again, there might be no right time for a show like this to come out. And a show like this, as those who watch the Real Housewives franchise or this show’s so-called inspiration: KUWTK, is never meant to be a meaningful social documentary – or even a nice, intelligent watch. It is expected to be outrageous and show-off-y. That’s what this genre is.
So, at the risk of being unpopular, I am choosing to ignore the ‘what the hell is this and who are these people’ mindset. I am also choosing to ignore ‘who needs this in a country like India’ opinion. Because in a country like India, we do have multimillionaires and celebrities, we do have folks showing up on Forbes Richest of the world 2020 lists, we have gala weddings, and we do waste time engaging in a lot of nonsense, putting our dire priorities aside.
Any country in the world, including the richest, to some degree, will react to a display of wealth and privilege with distaste. It’s almost like we have to. I will come to this point later. But I want to focus on some fine lessons instead that I personally gathered watching this one.
To be accurate and upfront about it, not all of these are matters of supreme importance – nor are they all things I never knew existed. So maybe, some are refreshers while some are in the hmm… that’s interesting category. Anyways, let me get rolling.
This is a concept I was exposed to only on watching the show when I saw one of the families holding a dog in diapers. I was like wow!
My daughter has been wanting a puppy, and our prime concern has been taking the dog out for bathrooms (that’s how everyone I know does it here in the US). Frequent walks, given our long and grueling work schedule every day, will be hard. Even KUWTK had an episode where Kylie and Kendall, when younger, get a stray puppy and it does its business all around the house, leading Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) to throw a fit. The eternal dog messing up your home problem. But hey, just put the dog in a diaper!
I was so intrigued that I looked this up – finding myself googling if putting a dog in a diaper is harmful in any way – and what I found is that not just dog diaper – there’s an entire pet diaper situation out there. It’s not something that should be done as an alternative to letting a pet naturally express their bladder, and of course, there’s the whole environment side. But still, thank you Fab Lives for letting me know this exists as an option.
The show reinforces what we should all remember on all days. Everyone has their insecurities and self-esteem and identification issues. Who we want to be, who we want to be seen as, and who we are – is our own creation. It seldom matches what even the folks closest to us would believe.
This I actually find to be quite comforting and one of the best things to take away from a show like this.
Bhavana Pandey is quite superstitious. Neelam Kothari worries about being ‘proper’ and ‘sticking to her values’. Trolling, or negative comments, do hurt. And even those who we think should be quite sated with where they are in life (they get to hang out with Shahrukh and Gauri and get featured on movies and magazines after all), want to name drop when they can. They go gaga when a Kardashian family member wishes them a happy birthday – even if they had Sridevi as their mother.
This is amusing, as I said above – comforting, and also sad all at once. Nothing in life might give you confidence and contentment unless you cultivate it.
The show shows once again that most folks are quite self-unaware. Or, more simply expressed – no matter who you are, you will find a way to feel sorry for yourself.
Of course nepotism had to come up in a show like this made on Bollywood. And before I go further into this – I will say what I have said before – it’s unfair to single Bollywood out for nepotism. In every industry, who you know opens doors for you. In a way, networking – the golden dart for corporate advancement – is no different. You just create friendships and networks you weren’t born with. Bollywood – thanks to a public display of your potential that needs to happen almost immediately after you get the first shot – if anything has a tougher screen out of those who don’t sell than most other fields.
That said, while some of the discussion (like the one between Arjun Kapoor and Maheep Kapoor) was quite apt and bang on, the discussion where Sanjay Kapoor talks to his wife about how he didn’t get as much work as he should have so nepotism isn’t there, is tone-deaf and telling, He (and potentially quite a few Bollywood prodigies), are clueless about the fact that their getting the first chance – is because of nepotism! The doors that opened for them (for example with Sanjay being the ‘most talked about’ newcomer) is not what happens for most mortals trying for Bollywood. His not selling is no one else’s fault. And of course, he seems quite illusioned about the fact that he just might not be that good.
This was another refresher – most folks, celebrities or not, fail to see where they might be lacking. There’s nothing wrong with being privileged. But believing that there’s no privilege is insane.
Now, this has been one of the biggest criticism of the show (apart from the laughs on Le Bal and beach cleaning in designer wear – which as I said, I expect when I choose a show like this). Several reviewers have correctly pointed out that yes, these ladies (and men), have more money and celebrity connections, but they could really be affluent (or even upper-middle-class) people anywhere. They are merely dining, vacationing, shopping, and partying together. We are not seeing them doing anything terribly interesting. This is no Big Boss. The ‘ugliness’, is too polished. The additional pretentiousness of this show I will say comes in the instances of Neelam doing botox only now, and the ‘big deal’ around it.
I agree with this criticism. This kind of show works if you go all the way there. A few episodes of Bravo’s Real Housewives or Shahs of Sunset (and there is one on rich Indian-American families too – Family Karma) will demonstrate this point.
I, however, found this to be a good thing too about the show. This kind of behaviour and distinct personality traits could be uncovered with close attention (for most of the characters allowed reasonable screen time) in absolutely anyone we know.
I found these folks to be quite relatable. Meaning, do I have a friend who will show up to clean a beach in Prada? No. But I do have a friend (a few actually) who will show up wearing their most expensive, yet inappropriate for the occasion, garb at the opportunity to be on camera. We all do. Similarly, I do have friends (and family contacts) who get mad when their kids are criticized, and are overbearing and endearing at the same time in making plans for me without asking. And we all have friends who get upset when we don’t take their sides.
None of the folks in the show evolved to a spectacular level of graciousness or fell to disastrous depravity. That’s bad for the show but important for us to note. Why? I will come to that in the last learning.
We all have been vain. Most of us splurge (within our means and sometimes outside). We all show off our fabulous vacations and our kid’s accomplishments (deserving ones and other ones too). I have friends working in Gurgaon and Bangalore, and family members in these and several other cities (Chandigarh, Kolkata, and so on…) who have maids following them and their children with water bottles and change of clothes.
And let’s leave alone the whole discussion on how comfortable we are in India with doing our housework ourselves (in recent decades at least). This includes cooking and laying out of our meals.
Yet, we feel like there’s something wrong with their privilege and lifestyle and as if, somehow, just not showing off will help those who have less. No, it won’t. This illusion needs to be dispersed. Unless you are actively working for social causes, helping those who can’t help themselves, doing – something – anything – which is an active action (and not just feeling bad that there are poor people out there) it doesn’t really help anyone. So binging on Fab Lives will not make it worse, nor will cleaning a beach in Chanel.
Much worse is throwing out garbage bags from cars and balconies. Or laughing at the dark girl for she is so. I will not even go into the other serious issues we demonstrate ourselves capable of, and tolerate daily in our society. I feel this needs to be said out loud for as Indians, we have been incorrectly defining right vs. wrong for a long time. In the end, what we see on the screen and want to hate badly, is not that different from what we have in and around us. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s just what it is – so let’s not waste time feeling guilty.
Let’s note the flaws and fancies instead, and move on. And then, take some action in whatever way we can for whatever we care about to make up for whatever we think it is we (or they) shouldn’t be doing.
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Manages supply chain teams in Intel Corp. Blogger, writer and poet. Founder and Director Her
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