Having nothing to do on a lazy Friday evening, I scanned through the proliferation of channels on television that have come our way in modern times. My remote failed to rest on anything interesting, until I stumbled upon the baap of all shows- a mega 1000 episode Hindi soap on prime time television. The show made me sit up and notice- the sanskari bahu with the pallu neatly pinned, the sasuma with streaks of white hair, the vamp with her gaudy fashion sense, lavish sets, close ups of the cast, well way too close, and of course an overdose of melodrama. The absurdity that unfurled in front of me that evening, seemed good enough entertainment!!
My earliest association…
…with anything on television began with India’s first soap Hum Log. I was a young girl then, way back in 1984, but I distinctly remember how the entire family would huddle around the TV, right till the end of the episode when veteran film actor Ashok Kumar would bring in snippets of the episode that was telecast. The soap ended with 154 episodes, becoming the longest running serial in the history of Indian television at that time. Things have changed since then, and soaps now have an altogether new avatar, with glossy packaging and most touching the 1000 episode mark.
But look underneath the glossy package…
…and you find nothing but a poorly scripted saga. After watching a few of the soaps for a fortnight, I realized that almost all of them are strikingly similar and predominantly clichéd. Each episode begins with a five minute introductory recap, followed by ten minutes of commercial break and around ten minutes of the actual serial. And as though this wasn’t enough, these ten minutes actually lack any progress in story.
There aren’t any shades of grey in the characters. The adarsh bahu wins over everyone’s heart. She is the epitome of piousness and is totally devoted to her in laws. And the vamp? Well, the lesser said the better. Does she really have to wear the darkest shade of lipstick to be portrayed as the bad? Not to forget the stream of dadis, nanis, buas, maasis and the endless supply of relatives who are ready to celebrate, dance, rejoice and cause enough problems to the demure bahu. Throw in the designer saris, the trademark mangalsutra and the glob of sindur and you have the recipe for a mega serial indeed. The latest entrant is the naagins and tantrics who are capable of casting a venomous magic spell!!!
And that makes me wonder…Why do people watch these mega soaps?
As I began asking people I knew, who watched these soaps almost on a daily basis, I realized that despite the content being absurd, these soaps did manage to strike a chord with them. For an octogenarian like my grandmother, these soaps were the best way to be occupied. They seemed to speak out to her, things the younger generation seldom had time to convey to her. The soaps were something to look forward to in her monotonous life.
We still predominantly are a patriarchal society and family norms often confine women to the kitchen. For a friend of mine, who is a part of a joint family, these soaps are an avenue to be part of another world. Caught in the duties of a home maker, wife and mother, she isn’t employed and has limited interaction with the broader society. These soaps not only entertain her, but have also become an integral part of her life.
My domestic help, who watches close to five of these soaps, loves the clothes worn. It is her connect with the upper class society. She aspires that someday her daughter would be educated and married off into one such household where she could live lavishly and wear those lovely clothes.
Move over regressive soaps
The larger than life image portrayed in serials is going down with the masses, and television channels are surely capitalizing on it. It sure is interesting to throw in emotion and drama to keep viewers hooked, but considering the influence of television on people and families, isn’t it time, soaps become more progressive in nature? Isn’t it time the regressive nonsense metamorphosis into something more meaningful and realistic?
I wonder who would be able initiate the change- the demanding audience or the channels supplying it!!!!!!