Anything but fabulous

Filmmaker Karan Johar's latest production, Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, is a web series that follows the glamorous lives of four middle-aged women - Neelam Kothari Soni, Maheep Kapoor, Seema Khan and Bhavana Pandey - who are married to Indian actors of varying degrees of fame.

The show, which went live on Netflix last Friday, is set up to be India's answer to American media franchise The Real Housewives.

It has scenes where maids trail the wives carrying their handbags and bottles of water, one family jetting off to Paris for the annual debutante ball and one of the stars spouting the F-word for everything from eating escargots to toasting her girlfriends.

For these "fabulous" women, choosing which sparkling dress to wear to a party is one of life's major dilemmas.

"These women represent a subset of Bollywood insiders who have an aspirational lifestyle and have a strong social media following," observed film critic Rajeev Masand. "And it is about time the world knew there was more to India than snakes and elephants."

But the show, produced by Dharmatic Productions, has been criticised online by viewers for its vapid content. Many dubbed it "fake" and "trash".

However, it has been trending at the top of Netflix India's top 10 list since its release. In Singapore, it is No. 9.

"The biggest problem is the self-serious tone the show has adopted," noted The Hindustan Times. "In the initial episodes, while introductions are made and the mood is set, Fabulous Lives is at its most entertaining."

Critic Sujata Assomull wrote in the South China Morning Post: "The women deliver all the cringe you can expect from a binge-worthy reality show."

Another problem is that none of the women are actually considered top-tier Bollywood wives.

None have ever been on the cover of Vogue or Harper's Bazaar - an accolade generally reserved for A-list wives like Gauri Khan (wife of Shah Rukh Khan), Twinkle Khanna (wife of Akshay Kumar) and Sussanne Khan (former wife of Hrithik Roshan).

"In Mumbai, they are at the centre of a social circuit that mixes Bollywood with business and socialites," Mumbai-based journalist and author Gayatri Shah said. "Going to a party where they are present is certainly heady."

Leading the pack is Neelam, a former actress and veejay who also had a special guest role in Johar's 1998 romantic drama Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. She is married to actor Samir Soni, who made one of his last big-screen appearances on Johar's 2019 film Student of the Year 2.

She comes from a family of jewellers and has her own jewellery brand. In the show, she admits to being "prim and proper" and spends time deciding if she should make her Bollywood comeback.

Seema has her own fashion line known for its boho glam take on Indo-Western fashion.

In the first episode, she admits she is not in a conventional marriage with her husband Sohail Khan - an actor, director and producer best known for being the younger brother of Bollywood superstar Salman Khan.

It is evident they live in separate homes.

Bhavana is the wife of the late-1980s heartthrob Chunkey Pandey and mother of young Bollywood actress Ananya Pandey.

A former air hostess, she has hosted events for luxury brands including Dior, Cartier and Louis Vuitton and is a co-founder of her own fashion street label LoveGen, which recently opened a flagship store in Mumbai.

She is the approachable one - her style is very easy and she often wears her own brand.

Potty-mouthed Maheep is known to be brazen and bold. In the series, she plans a girls' trip to Doha which seems obviously lifted from the heavily panned second Sex and the City film.

Her husband, actor Sanjay Kapoor, is currently shooting another Netflix series being made by Johar's production company.

"The series has all the elements to attract any person interested in Bollywood, with names that are famous enough to gossip about, but not enough to gain the national spotlight," wrote Sameeksha Dandriyal on "The eight-episode series wants to be flashy but lacks the sheen.

"It had the spunk in the idea but alas, the four wives fail to make it appetising enough. They try so hard to be pretentious enough for the viewers to peek into their lives, but even their shallowness feels shallow. Everything feels staged, from their talks to their reactions."

While this is obviously an exaggerated made-for-TV view of the four women's lives, the show does give an insight into how the privileged in India live.

Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives dwindles somewhere between Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

As author and social commentator Shobhaa De said: "How does one quantify 'fabulous'? Their lives are showy - but 'fabulous'? Not! More tacky than fab."

Indo-Asian News Service

"How does one quantify 'fabulous'? Their lives are showy - but 'fabulous'? Not! More tacky than fab." - Author and social commentator Shobhaa De


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