Posted by Megha Mehta
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
In a telling scene from Season 2 of 4 More Shots Please!, Damini Rizvi Roy (Sayani Gupta) tells her boyfriend Jeh that in spite of her recently published book being a flop, she has managed to secure a spot on a panel discussion courtesy her father’s media connections. Jeh, who ironically, is played by Prateik Babbar, casually remarks, ‘Nepotism is only wrong when other people do it.’ This was pretty much the point at which I realized how tone-deaf the writing of the show is, in spite of being marketed as a purportedly ‘woke and feminist’ series.
Of course, 4 More Shots Please! was always targeted at an urban, privileged, liberal feminist audience. I admittedly liked Season 1 because it was frothy and cute and everything you could expect from an Indian rip-off of Sex and the City. You have the bisexual celebrity gym trainer (because what else will lesbians do if not gym?), the single mother-cum-corporate lawyer, the fiery political news reporter, and the baby of the group, the privileged ‘SoBo’ girl struggling with body image issues. Right from the beginning, the show never claimed to be about anything but the 1-percenters of the Indian female population and perhaps, it is unfair for me to critique it for not attempting to show otherwise.
However, Season 2 is particularly grating and in-your-face about how privileged the characters’ lives are. It is as if the writers deliberately thought, ‘We know the audience is going to give us grief for making our characters’ lives look like a feminist version of Karan Johar movies, so let us clarify ourselves that we couldn’t care less about it.’ The show keeps displaying shots of the characters’ houses in South Bombay as if even the cameraman is literally screaming: ‘YES THEY ARE RICH! Deal with it!’
Season 2 is particularly grating and in-your-face about how privileged the characters’ lives are. It is as if the writers deliberately thought, ‘We know the audience is going to give us grief for making our characters’ lives look like a feminist version of Karan Johar movies, so let us clarify ourselves that we couldn’t care less about it.’
For example in 4 More Shots Please! Season 2, Siddhi (the effervescent Maanvi Gaagroo), who is now contemplating a career in stand-up comedy, complains that she doesn’t have enough material because her life is so privileged. To which her friends say in a reassuring tone, ‘So what, privileged people have problems too.’ In another scene, Siddhi’s mother Sneha rants to her husband that just because their daughter lives in a sea-facing apartment and enjoys foreign trips on his money, it doesn’t mean she cannot have insecurities. Umm, Boohoo? It is supposed to be taken for granted that Siddhi can keep relying on her parents’ financial support, and have a chauffeur driven car to drive her to and fro while she experiments with her career and love life (though the ending of the show suggests that this might change soon).
In Season 1, we were given a glimpse into Damini’s family life, as the child of two famous Bengali intellectuals, only to better understand the factors that led to shaping her OCD personality. However, in Season 2, it is repeatedly emphasized how much Damini, who is writing about the killing of a fictional ‘Judge Damodar’ (very obviously inspired from the Judge Loya case) keeps drawing upon her parents’ bhadralok connections to support herself. In one scene, a publisher calls her up and extracts a promise that, ‘you will publish the book with us first.’
Before you even contemplate the notion that this is on account of Damini’s own professional standing as an investigative reporter, the publisher says, ‘I’ve known you since you were a child.’ Then there is the fact that Damini’s mother provides crucial assistance when she decides to self-publish, and her father gives her the opportunity to publicize the book. Damini still experiences a fair share of struggles, given the radical content of her writing, but there is zero reflection on how much Damini owes her success to her caste and class background. Damini has imposter syndrome because she thinks she is generally not a good writer, but we never see her questioning her ‘merit’ as a product of her parents’ social and cultural capital.
Damini still experiences a fair share of struggles, given the radical content of her writing, but there is zero reflection on how much Damini owes her success to her caste and class background. Damini has imposter syndrome because she thinks she is generally not a good writer, but we never see her questioning her ‘merit’ as a product of her parents’ social and cultural capital.
In the case of Anjana (a superlative Kirti Kulhari), we know that she shares a close relationship with her maid Radha Didi and that the latter takes care of her daughter while she works long hours at a corporate law firm. We also know that Radha Didi dislikes her ex-husband Varun, one of the reasons being that he stuck boogers underneath the chairs (Oh the stinky and unhygienic savarna master, what a pain, but still so affable and lovable!) Yet Radha Didi is rarely seen or heard from, except in a scene where she taunts Varun when she sees him and Anjana hanging out together.
What is funny is that even Siddhi’s ‘NoBo’ boyfriend Amit, who is relatively less privileged and lives in a rented, barely furnished apartment, has a ‘Geeta Didi’. Geeta Didi is frequently blamed for the presence of Amit’s dirty chaddis underneath his mattress. ‘Offo!’ he complains, as Siddhi incredulously stares at his underwear in the midst of having sex, ‘This Geeta Didi just stuffs anything anywhere.’ Umm, how about you put your underwear in a proper laundry basket? Pallavi Rao’s superlative article on the dynamic between the Brahmin mistress and the Bahujan maid already critiques this, but perhaps it’s high time that shows about urban feminists stop using the domestic help as fodder for comedy tracks, given how much we rely on them to professionally compete with our male savarna compatriots.
Pallavi Rao’s superlative article on the dynamic between the Brahmin mistress and the Bahujan maid already critiques this, but perhaps it’s high time that shows about urban feminists stop using the domestic help as fodder for comedy tracks, given how much we rely on them to professionally compete with our male savarna compatriots.
The problem is that even putting aside the lack of self-reflection about caste and class, 4 More Shots Please! fails to adequately capture even the problems of the 1-percenters. For example, through Siddhi’s storyline, the show tries to make a comment about body shaming and unrealistic beauty standards. However, at no point do you see the four protagonists of the show looking ugly. They are always immaculately styled, their eyebrows are always perfectly sculpted, and their skin is always glowing. You never see them with messy hair, pimples, underarm growth or chipped nails. You don’t see them fretting about stretch marks or love handles or cellulite. Even when the characters are having a nervous breakdown, they look like they’ve stepped out of a Vogue cover-shoot.
4 More Shots Please! also tries to be radical by running tracks about abortion and open marriages. However, ultimately you know that at some point the writers were like, ‘OK, there is only so much transgression of middle class morality we can subject our audiences to.’
Damini predictably changes her mind in the middle of having an abortion (I’m surprised they didn’t add a scene showing her looking at a scan of the baby, just for more emotional kicks), and then conveniently suffers a ‘miscarriage’ so that the show doesn’t have to go through the complication of showing her pregnant and raising the child outside of marriage. Anjana sleeps with a man who is in an ‘open marriage’ (even though she says monogamy is a ‘way of life’ for her) but then of course it turns out that he’s a cheat and his wife was the victim. What’s funnier is that Damini initially encourages Anjana to flirt with him, but then suddenly preaches about how it’s ‘wrong’ to go in that direction, even though Damini herself made out with a man who was already in a committed relationship.
The opportunity to make statements about the psychological impact of an abortion, the struggles that an unmarried woman might face in India to access abortion, about the ethical implications of being in an open or polyamorous relationship, and sleeping with your boss-it’s all swept under the carpet so that our characters can go back to their heteronormative monogamous status quo. Similarly, we see that Umang (Bani J) is having relationship issues with her fiancée Samara, but we never see her actively questioning whether as a queer person, buying into the patriarchal, heteronormative concept of marriage is something she wants to do in the first place (though again, maybe the end of the show hints otherwise).
One might say that the positive part of 4 More Shots Please! is that the protagonists keep turning down opportunities to ‘settle down’ to focus on personal growth. However, the way it has been depicted, it is as if the protagonists deliberately run away from commitment and healthy relationships just so that they can portray an ideal of ‘being themselves’ and not needing anybody apart from their friends. At various points, the characters keep encouraging each other to go on dates and get to know their significant others instead of just hooking up.
One might say that the positive part of 4 More Shots Please! is that the protagonists keep turning down opportunities to ‘settle down’ to focus on personal growth. However, the way it has been depicted, it is as if the protagonists deliberately run away from commitment and healthy relationships just so that they can portray an ideal of ‘being themselves’
However at no point do you actually see healthy discussion between two partners about how to resolve difficulties in a relationship. The best way of resolving any relationship issue, according to the writers of the show, is to break up or simply not talk about it. Your boyfriend is cute and helpful, but bad at sex? Just break up and wait for a dreamy Lothario, there is no need to communicate your needs. 4 More Shots Please! seems to promote the (quite unhealthy) idea that sex is something that magically happens between two good-looking and privileged people who share chemistry and anything else is just a waste of time. There is zero questioning of hook-up culture, no conversations about consent, of what women find pleasurable vs. what men find pleasurable, etc.
It’s not that you can’t have good shows about privileged but complicated women. Fleabag is also the story of a messy, sexually liberated, conventionally-good looking white woman trying to navigate relationships and family difficulties. Yet the reason why you end up binge-watching it is because in some ways Fleabag is still relatable. 4 More Shots Please! has none of that. To say that it does a good job of talking about the struggles of even urban women is equivalent to saying that the Student of the Year franchise is an accurate representation of the Indian educational system. You’re better off watching Fleabag instead.
Megha Mehta is a graduate of the B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) Batch of 2019, NLSIU Bangalore. She is currently working as a law clerk at the Supreme Court of India. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Rediff