“Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!” roared the elite audience at a Mumbai showcase of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues (VM) as the cast goaded them into uttering the word, disassociating the shame society inherently applies to the word and the organ. That moment, besides the several that VM offered, caused goosebumps in many and made some discover their voice. Four More Shots Please has a similar scene where the four characters goad one another into uttering the shamed word loudly. It does not hold the promise of liberating its audience though.
Should we be lenient in critiquing something that does not explicitly claim to make a statement? Probably. Yet do we not know that every piece of content adds to the narrative of the present day and contributes to the collective making of history? Even without an apparent intent, Four More Shots Please will be adding to the narratives that glorify or ridicule women’s agency.
Four More Shots Please left me with a hangover of moments. Comforting and discomforting moments – some of which hollered at me.
1) We notice age difference but ignore workplace power dynamics.
When Anjana flirts with a newly-hired intern and eventually gets into a sexual relationship with him, one cannot help but question her legal acumen and sense of ethics. In times of #MeToo, we have a supposedly smart lawyer miss the power dynamic of a boss-intern relationship, which stands to be sexual harassment even in a seemingly consensual relationship.
How does one still let go of the fact that before she began flirting, she was encouraged by her friends into sleeping with the intern, one of those friends being an award-winning journalist? A lawyer and a journalist, in a zeal to be liberated, got into an inappropriate zone.
Anjana seeks intimacy. Anjana pursues a younger man. Anjana misses the premise of sexual harassment in the workplace – a major character flaw. It is almost unintelligent to accept that a celebrated journalist and an experienced lawyer would not bring up the power-dynamic angle even once while they keep bringing up the intern’s age.
The one time Anjana mentions a potential sexual harassment lawsuit is to explain hiring the intern she unintentionally flirted with in a case of mistaken identity. That explanation was misplaced as a justification of the hiring. The flawed characters cannot cover up the message these two moments communicate.
2) Good mother. Bad mother. Guilty mother. Prefixes are aplenty.
Ever heard the terms ‘working father’ or ‘working man’? We use ‘working mother’ and ‘working woman’ all the time. Suiting the patriarchal diktat of gender roles where the man is the breadwinner and the woman the caregiver, the qualifier ‘working’ is not required for men while it seems obligatory for women.
In the “progressive” parts of the world, women are “allowed” certain liberties – to study and to work as long as their aspirations do not disrupt the “moral fabric of society.” Thus, the woman must become a superwoman, in harmony with the devi we liken her with. She must not only do everything but also do so with perfection.
At a vulnerable and delicate family moment, the ex-spouse chooses to declare Anjana “an unfit mother”. There we go. Yet another qualifier for the woman. Blaming the “mother” was befitting the larger narrative of ‘women are for motherhood and they cease to be individuals once they become parents’. Anjana’s state at this moment is heart-wrenching. She is mortified further when she learns the risk of losing her child to a “fitter” parent.
Ever heard the terms ‘working father’ or ‘working man’?
The new-age mother is perpetually guilty. When an innocuous thought of preferring to be a part-time, loving aunt versus a full-time, responsible parent is replayed to her viciously, in a bid to present her as an incompetent mother, Anjana loses her composure. This moment is a testimony to the blows patriarchy continues to unleash, regardless of one’s place or privilege.
3) Outsiders are to blame for patriarchy, right? Internalised misogyny? What’s that?
There is a moment in the season finale when the four characters, amidst their individual struggles, faced with a startling revelation, begin reproaching one another. The internalised misogyny bursts open like a stinking old wound. Among friends, there begins the shaming for sexual choices, dating a younger man, etcetera.
4) Feminism is in vogue, no? Let us use it as garnish.
Going into a tirade against the characters will be unfair, for they do not claim to be perfect. The makers of the show have made it clear that this is a story about four unapologetically flawed women. Such characters are presented as imperfect and complex. Four More Shots Please behaves differently. A story cannot cheat its audience by bringing forth grey characters in a righteous light. A story is unfair to its audience if its characters behave inconsistently.
A story cannot claim to not make a statement when the characters are perpetually presented as victims. Four More Shots Please does that as well. Its statement feels incomplete, loose and misplaced. The show brings up important subjects superficially. Almost as if they had to throw in a mix of terms such as “feminism”, “patriarchy”, “glass ceiling”, “predators”, etc, to fit the ‘woke’ narrative.
There is a moment between Damini, a seasoned journalist and Uma, her organisation’s senior board member. A moment that had the potential to be a soaring moment for the story and an enlightening one for the audience. Instead, it falls flat. Both characters go on to define feminism pompously in inadequate words and thoughts. The lack of depth in the conversation hurts and the fact that it is carried by supposedly powerful women hurts even more.
A story cannot claim to not make a statement when the characters are perpetually presented as victims.
The last word
Four More Shots Please is not about feminism. It never claims to be. However, as I mentioned before, every piece of content adds to the current narrative while contributing to future narratives. Observations made with different perspectives add to all these narratives.
The characters in Four More Shots Please are flamboyant as well as fragile. Amidst privilege and their ability to drown their sorrows into bar-bought alcohol, the characters in Four More Shots Please manage to evoke empathy. There is plenty the audience can relate to – the unacceptance of homosexuality, the shaming and guilt of working mothers, the ‘holy grail’ of marriage, body-shaming, OCD and more. The display of queer intimacy is delicate and sensitive – something that is rare in Indian popular media.
The show failed to tug at my heart as I encountered the aforementioned moments. However, I am glad that Four More Shots Please exists. Scandalising the puritans is disruptive and it brings forth important conversations.
Also Read: A Review Of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: Firstpost