SOME SPOILERS BELOW FOR ‘SHE’
Dear Imtiaz Ali, I probably have more insight into the lives of pigeons than you have into women. But you won’t see me writing a book on a complicated pigeon tortured by the sight of clean balconies and suffering from low self-worth until, one day, it finds a window A/C to grumble, flutter and poop on in the middle of night.
So, why do you feel the need to make films on women?
SHE is so shockingly bad that it made me consider tweaking the plot of a Penthouse article I read in high school and pitching it to Netflix, because, who knows, they might accept it. I mean, that time when Ali’s women characters had only as much depth and dimensions as the ZooZoos in that phone company ad now seems like a golden era. At least then, he was being garden-variety annoying like those guys who put ‘taller than you in heels’ in their dating app bios. SHE, on the other hand, is actually dangerous.
The seven-episode series is about a policewoman who goes undercover as a prostitute to nab the bosses of a massive drug cartel. Why? Because apparently the kingpins of this operation, who have evaded the clutches of the police multiple times and almost blown up Mumbai in the past, cannot resist a ‘prostitute’. So the man heading the operations for Mumbai Police randomly picks out a woman cop, orders her to ‘train’ as a prostitute and nab the criminals. Until then, it is kind of hilarious how stupid the man is. If I was Netflix, I would be pretty insulted that these dudes obviously haven’t watched the two dozen fabulous drug lord type shows I have. So Bhumika (played by Aaditi Pohankar) is tasked with luring these Pav Bhaji Escobars into the police’s net.
It is here that things take such a ridiculous turn that you’d be forced to think no one in their right minds could make such a series. In the first episode, you are introduced to Bhumi who, despite protests, is forced to go to a brothel to ‘honeytrap’ a criminal. Now, I am really not sure which Adarsh Drug Lord book told the Mumbai Police that an infamous, international drug kingpin will follow any woman anywhere, but the plan goes sideways like anyone who watches Netflix would have expected it to. This is where things start going dangerously wrong.
Bhumika ends up in a situation she was not trained to handle, with a man who is hell-bent on raping her. The man grabs her, sexually assaults her and forcibly undresses her while Bhumika struggles. In the midst of the ordeal, she is reminded of her wedding night when her ex-husband accused her of being cold, like a corpse. You would think that compounds the trauma of assault. But no. Instead, it leads to some sort of an arousal, a sexual awakening in her.
To be honest, I was still reeling from the WTF-taste in my mouth after the episode, wondering why the woman, whose privates were groped by the criminal in a mission-gone-wrong wouldn’t raise hell about the men who forced her into it. Instead, the next episode shows Bhumi the day after the assault, caressing her neck and then cleavage, scrunching her boxy nightie to admire the curves of her body, seemingly made aware of her sexuality, and her body as an object of male desire.
Bhumika’s reaction to rape, therefore, is the stuff of violent incel fantasies and honestly, almost painful to watch as a woman. The script was co-written by a woman — Divya Johry — and of course, the entire onus is not on her, but I can’t imagine how this bit was allowed to remain.
The rest of the series—which traces how Bhumika goes from being a woman who was almost apologetic about her body to one who uses it as a weapon with abandon—cannot be watched without being constantly reminded of that hideous first episode. If rape apologists had a go-to show on Netflix, this would be it.
The conclusion of the series seems to indicate that Bhumika regains sexual agency but the path to it is so warped, her motivations so sketchy, that you cannot fathom what exactly is going on. Towards the end, there’s a few seconds-long scene which suggests that Bhumika was sexually abused as a child. That makes the first episode featuring her assault twice as horrifying.