By Ila Ananya
The first episode of the new television show, Queens Hain Hum that released on 28 November and airs online and on TV Monday to Friday is mostly (and unexpectedly) satisfying. The satisfaction wears off after two episodes, until which it has been what it promised to be — its Facebook page says it’s about the ‘me time’ of five women who call themselves the Queens. And as soon as we are introduced to the five women, we are dropped straight in the middle of a Baywatch-themed party they’ve organised for themselves in an empty house. There are awkward games that seem to be a version of Truth or Dare we used to play in school, a pool, swimsuits, vodka, and pole dancing, all on television at 8 pm, which is when family serials like Shakti Astitva Ek Ehsaas Thi or Zindagi Ki Mahek usually air.
When it begins, I can’t help mostly liking the five Queens, even though their characterisation will give you Spice Girls nomenclature flashbacks. (Imagine calling the one black woman in your girl band Scary Spice!)
First up, there’s Maya Biyani, whom they call the Beauty Queen because she runs a salon. And then there’s Akanksha Bannerjee Jha, the Krantikari Queen who is a women’s rights activist — and yet she says things like, “Now the media will use photos of me in a swimsuit to start calling me a sex worker instead of a women’s worker” when she finds a camera by the pool — with a currently stay-at-home husband struggling to become a writer. Jhanvi Seth is the Corporate Queen and workaholic who wants to win a Young Achievers Award, and Tanya Tandon, or TT, is the Kitchen Queen who puts her family and husband above all else. In the pilot, we watch the fifth Queen, Shreya Dixit Rathore, who used to be a model before she married a royal scion, newly join the group and become the Bold Queen when she pole dances for the women as a dare.
What’s different about Queens Hain Hum is that it lets these five women, opposites as they are, be friends. But the problem is that as nice as this initially is, it is strange how these women don’t think about the different things each of them believes in. How does Akanksha, the Krantikari Queen (Patrali Chattopadhyay), who in the show’s trailer shuts up a huge crowd of men raising slogans about the ideal ‘Bharatiya naari’ respond to TT, the Kitchen Queen (Kenisha Bhardwaj), who says irritating things like “Husbands are our Aladdin and we are their genie”? Apparently with ease. The Queens are comfortable with each other’s differences — perhaps too comfortable — intent on giving each other hugs and kisses and showing each other lots of love, even when they evidently disagree.
For instance, the show is willing to have Maya and Jhanvi lie and spike TT’s drinks and make her wear a swimsuit when she doesn’t want to, while it won’t make them actually think about the completely different things that each of them believes in. After the party, TT will go back to her house and listen to her upset mother-in-law say that wearing a swimsuit is not sanskari. She doesn’t show even a little bit of anger, and her husband stays silent and tries to cheer her up by telling her to smile for him. Jhanvi (Shaily Priya Pandey) will think about how to become the CEO of her company, and Maya (Bhavna Pani) will only continue to feel unhappy about her husband who is always disappearing on work and only focus on how many likes her swimsuit photo has got on Facebook.
The unexpectedly satisfying thing about Queens Hain Hum is that there aren’t many men in the first two episodes; they aren’t talking, and nor are they hovering in the background. Shreya’s (Jia Shankar) two silent bodyguards follow her around. Their only speaking lines are to tell her that they have orders from her husband not to leave her alone. Of course, she escapes them anyway, and they only show up at the pool party towards the end of the second episode with her husband.
The only other men in the pilot are two random guys on bikes with whom Akanksha starts fighting after they follow her car, telling her she doesn’t know how to drive. It’s only towards the end of the second episode that a named male character enters the action: Shreya’s husband is the soft-spoken Nice Guy who shows up at the Queens’ party using GPS because he’s worried when she escapes her bodyguards and she misses his 12 calls. She goes back home with him. He’s the kind of Nice Guy you hate, just as you would hate him if he had shouted and raged about Shreya not picking his calls and forced her to come back home.
But even while the men aren’t physically present, most of the conversation between the Queens in their Baywatch party is driven by men. There is the light back-and-forth between them about their sex lives — Shreya curiously asks Maya, “Tumne last time love-making kab kiya?” — and Shreya tells them that she and her husband fell asleep on what was to be their suhag raat (“So you’re still a virgin?” the Queens ask her incredulously). Sadly, the men are everywhere from the third episode onwards, and you begin to either not care about them (like Akanksha’s husband because he doesn’t do anything) or you get irritated with Nice Guy Number 2 (TT’s loving husband who keeps calling her cute and adorable). The worst is that all the Queens seem to think that Shreya’s husband is the ideal man.
In an interview, Bhavna Pani (the actor who plays Beauty Queen, Maya Biyani) says that the show had to censor itself at many points so that it could get past the censor board, since 8 pm shows on TV are considered ‘family’ shows. Each of the women’s characters become stereotypes — the working woman, the feminist, the housewife — and after the hope of the first two episodes, it gets frustrating that a show trying to do something different keeps falling short because it isn’t willing to push just a little more. My friend watched the show’s trailer and rightly said it sounded like a sanskariSex and the City. At least in that one, the women challenge and look out for each other when things get shitty. Each of them obsesses over men in their own way, but in their relationships, it’s she who has the control button, not he.
Co-published with Firstpost.