I have had a number of cultural liaisons through the decades but none comes close to my midlife relationship with Netflix. I am a very late entrant to it. I have this useless knack for not being a first advantage mover – I didn’t think that VHS videos would become more popular than Betamax and stuck with it till the local video shop stopped renting out Betas. In my defence, i blame my DNA. My mother had a very deep suspicion of washing machines and insisted that dunking clothes in buckets of warm water did a better job of producing clean clothes. Anyway, I digress.
Friends at the start of lockdown in 2020 would message me with hints of things to watch on Netflix. Being a cultural snob, I didn’t take the bait. I stuck to watching political documentaries on You Tube and it was apparent that change was needed when I took a great interest in reruns of election nights from the 1980s. It gradually dawned on me that I was missing out on ‘Dallas’ moments. You remember, when there were only a few channels on TV and everyone would talk about ‘Dallas’ the day after it was screened? There was a camaraderie that unified folks.
‘Have you watched ‘Schitt’s Creek’ yet?’, I was constantly being asked. Getting all huffy over a rude title on Netflix wasn’t getting me anywhere so I gave in. It’s been Netflix and me ever since. It’s a mimic of my youth – VHS videos, Babycham and cheese and pineapple Hedgehogs. Now it’s Samosas and Netflix with herbal tea. Netflix is the friend who delivers humour, thought provoking documentaries and pure escapism on a tap. In midlife, I have joined the changing patterns of how culture is consumed. A whole world has opened up to use a cliche. I delight in watching foreign films in English audio including Bollywood ones because I don’t speak Hindi or Urdu.
That brings me to a Bollywood series called ‘Bombay Begums’. It’s a 6-part feminist drama which blows open age old Indian taboos about female sexuality, menopause, period and sexual harassment. It brings together five women with raw ambition who live in Bombay (Mumbai), referred to as the ‘City of Dreams’. The women come from different backgrounds financially and socially. Their experiences bear the hallmarks of economic privilege or not. The settings are the boardroom, bedroom, women’s loos, parties like the kind I wish I was invited to and an assortment of cafes. The point of mentioning these settings is because it shows that female interactions take place in any sphere of society but are still subject to patriarchal norms.
The two characters who are stand outs are Rani, a banker going through the menopause but is in denial about it, and Lily, a sex worker clawing her way out of the slums of India. Menopause, periods and sex have long been taboo subjects in Indian society so kudos to the show for tackling these and other issues through emotionally laden scenes that incite anger and empathy in equal measure because, at various points, the women become enmeshed in the patriarchy. They absolve themselves by relying on their privilege and ambition to justify their behaviour. It all comes together in the end and, without giving the plot away, raises questions such as how far will a woman go for her ambition in a male dominated society?; and do the benefits of the sisterhood outweigh going it alone?
Definitely worth a watch and get your order of Samosas in for the binge.