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The Regressive Hindi Soap Operas!

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!!!!!!

*Featured Image Source: Youth
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  • John Holly

    Great information about Hindi daily soaps. I like to watch realty shows than serial dramas. Nowadays, all serials have same story so I don’t like daily soaps.Thanks for the information.

  • Rajlakshmi

    Yes, these are very popular and I got myself hooked to that Naagin serial while I was visiting my parents. It’s ridiculous but still catchy I guess. I can understand when you say that most homemakers may find it as a resort to get away from their mundane life. TV in the 90s was so much better and respectful than now.

    • Ramya Abhinand

      Rajlakshmi, I sometimes watch this Naagin seriel too.. Agree despite the absurdity, there is something that still draws you to it

  • BellyBytes

    People only watch television to pass time ….So naturally no one wants to THINK while passing time. For those who want intelligent viewing there are other channels like History Channel etc…. As long as people want to numb their brains, they watch soap. My octogenarian in laws watch soaps and they don’t remember a thing – not even the name. Nor do they remember anything intelligent that they watch. And no they aren’t senile…..They are just watching tv to pass time. So also my servant ……
    No one really watches soaps for anything else and expect them to be dumb and regressive. It also makes them feel happy that they aren’t in that situation.

  • Rachna Chhabria

    Oops clicked on post comment before I was done. Yes these shows are very regressive, at times I feel will any self respecting girl put herself up for all the crap meted out to her? And the villains and the vamps are forever plotting and scheming!

  • Menaka Bharathi

    I feel the channels actually initiate these soaps Ramya! Most soaps show so much grandeur that one would wonder if there really were people living like them. This lures common people to want to see more and more of these. Have you observed how the soaps always have only a certain houses as their stage. Its more of imparting cultural and other differences into the minds of women at home. I have always been against these Television serials and their main storylines.

  • deepagandhi

    Some of these serials are never ending and still they show grandmas as young as they were i the first episode. I also wonder soemtimes thathow can people see these melodramas but you r right that people like watching them and can even relate to them.

  • Shilpa Garg

    I cant relate to these and cant stand the regressive nonsense that is dished out in these saas bahu sagas. The last hindi soap that I had watched was Kasauti Zindagi Ki and I abandoned it halfway in 2002. But a lot of my friends and acquaintances who are well educated/working -non-working and from urban cities, are die hard fans of these soaps and dont miss a single episode.

  • uma

    They all actually begin with a good premise but lose the plot within the first few episodes. Even the so-called different and progressives serials start to begin so and later end up toeing the line of the other mindless drama. But, yes, people do connect with it in some way, hence the popularity. Be it a way to kill time or escapism, there are certainly a lot of takers. I seriously wish time changes for the better for tele soaps. There should be a limit to the number of episodes a serial can span.

  • Lata Sunil

    Well, imagine a realistic soap trying to cope with these blockbuster over the top serials. It is difficult to match. I watch my in-laws watching Malayalam serials. Similar to the hindi serials, but full of murders, revenge and what not. I would rather not watch TV. But, serials are the only harmless, cheap entertainment for them.

  • Ami Bhat

    I completely agree that we need to move out of these never ending soaps….I love watching the finite ones that seem to be brought from other countries by Zindagi…they at least end and do not have unnecessary dramas.

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