By Takshi Mehta Sep. 03, 2022
The reality show can be cringe at times, but it is also oddly empowering in the sense that these women would not come to our screens if not sought out for who they are, rather than what they could have been.
The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives, the desi version of Real Housewives meets Keeping Up With The Kardashians, is back with a second season, after a rather successful hate-watched first. Starring the four Bollywood Wives, Neelam Kothari, Maheep Kapoor, Bhavana Pandey, and Seema Sajdeh, in figurehead roles the reality show has infamously captured the ostentatious lives of these star wives, married to Samir Soni, Sanjay Kapoor, Chunky Pandey, and Sohail Khan (Sajdeh divorced Khan recently after being separated for a while) respectively. We’ve watched them, loathed them, judged them, and even obsessed over them, while actively scorning their apparently unearned popularity. But we’ve not been able to look away.
Love them or hate them, you can’t ignore them, because what do four middle-aged wives have in common with the rest of us? For starters, they have issues and insecurities, in equal measures much like any of us. What sets them apart, you ask? Well, their issues range from ball dance practice for le bal, to the dilemma of whether to get botox and fillers or not. Their insecurities are about being less successful in comparison to family and friends who’ve touched the sky and romanced the winds, while they glide nonchalantly in their palatial homes. As opposed to these first-world predicaments, our problems are much more rooted in the mundane, and ordinary, from potholes to politics.
Love them or hate them, you can’t ignore them, because what do four middle-aged wives have in common with the rest of us? For starters, they have issues and insecurities, in equal measures much like any of us.
The class distinctions and privilege are evident and jarring, not just in the grandiose setting and expenditure, but also in dialogues such as when Kothari, tells Kapoor that “if you like it, then buy it.” A statement that is bound to arouse criticism, even envy in audiences who are nowhere near as privileged. Why do we then watch this show? It’s oddly comforting and pleasurable to watch the rich, famous, and beautiful lead their intentionally dramatic lives.
Remember that feeling when you gawked and guffawed at the public catfight between Pandey and Sajdeh, over a mutual friend, that the latter had a falling out with? When you sighed sympathetically at the little display of honesty and vulnerability when Kapoor vacationing in Doha says to Karan Johar, “living in this film family, it’s not easy, being the person who is supposedly the ‘unsuccessful family’ in a family of very very successful people.” It is this tantalizing feeling of seeing famous people, usually presented with airbrushed images, crumble messily in their opulent, privileged but nonetheless problem-filled lives, that has been making cringe-binge reality TV a genre itself. It’s not all polite, but we do, it is safe to say, love it.
We may find it thin, even ignorant, but there’s no denying that it’s weirdly empowering, especially in the South Asian landscape, to see these middle-aged women, just not give two cents about anything in a world, where women are constantly asked to be on their toes.
There’s a German word for what we commonly call, a guilty pleasure. Schadenfreude is a combination of two German nouns – Schaden which means harm, and Freude, which means joy. It is this sadistic pleasure that makes it difficult for one to ignore such reality TV, despite the social comparison that it might naturally call upon, because there’s reassurance and satisfaction in watching people who seem to have it all, and then subsequently be told ‘not quite’. It’s a convenient status quo where you can look at those above you and dislike with abandon.
All that said, perhaps the most striking part of the show has to be the fact, that we see four women, who have no jobs, just having a whole lot of unabashed fun. We may find it thin, even ignorant, but there’s no denying that it’s weirdly empowering, especially in the South Asian landscape, to see these middle-aged women, just not give two cents about anything in a world, where women are constantly asked to be on their toes.
It’s a classic case, of good feminists vs. bad feminists, where the viewer will put themselves in the shoes of the former, while judging the latter for not having a job, or being intellectually enlightened. However, what we often forget, is that the thumb rule of feminism is that women, irrespective of their age, profession, class, religion or caste, must have agency, and these four wives, remind us precisely of how even seemingly bad feminists, are at the end of the day, fighting for similar autonomy– to lead their lives, without being answerable to anyone.
The humongous gap between the apparently normal people, and those with conspicuous wealth, only facilitates this culture of wanting to get a glimpse into how these people lead their lives, and spend their money.
Moreover, given the plushy and sumptuous nature of the show, there’s also the case of wanting to live voyeuristically through the fabulous lives of these Bollywood wives. The humongous gap between the apparently normal people, and those with conspicuous wealth, only facilitates this culture of wanting to get a glimpse into how these people lead their lives, and spend their money. Of course, empowerment, voyeurism, and relatability aside, one of the primary reasons why Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives, and shows similar to it, work, is the fact that we not only love to watch, but we also love to judge them. It’s a double-edged blade and it cuts both ways.
For all its cringe moments of ignorance and appalling privilege the show has over two seasons also felt oddly empowering. This women would never be on our screens if they had not been sought out. The fact that all four go through different struggles – as former actresses, mothers to stars, or insecure wives – they represent an entire spectrum of challenges women face, even those with measurable agency. It’s not an easy argument to make because the elite are almost always chastised for exhibiting their glamorous lives, but in the case of four wives who’d be nothing more than footnotes in the storied – or not – careers of their husbands, this is their welcome day in the sun. It’s impossible not to like that bit of irony.
Takshi believes that in the end, we are what we stand up for, and thus you'll always find her wielding a pen and writing frantically. When she isn't writing, you'll find her dancing or reading. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @takshimehta