Why do we love a fleabag? Mumbai fangirls reveal

Updated: Jun 09, 2019, 08:19 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

Fleabag, the show about a truly horrible young woman, is finding resonance with women all over the world. We ask a few Mumbai fangirls to tell us why

Four episodes into Fleabag, and I am stunned at how terrible the lead character is. There are few redeeming qualities in this dysfunctional woman, also eponymously known as Fleabag (and she really is), who believes self-sabotage and mindless sex are ways out of her troubled life, full of pain, loathing, regret, loss and grief.

Then, why are people going gaga over it? Variety has called it "scathingly funny"; The New York Times applauded it for its "restless, almost feral energy and its slap-in-the-face attitude"; it has received full marks from critics and audience alike for breaking the "fourth wall", in which the main character talks to the camera; and social media is flooded with women, who can't wait for Season 3. It's difficult, even if like me you don't relate with Fleabag at any level (except the times she falls for the priest, because who wouldn't?), it's hard to look away from the train wreck of the person she is. She is endearing as well, and raw, and real, and well, like the puppy you want to heal. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays Fleabag and wrote the show, said in an interview recently that she felt "people have been scared to write characters like these. But I think, now, especially women, are so relieved to have this new template. And, aren't we all a bit of everything?"

Alisha Lazarus relates to Fleabag's deflection tendencies
Alisha Lazarus relates to Fleabag's deflection tendencies

For the uninitiated, the show tells the story of Fleabag, who lives in London, owns a cafe she started with her best friend, who is now dead. The reason behind how she died may have something to do with Fleabag, but we just have to piece that together ourselves. She has a sister, who she can't even seem to hug, a father who is detached and aloof, a monster stepmother, and a boyfriend who she loves less, manipulates more. Of course, there are also random men she sleeps with, when she wants to feel better about herself or just escape a situation.

She also falls in love with a hot, almost-perfect man, later on in the show, who just happens to be a priest, played to perfection by British actor Andrew Scott. "I have a tendency to watch shows where women have such mad lives. I think she makes me feel like I am not the only one with a f**ked-up life," says Charu Gaur, founder, Runway Square. The 35-year-old admits that though she didn't root for the lead during the show, she does realise people aren't perfect. "You know in many ways, she is like Joker or Thanos, who, in their heads, feel that they are doing the right thing, but end up hurting people. I really want her to find love in Season 3, so she can feel wanted instead of ignored."

While journalist Priyal Mehta feels the show deals with pain without making the audience feel it
While journalist Priyal Mehta feels the show deals with pain without making the audience feel it

For interior designer Shweta Kaushik, it was the "fourth wall" treatment that reeled her in. "I had almost switched it off. But then she turns to the camera and talks to you, and that engages you. You feel like you have an inside connect with her, and are in on the prank." Kaushik also believes that the real reason people are connecting with the show is because at an innate level, we all have a horrible side. "We pretend to be nice because of society. If you scratch the surface, it's all anger. How else can you explain all the hate crimes across the world?"

It could be a base emotion that finds resonance in people, especially women, all over the world, who are tired of trying to be perfect. Dancer Alisha Lazarus, 23, says that she watched most of the show looking at Fleabag as a character, who does all these mad things in a funny way. But there were times, the show hit hard. "Sometimes I question: how hasn't she got punched in the face yet? Even I have had phases like her, where you try and fill the void or what's missing in your relationship through acting on a need for male attention."

Charu Gaur
Charu Gaur

At this point, you may be questioning the whole idea of a dysfunctional character, who just can't seem to be doing anything right. Do we really need her on TV? Business journalist Priyal Mehta has a nice spin to it. "I love the fact that she is so aware about her reality, but she doesn't lament about it. She is broken, but she doesn't make the audience sad. It's also how the show tackles pain, through her breakdowns and actions, but doesn't ask you to feel the pain. And her voice, her talking to the camera? Doesn't that remind you of your own inner dialogue?" It sure does.

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