“This is meant to be some kind of parody, right?” asked my other half about three minutes into Season 2 of Four More Shots Please!, when Siddhi calls up her friend Umang to complain how awful her backpacking holiday in Istanbul is. “Are we meant to feel sorry for her?” Five minutes later, he stormed off, muttering to himself that it was bad enough being in lockdown without this.
But I soldiered on, so you don’t have to.
The new season, directed by Nupur Asthana this time, begins in Istanbul. Siddhi (Maanvi Gagroo) has been backpacking in Europe and is now in Istanbul, nursing a broken heart on the banks of the Bosporus. One panic call to Umang Singh (Bani J) (“Meri life ice cream ki tarah pighal rahi hai!”) and a hurried meeting in Truck Bar later, the girls are reunited in Turkey. The Big Fight of Season 1 is forgotten, so we can all get on with Season 2.
In this season, Anjana (Kirti Kulhari) quits her old law firm over workplace sexism, represents a small cooperative against a large fashion house, wins, and accepts a place at a new firm. Damini (Sayani Gupta) is doing her Serious Journalism thing again, this time with a book that she self-publishes. Siddhi gets laid, comes back home and like a certain Mrs Maisel, discovers she has a talent for stand up comedy. Umang gets back together with fading starlet Samara Kapoor (Lisa Ray) and becomes a celebrity personal trainer whose clients do burpees and crawls on Marine Drive. Milind Push-Ups Soman is still gynaecologist-ing around, and this time, he’s recommending squats to strengthen your pelvic floor during pregnancy.
Now, here’s the thing with Four More Shots Please! – it’s feminism, if feminism were shouty platitudes and an endless wardrobe of impractical outfits, and structural misogyny were only a series of cardboard cut out sexist men. The feminist wins come in thick and fast. Take Siddhi, for instance, whose comedy act consists in large part of talking about sex. There is a touching reconciliation with her parents over her comedy routine – the first time she speaks to her father after the great online stripping scandal of Season 1. Damini’s self-published serious book is a festival success. Anjana leaves one firm, only to receive an offer of a new job – and sex with her boss – almost immediately. There is a girl-on-girl kiss in public. But look closer, and these aren’t real wins. I mean, sure, Anjana and Siddhi receive professional recognition, but it takes men – Anjana’s new boss Shashank, and Siddhi’s sort of boyfriend Amit (Prabal Panjabi) to do the recognising. And Umang’s rise as a celebrity trainer is only because of her girlfriend, the gorgeous Samara, not because of her own merits as a personal trainer.
Meanwhile, the real issues are glossed over. At various points, the show touches upon systemic biases against women in the workplace, mental illness, abuse in same sex relationships, pregnancy outside marriage, talking about female sexuality publicly, miscarriages, trolls attacking successful women and planned abortions. At each point, it does so with all the subtlety of a chimpanzee attempting brain surgery with a ball-peen hammer. While also trying to be funny. And show off expensive dresses (I mean, what is going on with that cleavage? How do you work out, or do serious journalism or serious lawyering, or even yell “four more shots please!” when every outfit is designed to make breathing optional?)
And oh, the dialogues! Anjana’s comeback to her sexist boss – “You can take your boy’s club and shove it up yours!” – isn’t feminism, it’s a playground insult. She’ll be calling him a stupidface next. A group of women yell, “This is a democracy, we have freedom of expression!” at a book fair troll, like they’re still at a high school debate. Umang receives a marriage proposal with the line, “You are the pranayama to my surya namaskar (?), the bicep curl to my lunge (?!) and the warm up to my marathon (?!?!),” making me wonder if anyone on the show has ever actually been to a gym. As for the men, well, Dr. Push-Ups-and-Squats tells his eight-week old foetus not to give mamma acid-reflux or back pain, because ‘research’ says babies can hear in the womb.
There is an argument on whether Harvard Law School is better than NLS, and Cubbon Park is better than Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prateik Babbar’s brooding bartender Jeh appears now and then, but nothing he says is particularly memorable. This is unfortunate, because (sadly) Babbar and Neil Bhoopalam are probably the best parts of this car crash of a show.
Four More Shots Please! tries to be many things – Sex and the City, funny, glamorous, Feminist with a capital F. In trying to do it all, it seems to set itself up for failure. Naturally, that means that season 2 also ends on a cliffhanger, and there probably will be a Season 3. Oh well.