Imtiaz Ali is a confusing filmmaker. For every Jab We Met and Highway, he has given a Jab Harry Met Sejal and Love Aaj Kal (the other one), too. After a solid start, his filmography has begun to look like a hit-or-miss. And the second season of his web series She continues that ‘miss’ trend. At its core, She is supposed to be a tale of women empowerment and particularly one woman’s awakening. But it actually is a very sexist and sleazy take on what women ought to be, and how they need to get there. Also read: She season 1 review: Imtiaz Ali’s bad luck spills onto sleazy, sloppy new Netflix series
The first season of Netflix’s She introduced us to Constable Bhumika Pardeshi aka Bhumi (Aaditi Pohankar), who is sent undercover to infiltrate the gang of a dreaded and mysterious drug lord called Nayak (Kishore Kumar G). The second season sees Bhumi lead a double life, as she struggles to decide which one she should choose – should she be the cop, and get Nayak arrested, or should she be the free woman Nayak has shown she is and leave her old life? The concept and the moral dilemma of the set-up is an interesting premise. But the show squanders the opportunity of making something great because it makes the mistake Bollywood has been making for decades. It treats women like objects. For a woman-led show that tries to be feminist, that is a cardinal sin.
She’s undoing is its inherent male gaze. It is the story of Bhumi, who is a cop by day and a hooker by night, as she tries to convince Nayak and his gang that she is on their side. But even though the story is told from a woman’s perspective, there is something sleazy, something voyeuristic about it. That’s because it is not the story of a strong woman, but of how men think a woman must be strong. It’s like looking at women from the point of view of a man who only has a vague understanding of how women need to succeed. One particular scene where Nayak and Bhumi get intimate in a moving vehicle is downright hilarious. The writing and setting is so cringe that it seems like a scene lifted from a bad soft porn flick, instead of an Imtiaz Ali project.
I do not believe that a women-led story can only be told by women. Indian cinema has seen plenty of male directors write and depict powerful female roles. From Mother India and Pakeezah to Guzaarish and Queen, all were directed by men. Imtiaz, himself, has had strong women in his works before. But not in She. It does disservice to its protagonist, reducing her to a seductress or at times confused woman, while the men around her are largely confident in their skins.
And the show’s faults are not limited to its depiction of women. It has very flawed, toxic ideas of what it means to be masculine and feminine. Equating maleness with sexual performance and femininity with beauty are not just archaic but regressive concepts. It’s pardonable for some characters to believe this, but toxic when the show packages these beliefs as some sort of gospel truth.
The show has his moments though. Exchanges between Bhumi and Nayak on the banality of evil, and how killing people starts to feel like a video game after a while, are solid pieces of writing. Their dialogues breathe life into the show; and the chemistry of Aaditi and Kishore elevates the show. One particular scene where they discuss the guilt one feels after killing someone is smartly-written and well-performed. And the show does kick into high gear whenever the cat-and-mouse chase between Nayak and the police begins. Those sequences are truly riveting. But in between these bright spots is a show that lags and loses the plot a lot.
Aaditi Pohankar has been served a raw deal. What could have been a very strong character has been reduced to an object. The actor tries her best to bring forth Bhumi’s dilemma, her pain, and her ambition. Despite the limitations of the writing, she does it well. Kishore as Nayak is subdued, menacing, and pained. It’s a solid performance from an actor, who has proved his mettle down south several times. It’s about time Hindi audiences get to see it, too. Vishwas Kini as ACP Jason Fernandez starts promisingly, but the writers box him into the stereotype super-cop seen on Indian OTT platforms. We have seen these maverick rule-breaking cops dozens of times by now. Please give us something new.
She had promise. The show had an interesting premise about how a woman rediscovers her identity and regains confidence, when thrown into the deep end by men around her. She has grown up being controlled by men in her life, and finally, she is breaking free. It could have been a feminist tale in the middle of crime. But the voyerism that has crept into the depiction mars its narrative. It reduces She from a show about a woman to how certain men want women to be.
Series: She season 2
Creator: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Aaditi Pohankar, Kishore Kumar G, Vishwas Kini
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