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Series Review: ‘She’ is Not Really About Her

By Isa Ayidh, Undergraduate Batch of 2022

Netflix India attempts to yet again – failing with Guilty and Lust Stories – pass the Bechdel test with its new series: She, this time replacing Karan Johar with Imtiaz Ali. Ali doesn’t direct but scripts the story of a female constable, Bhumika Pardeshi (played by Aaditi Pohankar) and her dormant sexuality in the atmosphere of narcotics riddled Mumbai. The viewer sees Bhumika through the eyes of her sexist colleagues, abusive husband, sick mother and over-sexualised sister, as a woman driven by just one thing: desperation.

An agent in the Narcotics Bureau, Jason Fernandez (Vishwas Kini), chooses Bhumi to pose as a prostitute to bring down a high-profile drug smuggler – Nayak (Kishore Kumar ) – in an undercover assignment. Bhumi’s transformation is quick – skimpy clothes, high heels, glossy lips and a sharp tongue. Her first call of action is to trap Sasya (Vijay Varma), Nayak’s accomplice in a brothel. In the episode that features Bhumi’s first night as a fake sex worker, she recalls the taunts of her abusive husband, and the narrative illustrates the flashback as a gateway to her arousal. The season finale follows a similar trope: she remembers incidents of abuse during her childhood and continues to have sex with an intensified libido. Ali’s clouded judgment of female sexuality and the effects of sexual violence on a person’s psyche makes one consider just how much time he actually spends researching his characers rather than conjuring them in his own imagination. One of the few commendable things about She is Varma’s performance as Sasya – an insatiable opportunist criminal – tuning his accent as his role subscribes. She concerns its narrative with Varma and you cannot blame directors, Arif Ali and Avinash Das, for dumping all the responsibility to carry the season forward on him. Pohankar’s character – although the series is supposed to be about her – is a sloppily written poster child for female empowerment.

Bhumi appears to get off to all the attention that triggers most survivors of assault but insults her sister for using her sexual prowess as an instrument, although Bhumi herself is doing the same. Pohankar captures the same tesnion that perplexesthe viewer: does Bhumi like posing as a sex-worker?

Although Kishore barely makes an appearance in the seven-episode season, he owns every shot in which he does. The viewers can’t say the same about Fernadez. Ali could’ve helped Kini execute him better with a well-rounded character, but alas he’s just a filler.

She tries hard to urge women to claim agency of their sexuality, body and society but reduces them to “starring” in the gazes of the others. Once again, the men get what they want, as they ‘grant’ women the illusion of power.

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