There is a real struggle for women to survive whether they occupy corner offices in plush corporate offices or much humbler surroundings on the wrong side of the tracks. Through the interconnected stories of its Mumbai-based ‘begums,’ Bombay Begums reveals that age-old truth: if you are a woman, you have to fight for your rights every inch of the way.
Pooja Bhatt plays Rani (Pooja Bhatt), the CEO of a bank with zeal. Fatima (Shahana Goswami) works for the same bank and is steadily climbing the ladder. The movie is about Ayesha (Plabita Borthakur) a small-town girl trying to make it in the big city. Shi (Aadhya Anand) is a lonely teenager who struggles with motherhood. Lily (Amruta Subhash) is a single mother and a bar dancer. All these different strata of society and age groups are bound by the immutable, unalterable fact of gender, and how everything these characters do is constrained by centuries of patriarchy and misogyny.
'Bombay Begums' treads familiar ground since there have been ambitious women in films and television before. What makes it stand out is how it creates full-bodied female characters who refuse to conform or to be likable. This film shows just how complicit women can be once they achieve certain positions: a predatory male colleague (Manish Choudhary) at the bank is exposed by a new employee after a sexual assault, and immediately the older women close ranks on the miserable newcomer. Does she know how her complaint will affect her fledgling career? How drunk was she at the time? Was it not a consensual arrangement? Just imagine the man, and his happy family: these accusations will ruin his life.
As a result of this incident, old wounds of sexual harassment are reopened, and difficult truths are revealed, so timely in the #MeToo era.
But not everything works. Although I wasn't very convinced about the way the bar dancer's strand is shoehorned into the story, Amruta Subhash's performance of Lily makes you want to see more of her. There are some twists that seem contrived and too convenient. The privileged teenage girl's coming of age is also portrayed a little too literally, but there are so few cinematic attempts of pubescent teenagers becoming aware of their bodies that I'll take this as well.
I am thrilled to see women getting their due, speaking up, speaking out. Pooja Bhatt plays Rani, a woman who has gotten to where she wanted, her scars showing. She is in a relationship with a powerful man (Rahul Bose); her spouse (Danish Hussain) knows about it. What happens in open marriages? She wears the prettiest sarees, each better than the last. Hana Goswami makes us empathize, effortlessly, with Fatima, who isn't in the best of places with her husband (Vivek Gomber), and who comes alive only when she is in a boardroom meeting. Motherhood will not fulfill her; a place at the high table will.
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