By Sona Bhargava
This past fall quarter, my housemates and I binged the Indian television series Four More Shots Please! on Amazon Prime Video together. Set in Mumbai, the show follows a group of four trendy women as they navigate both lighthearted and serious issues: relationships, fashion, sexuality, sexism, and mental health, to name a few. Although all of the girls are collectively from similar backgrounds, the show does an appreciable job with the diversity of their lifestyles. In this way, the women are independent and encouraging role models for females in the public sector. Anjana (Kirti Kulhari) is a lawyer and single mother navigating life with her ex-husband and his new girlfriend, while Damini (Sayani Gupta) is an investigative journalist fighting censorship in India who becomes entangled with the bar’s owner. Siddhi (Maanvi Gagroo) is a rising stand-up comedian dealing with both her body image and an overbearing mother, and Umang (VJ Bani) is a bisexual personal trainer who falls in love with a client against the wishes of her traditional household. At least one time during each episode, the women gather at a local bar in order to unwind by discussing the new happenings in their life together. Since the show made headlines for its seemingly “progressive” storylines for Indian women, I paid special attention while watching as to how the series developed some of its more controversial plotlines. (Warning: spoilers ahead).
Right off of the bat, I commend the show for incorporating LGBTQ+ representation with Umang’s sexuality as a lesbian. Although this is a barrier that should have been broken ages ago, and frankly, it should be the bare minimum, it is a step in the right direction for the South Asian community. In season two, Umang and her girlfriend Samara (Lisa Ray), who is a famous Bollywood actress, are ousted by the paparazzi and must confront not only Umang’s homophobic family, but also the public at large as a result of Samara’s status. The show really highlighted the continuous homophobic inclinations of the South Asian community, as both Umang and Samara wanted to hide their relationship from others out of fear of the judgement they would receive from their family and fans. Psychologically, this situation wore on the two characters, and especially Samara, who battles with both anxiety and depression. In order to mentally heal, Samara, accompanied by Umang, goes on a retreat, which almost magically cures her depression. Realistically, regaining control of one’s mental health is both a lengthy and arduous process, and never as straightforward as it was depicted with Samara. However, I do want to acknowledge that this storyline with Samara’s depression did occur towards the end of the show’s most recent season. I’m interested to see if the show will further address her depression.
A topic that was also not addressed was financial privilege. The show brings up important points about sexism in the workplace, especially with Anjana’s character. Anjana is a lawyer who wants to be promoted to partner at the firm that she has been working at. She diligently works and puts in the hours, but is still compared unfairly to her male colleagues and is especially mistreated by her senior. When she is continually mistreated, Anjana leaves the firm. Although she later finds a job, I think it is noteworthy to point out that most females in male-dominated career sectors do not have the privilege of simply leaving a job. Since Anjana was able to financially support herself, she had the privilege of leaving. In comparison to other topics that the show included, this is not one of the most pressing topics, but there was time within the show for a conversation about it.
Another more “controversial” topic for the South Asian community the show explores is sex. Romantically, each of the girls are in various stages in their lives, but for all of them sex is depicted as an act that should be encouraged and fun. Relationships and sex are explored with colleagues, older men, and even within an open relationship. One aspect of the show’s conversation about sex and romantic relationships that bothered me was a part of Anjana’s storyline. In season two, Anjana gets into a supposed open relationship with Shashank, her co-worker. In actuality, Shashank was lying to both Anjana and his own wife, as he was never in an open relationship and was cheating on his wife. Shashank’s wife blames Anjana, hating her for her own husband’s lies and perpetuating a “girl-on-girl” hate stereotype.
In contrast, a plotline I enjoyed with the theme of sex and relationships in mind is Siddhi’s. Siddhi begins the show as a virgin, where losing her virginity and getting into a relationship is the most important goal in her life, encouraged mainly by her overbearing mother. Her sense of self relies on finding a man to marry, especially in the first season. However, as the show progresses she slowly finds herself and does not reject the idea of needing a man, but grows beyond having that be her central motivation in life. Overall, the show is sex-positive and portrays women who have casual sex as still being independent and professional, which is commendable for a nation where conversations about sex in movies and television shows is shied away from.
With this show, it can almost feel like the writers are trying to check a list of controversial topics to constantly weave into the storylines. I only focused on a few of the more notable topics, but the show does tokenize upon almost too many issues, which can be overwhelming at times. Nevertheless, the show is pushing boundaries and contributing to the change in how the modern world views women. One of my favorite scenes is a frame where the four girls are sitting by the water and each respectively dealing with their own problems. To let off steam, the girls cuss loudly into the night, screaming “vagina” together. Where in the past, it has been deemed “unladylike” to cuss in such a manner, the scene felt powerful as signifying that change: women can both be vulgar and classy, have their lives all over the place yet remain professional.
The theme of friendship lies at the heart of the show. Watching this with my best friends made my heart warm and spurred conversations to bring us closer together. The characters in the show are exciting and sassy, and they continue to be each other’s support system. They tell each other the truth – even when unpleasant. And for that I admire the show’s writers for portraying women continually supporting women. The girls grow together as individuals, and it is heartening to see. Although the show does have disparities in how it depicts progressive topics, the entertainment value and strong themes of female independence make the show worth watching.
My name is Sona Bhargava and I am a 2nd-year Psychology and Sociology major at UC Davis studying to become a psychologist. Besides writing, I love to dance (shameless self-promo @ucdraasleela), paint, and travel. I can’t wait to connect with other writers and readers to help create the South Asian Productions community!