Is there a better way to deal with the lockdown, than by watching Four More Shots Please! on Amazon Prime? Trick question – there are approximately 3514590045856 better ways to deal with the lockdown, including sticking a fork up your eyeballs and watching Republic TV.
The premise is promising – four women — a lawyer, a journalist, a fitness instructor and uh, a Really Wealthy Woman Trying To Get Married – all meet at ‘Truck Bar’ to discuss their sex lives and yell (very creatively) “four more shots, please!” at the long-suffering bartender. So far, so Sex-and-the-City. And with Anu Menon directing things, how bad could it be?
The answer: pretty damn awful. The fitness instructor Umang (Bani J) is fired from her gym after a client tries to grope her, and finds herself providing personal training to a movie star, Samara Kapoor (Lisa Ray). Soon enough, they’re sleeping together, even as Umang fends off her family’s attempts to get her married to a boring Haryanvi gentleman.
Siddhi (Maanvi Ghugroo), the rich one, hunts for a man to marry and lose her virginity to, and… that’s it. Kirti Kulhari plays Anjana Menon, lawyer, single mother, sexually repressed Malayali (side note: why is yet another South Indian being portrayed unconvincingly by a fair-skinned, generic-metro-accented, North Indian?), while Sayani Gupta’s Damini masturbates furiously while also doing Serious Journalism on her website, Investigator.com. She fantasises about her gynaecologist, Dr. Drools, played by Milind Drop-Down-And-Give-Me-Ten-Push-Ups Soman, with whom she somehow ends up sleeping with somewhere through the series. Throw in a cute bartender (Prateik Babbar), a man-child ex-husband (Neil Bhoopalam), an impromptu trip to Goa and many convoluted storylines, and… that’s the show.
None of it makes sense. The women try to live liberated, feminist lives, with the freedom to make bad choices, only to be foiled by Patriarchy. But in trying to tell us how bad women have it, the show perpetuates the worst stereotypes about them.
Umang is an out bisexual – and therefore a horndog? She is fired because she defends herself against a client who feels her up after a set of bench presses; she also spends her free time having sex in the locker room. Siddhi is an overweight serial dieter under her mother’s nose, who hides candy bars among her sanitary pads, because of course she is.
Damini is forced to give up her Fearless Exposés after one criminal defamation action too many – and corporate lawyer Anjana loses the case, right after she’s done swearing at a driver who cuts across in front of her daughter’s school.
It isn’t just that the women are unlikeable, or that they have way too much time on their hands – as Emily Nussbaum famously argued, that was just as true of Sex and the City. But where Carrie and her friends were flawed, but still three-dimensional characters, the women of Four More Shots Please! are flat and caricatured. Nor does it help that FMSP’s idea of liberated women is about twenty years out of date.
It was revolutionary when SATC depicted women drinking, smoking and having meaningless sex in 1998. In 2020, surely, we can ask for a bit more – that liberated women know better than to drink and drive maybe, or that they demand that their ex-husbands pay child support or even that they build consensus in the boardroom? Isn’t being a grown-up what liberated women do?
Not that the women of FMSP would know – they never suffer any consequences for their actions. Take Anjana, for instance, who begins a dalliance with an intern at her law firm after he spouts a particularly awful line about how she doesn’t know what she needs – for fuck’s sake woman, you don’t sleep with interns over whom you’re in a position of power! Damini is blissfully unaware of the consequences of irresponsible journalism and the dynamics of corporate boardrooms – who needs that, when you can be “fearless”?
Four More Shots Please! is the kind of show I wish I could love, if it weren’t so bad. I love stories about women’s friendships. As a South Indian who went to law school, I wish I could identify with Anjana Menon. But where women and women’s shows are concerned, it feels as if a female gaze is enough to make up for lazy stereotypes and poorly thought out storylines.
Did Family Man and Made in Heaven get interesting female characters only because the stories were about men? Is my sneaking suspicion that shows like Four More Shots Please! are only there to put scantily clad, conventionally attractive women on screen, so that men can watch “feminist television”, not that crazy after all?
Season 2 of Four More Shots Please is out on April 17. The trailer has the four women reuniting for a trip to Istanbul, raising another sneaking suspicion that this is a lot like that Sex and the City movie set in Dubai. But this time around, Anjana is standing up to her boss at the law firm and Siddhi is a stand-up comic. Will it be about liberated women this time around? I wouldn’t bet on it, but who knows?