Four seems to be the magic number popular media uses to generate ‘women-centric’ content and to explore relationships between women – Little Women, Sex and the City, and (closer to home and our current subject of discussion) films like Veere di Wedding (2018). Four More Shots Please!, streaming on Prime Video, created by Rangita Pritish Nandy and written by Devika Bhagat and Ishita Moitra, follows the story of four urban, upper-class women in Mumbai – Damini (Sayani Gupta), the journalist-start-up founder with OCD, the ‘chubby’ Siddhi (Maanvi Gagroo) with a control-freak socialite mother, Umang (Bani J), the personal trainer who ran away from Ludhiana to freely live her sexuality, and the lawyer-divorcée-single-mother Anjana (Kriti Kulhari) – as they navigate their lives and personal struggles. While each character has her own backstory and set of specificities, which make her who she is, they are women we have known or are.
The Indian mainstream media finally, finally has its own drama series about female friendships (albeit a little too Sex-and-the-City and westernized for my taste). Not only that, the show, I can joyfully report, caters wonderfully to the female gaze – we see a plethora of good-looking men and women on screen, the women orgasm (for real, without faking it – for the screen, of course!), and the men are sometimes reduced to props to further the women’s story, which isn’t ideal, but as Anjana would say, “2000 years of patriarchy, itna toh banta hai (this is the least we deserve)”.
While the show is by no means perfect (far from it, in fact), what it does manage to get right is the intertwining of the elements of sexuality, fantasy, and sexual expression as main plot points. We see four women exploring and engaging in play with partners and their sexual selves in various ways. The opening sequence features a ‘ripped’ Milind Soman in tighty-whities walking atop a boardroom table towards Damini while a soundtrack with the words “Let me go down” plays in the background. This is later revealed to be a dream Damini is having, but this opening sequence is a perfect example of the lens through which each of the women’s fantasies is portrayed. Fantasy, and the fulfilment of it, is quite omnipresent in the first season of the show – Damini’s boardroom fantasy comes true with a no-strings-attached sexual encounter with Dr. Warsi (Milind Soman) that is “all about her”, and Umang enters into a relationship with her childhood-celebrity-crush Samara Kapoor (Lisa Ray). Anjana’s rediscovery of her sexuality after becoming a mother, her becoming re-acquainted with her vulva, her futile attempts at masturbation, and finally her success at it after a risqué first meeting with her to-be lover with Arjun (Ankur Rathee), seem incredibly real and, I’m sure, relatable to other women who lead similar lives.
The character with the most impressive story arc is definitely Siddhi, who starts the first season with a compliance towards her mother’s wishes to get her married off and ends it by rejecting a proposal from a man she likes in a bid to know herself better. The ‘baccha’ (child) of the group, Siddhi is fat, a fact her mother constantly reminds her of and tries to remedy by putting her on all sorts of diets. She buries her deep insecurities under a cheerful veneer, which ultimately gets chipped because of her mother’s constant nagging. In a desperate attempt to feel good about herself, she logs in to an erotic website as ‘babygirl’. Siddhi does live videos from her bedroom, her face off-camera, ‘flaunting her curves’ for praise from the users of the website. This aspect of play sets her on a path of embracing her sexuality – a few episodes later, we see Siddhi becoming sexually active. Being plagued with insecurities and yearning for validation from social media is hardly something any of us are unfamiliar with. Siddhi’s attempts towards loving her body and accepting it via an appreciation of it from strangers is all-too-real – in being seen as ‘hot’ for the first time in her life, she starts finding herself desirable.
The show also manages to achieve quite a rare feat – ever since it came out, it has united people from both ends of the political spectrum in their constant outcry against the show. Liberals and conservatives and everyone in between have been relentless in their denunciation of the show, the former deeming it too simplistic and ‘lowbrow’, while the latter firmly append the label of ‘pseudo-feminism’ to it. A lot of the criticism is certainly valid – the performances range from unimpressive to downright comical, the background score seems straight out of a 90s Hollywood romcom, the writing and the script tend to be overly dramatised at instances, the on-the-nose dialogue criticising men and patriarchy is extremely unimaginative – the list goes on. The very same actors have given commendable performances in other ventures, the most notable being Sayani Gupta’s Gaura in Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15, and yet Four More Shots Please! suffers from forced dialogue delivery, and the high-tension scenes that require serious commitment often leave the audience unconvinced, most often in scenes involving Bani J and Lisa Ray.
However, what is certainly not valid is the show being called pseudo-feminist – this line of argument, which claims that the show advocates debauchery in the name of liberty, reduces it to the ‘vices’ of sex and alcohol and ignores the array of important conversations the show starts in the mainstream. Many of the critics who pan the show as being too simplistic fail to see the empathy these four women evoke in their counterparts in the real world, especially the middle-aged ones. Granted, the show portrays urban, upper-class, and upper-caste women (a completely valid line of criticism from a socio-political lens), but the circumstances they go through and the situations they face are ones most women from similar socio-economic backgrounds relate to. The way it brazenly (and therefore, beautifully) displays what women want and desire and fantasize about, has not been done before, and in my opinion, Four More Shots Please! moves in the right direction when it comes to women (of a particular social stratum), their lives, and feminism at large – even if it takes small, stumbling, baby steps towards it.
Cover Image: Youtube