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Love it or loathe it, but there’s no ignoring the fierce women who star in ‘The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives’.

The reality series, streaming on Netflix now, is easily one of 2020’s most polarising shows, with reviews labelling it a ‘guilty pleasure watch’ to being lampooned for being a superficial show about celebrities who are blissfully unaware of their privileged existences.

But Neelam Kothari (former Bollywood star and actor Samir Soni’s wife), Maheep Kapoor (actor Sanjay Kapoor’s wife), Seema Khan (actor-producer Sohail Khan’s wife) and Bhavna Pandey (actor Chunky Pandey’s wife) aren’t letting nasty reviews dampen their spirits.

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“When you are putting yourself out there — be it a web series, movie or a reality show — you have to prepare for the good and the bad. We don’t expect everyone to like our reality show and love us, but that’s part of the game,” said Kothari over a Zoom call with her co-stars and friends.

The eight-episode show, produced by Bollywood mogul Karan Johar, chronicles the personal and professional lives of these relatively obscure women who boast connections and wealth. But they feel they have no reason feel guilty about their lives.

“It’s just a show, which is meant to fun. All you need to do is lie back and enjoy it. We don’t want to win any award for it. Take a chill pill,” added Kothari. The four also did not rule out the idea of a second season in the offing as they dropped hints during the tell-all interview.

Excerpts from our chat with the fabulous four as we talk about their acting stints, working with Johar and being borderline obsessive mothers …

How has life changed since your reality show premiered?

Maheep Kapoor with her husband Sunjay Kapur and their kids. Image Credit: Instagram

Maheep Kapoor: I am on a constant adrenalin high and am just absorbing it all. I don’t know how much my life has changed, but I am enjoying this high. I am grateful to those who have been messaging and blessing us … I had a friend in Canada who passed away three days ago, but the last thing she spoke about was how much she enjoyed our show and how it made her laugh and smile.

We were all reluctant and scared at first to do the show. Also, when we finished shooting for the episodes we were living in a different world. I wonder if we would have shot it differently if lockdown had set in? I don’t know, but I am just happy that the show brought so much positivity. We made our viewers laugh and that’s the greatest gift.

Bhavna Pandey: My life has not changed dramatically, but there’s suddenly a lot of love coming our way with many telling us how much they loved our show or what they didn’t like about it. Honestly, the beauty of it all is that it has gone beyond our expectations. I always knew people would watch something like this, but it was a pleasant surprise to know that those in my daughter’s [actress Ananya Panday] age group also enjoyed the show too.

Neelam Kothari: Like Bhavna said, we are soaking it all in — all that love and praises. It’s a fabulous feeling. When I was doing films, I enjoyed my share of fans, but now I have those fans’ children messaging me saying that their parents were big fans of mine and now they are my fans too. That’s an incredible feeling.

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Samir Soni and Neelam Kothari.

Seema Khan: I am in shock. I cannot believe the amount of love that has come my way. I am on top of the world and floating in the clouds. I am on a high thinking when will the next shoot drop! I was just telling Maheep that I am not used to getting so much attention, so it’s all been overwhelming and just beautiful. Even in my wildest dreams, never did I think I would get here. Even now, I am thinking: ‘what exactly just happened? What did I do?’

The show managed to humanise Bollywood wives, who we feel lead glamorous lives that are removed from our ordinary existence. Were you apprehensive of giving everyone a ringside view of your lives? Also, when Seema said you lead such mundane lives during the show, I was curious to understand your definition of ‘mundane’?

Khan: When I said we lead mundane lives, I meant it. Our lives are not all about being glamorous and those endless parties. Of course, there’s glamour but like all women out there we multitask too.

We have families, kids, homes and work. I go shopping for my own vegetables and fruits. I also catch a rickshaw or use public transportation … We are normal women and multitasking moms and that’s what I meant when I said we lead mundane lives. We also sit at home in our pyjamas at 7pm and binge-watch Netflix on some days. So unlike popular belief, our life is not one big party and we are not going out partying every night … Let’s face it, it takes guts to put your life out there … But I promise you it’s just a sneak peek into our lives, we have just scratched the surface. There’s a lot more to our lives.

Nothing is scripted and it was daunting to do such a show. But everything is real … We didn’t want to prove anything to anyone. We just wanted everyone to laugh with us and at us. Just laugh.

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Seema Khan.

Kothari: We do attend parties and that’s just one side of our lives. There’s another part that’s absolutely mundane. Unfortunately, all our facets of our lives cannot be shown in just eight episodes lasting 30-minutes each. So, the question remains if people want to see us in bed with our reading glasses on and watching TV? I guess not. We used to shoot at least four hours a day and they have kept only five minutes from those parts. Trust me, there’s a part of our lives that’s mundane, but unfortunately, we couldn’t give a glimpse of that in the first season.

Pandey: They have hand-picked a few scenes in our lives and made it interesting. For instance, our girls’ trip is something all women would love to do, but it has been dramatised a lot. Do I go to a mall to shop in dress and high heels? No, I don’t.

Kapoor: When Seema used the word ‘mundane’, what people need to understand first and foremost is that we are very blessed. But everyone is human too. Even if you see Princess Diana on ‘The Crown’ on Netflix, you see that she is roller skating in the palace and they also show her depressed. She’s human. Similarly, this show reveals our personalities as mothers, wives and how we react to certain situations … This lockdown, I have been cleaning and cooking too. But do people really want to see that? The makers have cherry-picked the scenes from our lives such as our shopping expedition and stepping out of a Rolls-Royce.

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Chunky and Bhavna Pandey.

One of the biggest takeaways from the show was that all of you all seem like wonderful, hands-on mothers. You all show signs of becoming ‘momagers’ …

Kapoor: Can I just put it out there that being a mum in this industry [Bollywood] is tougher. I would like to give us a crown because our children are out there and they are not asking to be photographed or to be judged but it automatically happens to them.

It’s an unfortunate side and that’s why we are hawks when it comes to our children … We come across as overprotective, but we are just protecting our children in a world of social media, which has gone out of whack. Anyone can say anything and everything you know about them. So, I think it’s tougher to be parents in the film industry, but we take it in our stride. But yeah, I am obsessive.

Khan: Isn’t every mom out there — Bollywood or Hollywood — a momager? Isn’t that the definition of being a mother? Just like every woman out there who are momagers, we are too.

Pandey: Like all parents, our children are extremely special to us. You want to look out for them, protect them and make sure that every need of theirs is met. Whether you are mom from the industry or not, a parent’s attitude towards their child will always be the same — filled with the need to protect, love and making sure that nobody says anything mean about them or no harm comes their way.

I have a younger daughter who’s not a part of this industry, but I look out for her as much as I look out for my elder one Ananya who has entered films … When you say momagers, we are momagers when it comes to schoolwork. A momager doesn’t necessarily mean we are interfering in their work. It’s just about our need as a mother to look after their wants.

Kothari: My daughter is young. She’s just eight and not exposed to the industry. But when I am at work, I am constantly figuring out her classes, her pickup from school and drop-offs like any mom would. My daughter is very attached to me. I remember when I had to leave [for a trip with the cast members], she was howling the whole night because I don’t normally travel without her.

What were your reactions when producer-director Karan Johar suggested the idea of a reality show?

The cast with Karan Johar.

Pandey: We were like: ‘yeah, yeah Karan, 100 per cent we are in and it sounds amazing’ … We said yes without giving it much thought, but Karan is such a visionary that he makes things happen. And that’s when we began getting a little nervous.

Kothari: Yes, we got nervous once we realised it’s actually happening. I wanted to back out and was like: ‘I cannot do this’. I had the maximum apprehension and chickened out … But then I had a chat with Karan and he told me that at times we need to put ourselves out there.

Kapoor: We were all taking a flight together somewhere and Karan just pounced this idea on us and we all laughed about it. We thought it was a joke at first and we all laughed about it too … But he called me a week later and said he’s going to make it happen. I had butterflies.

Seema was on-board at first, but Neelam was not. Bhavna and I were still contemplating because it is not easy to put our lives out there for judgement. It’s a very difficult thing to do and that was my biggest concern.

Khan: My first reaction was disbelief and deep down I thought it wasn’t going to happen … But when it looked like it was going in the direction, I discussed it with my oldest son [Nirvaan] because I wanted to safeguard him and I wanted him to be OK with it. He was very encouraging and said that your safety net is that you are doing this series with your friends whom you have known for 25 years and Karan who’s your dear friend … I had a blast shooting. Nothing is scripted.

But there’s no denying that this series has seen polarising reviews ... Your thoughts?

Pandey: I read almost every review out there, at least from the critics I was aware of. My friends sent them all to me and some were good, some bad and some were really nasty. But when you read reviews, you also realise that some people are giving us constructive criticism, which tells you there’s room for improvement if season 2 happens …

This show was never made for critical reviews. It wasn’t made for performances or screenplay or stories. We just had fun and people watching are supposed to have fun with us. We never shot the show saying that we’re going to sell ourselves and change perspectives on who we are. The intention was to always have fun. Kapoor: I accepted the fact that not everyone is going to like us. It’s not humanly possible to be liked by all. So bad reviews are fine, but I have not read them. I don’t know if a show like a reality show should be reviewed. I have not read the good reviews honestly.

Khan: I am OK with everyone not liking me. As a thumb rule, I never concentrate on the negative. I don’t like to read as I am too lazy. I am just enjoying all the love. I am choosing to enjoy all the love instead of concentrating on the other side of it. At the end of the day, ‘The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives’ is meant to be a guilty pleasure watch. Honestly, I expected a lot more trolling and bashing, but there was a lot of love that came our way.

Don’t miss it!

‘Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives’ is out now on Netflix.