Each of the five protagonists of Netflix's 'Bombay Begums' is in a world of her own but inextricably linked to the next woman by coincidence and proximity. Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava of 'Lipstick Under My Burkha' fame, who shares screenplay credits with Bornila Chatterjee, the show deftly weaves together a multiplicity of women-centric plots and themes.
The CEO of a major bank Rani Irani (Pooja Bhatt) struggles to balance her work life with her lack of bonding with her stepchildren. Meanwhile, Fatima Warsi (Shahana Goswami) is forced to choose between her unborn child and a cushy promotion in Rani's bank.
Meanwhile, new recruit Ayesha Agarwal (Plabita Borthakur) must navigate the narrow bridge between her taboo sexuality and her relationships with her family and friends. In course of time, Ayesha's path crosses with that of Laxmi 'Lily' Gondhali, a sex worker whose hardened and bitter exterior conceals her worries for the future of her one-year-old son. Tying the narrative of these many women together is the voice of Shai (Aadhya Anand), Rani's stepdaughter, whose solitude and artistic spirit lend colour and depth to the description of their struggles.
Motherhood, infidelity, resilience and retaliation against norms that seek to keep women in a place of permanent inferiority are the central theme of the show. Shrivastava and Chatterjee manage to create a compelling narrative that creates well-fleshed out characters with their own unique viewpoints and struggles that tie into the many facets of female experience.
The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is also dealt with in some measure of confidence and subtlety as is the topic of lesbian sexuality which has been picked up before by many OTT creators, most recently in another Netflix Original 'Paava Kadhaigal'.
It is a little jarring to hear the teenage narrator come up with lines such as: "An old woman's body inhabits my teenage body." Such moments may feel pseudo-profound and oddly pretentious desire the authenticity with which Aadhya Anand carries her role but it is a minor nit-pick in an otherwise compelling narrative. Pooja Bhatt as Rani Irani gives a measured and impactful performance as does Shahana Goswami.
Even the men of 'Bombay Begum' have much to say. Manish Chaudhury as Naushad, Rani's second husband is staunchly faithful to her despite their passionless marriage and Danish Husain is persuasive as he plays Fatima's loving if demanding husband who places her at the crossroads of motherhood and career.
Overall it is a thought-provoking watch with mature performances across the age bar of the cast and tackles many important women-related issues that are part of perennial public discourse.