Netflix’s ‘She’ Works in Parts, But Leaves You Wanting for More
(This review is based on the first four episodes of the series and might contain spoilers.)
In She, Bhumika Pardesi played by Aaditi Pohankar (seen in Lai Bhaari) is a constable asked to go undercover as a sex worker to bring down a large drug cartel. She’s then asked to track Sasya (Vijay Varma), who is one of the suspected members of the gang, and subsequently other members.
Netflix’s new series is an exploration of female sexuality, and you follow Bhumi’s (that’s what she is addressed as on the show) journey from an under confident woman, who shrugs off confrontation to someone who holds her own. The series has interestingly been co-written by Imtiaz Ali along with screenwriter Divya Johri. We’ve now come to associate Imtiaz with romances, or maybe repetition? Ouch. But it is a new domain for him, and She definitely triumphs the horror that was Love Aaj Kal, but that isn’t saying much.
Co-directors Arif Ali and Avinash Das set up the show as a thriller with a superb opening sequence at the brothel where the undercover mission takes place. You are then introduced one by one to different sex workers and finally see Bhumi standing tall.
In fact, the character is quite interesting, and Aaditi plays her well. She lives in a modest chawl in a Mumbai neighbourhood, tends to an ailing mother and deals with the whims of a rebellious sister. Every action of hers is measured and calm. Even when dealing with an ex-husband who keeps delaying their divorce.
But the makers oscillate between Bhumi’s self discovery and the actual busting of the cartel. You have Vishwas Kini playing anti-narcotics ACP Jason Fernandez, who entrusts Bhumi with the operation but is seldom convincing. In fact I kept wanting to go back to the portions where Bhumi was at home, because it felt so lived in. Her house, her neighbourhood, the issues all felt real. In fact to Aaditi’s credit she’s able to make Bhumi feel like an ordinary person, who would be lost in a crowd.
Roopa is unapologetic about her sexuality, and although Bhumi tries to reign her in, she secretly wants that confidence. In a hilarious scene Roopa, while referring to Bhumi’s ex-husband Lokhande, tells Bhumi, “Pakode ke saath sauce bhi de, uss harami ko maaza nahi aayega sauce ke bina.” (Give the swine some sauce along with the ‘pakora’ otherwise he will crib)
The makers however then begin to spend time on the investigation, which other than Vijay Varma’s menacing presence doesn’t give much. Vijay is in excellent form though, and while the things he does are despicable, his dynamic with Bhumi is engaging. He knows he can control her and uses it to the best of his ability.
There are also abrupt cuts on the show and I don’t think it’s a stylistic statement. Montages begin and end before you realise, and scenes are captured from angles that just seem unnecessary.
Also what is strange is the notion of empowerment that the show tries to give us. Bhumi is largely put down by her male counterparts and is even chosen for the undercover mission because in the words of ACP Fernandez is not ‘conventionally attractive’. Does a woman really have to rediscover her sexuality to be taken seriously? Maybe there is a more definite arc later, but it certain doesn’t come across in the first four episodes. The makers are trying to probably say that this is the reality for a lot of women, but then we needed to delve more into Bhumi’s pysche. Alas, if only the show was more about that.