Cast: Kirti Kulhari, Bani J, Maanvi Gagroo, Sayani Gupta, Prateik Babbar and Milind Soman
Director: Anu Menon
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Four less-than-perfect, conflicted women, defiantly unabashed about their idiosyncrasies and not afraid to court setbacks, confront an array of issues, individually and collectively, as their friendship and their notions of personal happiness and other forms of fulfillment are put to the test in the Amazon Prime original Four More Shots Please! The 10-episode first season of the English-Hindi web series, created by Rangita Pritish Nandy, lends itself perfectly to weekend binge watching.
Propelled by breezy writing (Devika Bhagat and Ishita Moitra), a lively musical score by Mike McCleary and peppy performances from the lead quartet, Four More Shots Please!, bears the imprimatur of people who clearly love what they do behind and in front the camera. It has been shot by Neha Parti Matiyani and edited by Antara Lahiri. Both make their skills count.
The show is buoyed by the infectious bonhomie that defines the relationship between four female friends determined to take on the world on their own terms. Director Anu Menon imparts a pleasing lightness of touch to this freewheeling tale of the struggles and ecstasies of the act of "dancing on the edge".
As the narrative unfolds, the women emerge as tangible, believable characters encountering the highs and lows of their lives without completely keeling over although each of them, at one point or another, comes precariously close to something akin to a meltdown. But their troubles do not emanate from the men around them as much as they do from the actions of other women.
Four More Shots Please! works, despite some rough edges, because this is anything but a web-series version of Veere Di Wedding. It's infinitely better than that rather warped movie because it does not in any way seek to draw special attention to a gender-inflected discourse, presenting the pivotal characters not just as four women fighting prejudice and adversity in their lives and workplaces but as individuals expressing their sexuality without seeking any favours from any quarters or expecting any easy rides.
These girls are unapologetically driven by the pleasure principle but none of them mercifully makes a song and dance over pleasuring herself, notwithstanding the fact that the series opens with a wild sexual fantasy sequence in which one of the women imagines herself making out with her hot male gynecologist in white jocks (Milind Soman) in her company's board room in the middle of a presentation.
Perhaps even more significantly, Four More Shots Please! does not have the classist undertones of Veere Di Wedding. So no one here is ridiculed for looking like a bai (maidservant). In fact, one of the four protagonists, a girl whose equations with her mother are extremely strained, expresses her debt on more than one occasion to a loving nanny who took care of her and fed her delicious cupcakes in her growing up years.
The opening episode of Four More Shots Please!- 'Ambitious. Prude. Feminist. Slut' - puts forth the broad contours of the principal characters, each of them thriving on defying labels. One might quibble about their obsession with sex, which admittedly occasionally borders on the excessive, but that eventually takes nothing away from the warmth and zest they bring to the larger job of living without conforming to expectations.
This web series is not about what is done to the girls but about what they do unto themselves in the face of challenges - the levers of control are always firmly in their grip. They do not point fingers at others when they flounder nor are they contrite when they blunder although each one of them has a pet peeve in the form of somebody in her life. Neither is any of them a militant bra-burner. In fact, they have the inner garment firmly on their bods even when they are between the sheets exploring the eight erogenous zones of a woman with the help of their partners, not always male.
Damini Rizvi Roy (Sayani Gupta) is a successful investigative journalist and blogger who runs a news website of her own. When her career hits roadblocks, the sources of trouble are two women in her start-up, board member Uma Parekh (Avantika Akerkar) and ambitious newbie Akanksha Moitra (Sapna Pabbi).
Anjana Menon (Kirti Kulhari) is a law firm associate and single mother getting used to life post-divorce with a little daughter. When her ex-husband (Neil Bhoopalam) decides to move on in the company of Kavya (Amrita Puri), Anjana, who hasn't had sex since the birth of her child four years ago, is pushed to the edge of despair. Like the others in the group, what she does well is fight back but not without a few spills.
Umang Singh (Bani J) is a bisexual Ludhiana girl who has come up the hard way and become a sought-after gym instructor in Mumbai. And Siddhi Patel (Maanvi Gagroo), is a chubby Gujju girl constantly pestered by her mom Sneha (Simone Singh) to get married. The former has run away from the prospect of marriage, the latter has no way of escaping it.
"I'm unemployed, unambitious, and my only goal in life is to find a husband, but I love my life," says Siddhi with an ironic mix of self-deprecation and defiance. Unhappy in her skin, she seeks to shed her lack of confidence about her body through means that are fraught with risk. But risk-taking comes naturally to these girls, not the least to small-town girl Umang who throws caution to the wind to assert her individuality - and her feelings for the "Bollywood goddess" Samara Kapoor (Lisa Ray, resplendent), who she has idolized forever and whose personal trainer she becomes.
What goes wrong with these spirited girls - Season 1 ends at a point where they are left with a lot of rebuilding to do - isn't blamed on the men. The male characters in Four More Shots Please! - played, besides Soman and Bhoopalam, by Prateik Babbar, Ankur Rathee, Paras Tomar and Rajeev Siddhartha - are neither relegated to walk-on parts nor depicted as insensitive boors. Not even Anjana's former hubby, despite his obvious flaws, isn't a man without his moments. Prateik, in the role of the laidback, sorted bartender at the girls' watering hole, has the meatiest of the male roles and he does full justice to it.
The four female lead parts, which call upon the performers to convey a gamut of emotions, are played with great conviction and passion. The actresses on the screen are livewires who, while bringing wonderful performative energies to the table, etch out different shades of the feminine experience with admirable restraint. If anybody has her nose ahead, but only by a bit, in this marvellous ensemble, it is Sayani Gupta. Kirti Kulhari, too, is in fine fettle.
Four More Shots Please! presents a case for an increased investment in films and web shows by all-women teams. More power to them!