In the mood for some celebrity worshipping? Netflix's latest reality show Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives is just the thing you need. What was supposed to be a collective exercise for us to laugh with (and mostly at) the real housewives of Juhu, has been turned into yet another panegyric in the glory of Bollywood superstars, this time Shah Rukh and his wife Gauri Khan. Some might call it the one thing that makes it worthwhile to put up with four screaming and potty-mouthed women, but I would prefer to hit play for some Kardashian nonsense rather than another Shah Rukh special episode of Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai.
Watch the trailer of Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives here
Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, or Fabulous Lives as we will address it as henceforth (as producer Karan Johar has assured a miffed Madhur Bhandarkar), could have made for the perfect cringe watch. It had the right ingredients -- star cameos, Karan's blessings, needy star kids, actor-husbands who are colourful characters in themselves, and their four wives who run the show.
Maheep Kapoor, wife of actor Sanjay Kapoor, towers above the other three as the feistiest one who has a penchant for drama, chaos and catfights, making her the perfect candidate for the show. She calls her friends tw*ts, stupid cows, a****les and more, but no one seems to take offence as she seems genuinely affectionate while saying the words. From her unrecognisable accent concocted from over half a dozen countries, to all her scenes with Sanjay (who is the best thing about the show), Maheep rarely seems to be faking it, which is a rarity on a show that seems largely scripted.
Then there is Neelam Kothari Soni, whose accent is still stronger than ever. Neelam is married to Samir Soni and used to be a rather popular actor herself in the 80s. Those around her are encouraging her to make a comeback, but she seems reluctant. She is hesitant to audition, doesn't know if she can act anymore and needs convincing from her celebrity friends for what should have been a self-realised idea itself. Mostly, she has settled into her celeb mommy lifestyle and refuses to accept it, something Maheep proudly own and embraces.
Bhavana Panday is the saner one of the lot, and makes sense in her fights. She is the wife of Chunky Panday and mother to actor Ananya Panday. Though, the saner side of her cannot always be trusted. She believes in tightening her skin by harnessing 'energies of the earth' and wouldn't travel in the same aircraft as her husband in case it crashes and their kids are left orphaned. She is close friends with her tarot reader and has even roped in Ananya into warding off nazars.
Finally, Seema Khan, who is the baby spice of the group. Married to Sohail Khan, she seemingly lives in a separate house across the street from him while their older son gets to choose which house to spend the night in. Seema is a fashion designer and she loves to hog attention. Whether it is crying on an aircraft during mild turbulence or throwing tantrums on a holiday, Seema can get on your nerves through the screen. The women, therefore, are not really the problem.
The biggest problem is the self-serious tone the show has adopted. In the initial episodes, while introductions are made and the mood is set, Fabulous Lives is at its most entertaining. Sanjay Kapoor gives you genuine fish-out-of-water moments as the desi dad takes his daughter, Shanaya, to the prestigious and pretentious Le Bal, among the Parisian elite. Karan Johar comes in with the fireworks, striking the match that lights the first and only fight of the entire season. With not enough organic fights, makers resort to cooking some up. There is an evidently fake stalker angle and even phone conversations are scripted to the bone.
Maheep is seemingly at an important meeting with a client, unable to answer her phone. However, once she moves three steps away, she puts the phone on speaker to scream at her friends. Surely the client (a fake one most likely) can still hear her? The show makes very little efforts to even conceal such instances. Perhaps an approach more akin to Masaba Masaba would have better suited to Fabulous Lives.
From the fighting, the script takes the women to a holiday in Doha, a long two-episode, shoddily concealed tourism advertisement for the city. They arrive home for a grand finale -- a party thrown in their honour earlier this year by Gauri Khan. This is when the show takes a leap so off-theme, it is impossible to make a safe return. Shah Rukh and Gauri are so firmly put on a pedestal that even their title cards refuse to specify who they are. Now I have been in love with Shah Rukh since I have known of his existence, but even I feel it got way out of hand.
Of course, Shah Rukh is still his charming self, bringing the most gentle, cathartic moment of the show in its final 15 minutes. But the show was still supposed to be about the women and their lives. And they should not have needed a superstar intervention of such deity-like proportions. There were moments of their own that stood out as sweet and sometimes, even emotional. Neelam revisits her younger days, teaching the girls how to do the Bollywood dance. Maheep talks about the sadness she feels being the 'less successful family' of the three Kapoor brothers, while Chunky says he would not go to Ananya's award ceremonies because he feels jinxed, never having won an award himself. Then there's Samir, who feels pathetically left out among his wife's friends. Not just cringe, there was a lot that the Fabulous Lives was on the right track to explore. However, maybe the charm of Shah Rukh and his open arms was too good to resist.