Sex And The City is an iconic show. It’s also sexist, classist, and racist.
But the show’s reboot And Just Like That — minus fan-favourite Samantha, played by Kim Cattral — is doing its best to convince us that it’s not.
The show follows Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) as they try to navigate the diverse cultural dynamics of real life in a cosmopolitan city. In trying to say that it is not an all-white show, it goes and checks the diversity box by giving a 10-minute nod to Indians with an invocation of lehengas and arranged marriages.
Carrie now has a new Indian friend — real estate agent Seema, who was conveniently introduced two episodes earlier. Played by Sarita Choudhary, she is Carrie’s single and stylish token friend, whose character is used as a mouthpiece to diversify the show.
And just like that, the show now celebrates Diwali.
Sex and the not-sari
First of all, Carrie is wearing a lehenga. Not a sari.
For some strange reason, Seema and Carrie repeatedly refer to the lehenga (worn without a dupatta, of course) as a sari. The two browse through a ‘sari shop’ in Soho that’s only displaying lehengas — a small detail that strikes odd despite the show’s claim to serious cultural representation.
Carrie ends up wearing not just any lehenga, but one designed by the luxury brand Falguni Shane Peacock — a favourite of many Bollywood and Hollywood celebrities. She joins the ranks of Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai, Mindy Kaling, and Lilly Singh as she wears the designer lehenga it to a Diwali dinner party (I assume) in Queens.
Photos of Sarah Jessica Parker wearing the lehenga on set had gone viral last year, but the hype lasted longer than the lehenga’s screen time.
Carrie ends up looking caricaturesque and anti-climactic with an absurd flower mohawk in her hair — especially standing next to Madhur Jaffrey, who looks elegant and graceful in a real sari. If only they talked about food instead of Seema’s love life.
We are also expected to believe that Carrie, who has lived in New York City for over 30 years, has never heard of Diwali before. Seema thinks wearing a lehenga is “cultural appreciation” and not “appropriation, as she tells both Carrie and the audience. This wasn’t a concern for a burqa-clad Carrie in Abu Dhabi in that cursed film Sex And The City 2.
But let’s move on. The show and its franchise certainly have.
And Just Like That’s Diwali episode has other moments of cultural cringe. One instance is when Seema ties a thread around Carrie’s wrist as a “Hindu reminder of strength.” And how can global TV shows possibly address modern Indian culture without grandstanding about arranged marriage? The trope is dredged back up with a hat-tip to Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking.
An eye-roll moment comes when Carrie asks Seema if she has considered an arranged marriage after Seema says she is dreading her parents grilling her about her love life.
Thankfully, the episode is at least written by a writer of Indian origin — Rachna Fruchbom. That explains why the arranged marriage trope is handled as a matter-of-fact, and neither romanticised nor dismissed as primitive. It’s refreshing to see Seema explain her personal aversion to arranged marriage without offering a generalised cultural statement.
And Just Like That, a casual mention of Diwali
Don’t ask me why the episode is named ‘Diwali.’ The festival and its themes aren’t even central to this episode — they take up less than 10 minutes in a 40-minute frame. There’s more screen time dedicated to Carrie being annoyed by an incessant beeping sound than her learning about this festival.
The show just wants you to know that it has expanded its range of cultural offerings. But not by much, because that would be gimmicky. So, instead it settles for an awkward acknowledgement that festivals like Diwali can also have a place on today’s mainstream shows with non-desi protagonists.
If anything, New York’s massive Indian diaspora can rest easy, now that the city’s quintessential ‘It Girl’ knows about Diwali.
“You’re not progressive enough for this,” Charlotte tells Miranda at one point in the episode. Right back at you, And Just Like That.
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(Edited by Humra Laeeq)