Friday, July 10, 2009

The Couch Potato Me!

I am a huge fan of TV shows. I think I can watch almost anything on TV. It’s not always been this way; I used to think TV to be boring and a waste of time once upon a time. But for over 8 years or so now, I have been an avid TV watcher. I watch almost anything and everything- be it K-serials, sitcoms , comedy shows, reality show- I am not picky. And while I watch a fair amount of the stylish stuff or so-called intelligent stuff, I genuinely enjoy the Hindi serials that are purely drama and have very dressed up women plotting and planning. I have watched a fair bit of Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kalash, Kahiin Kisi Roz, Dulhann, Kumkum and god knows what else. And while I have known that these serials are largely brain-dead, I have always found them interesting, and enjoyed them for what they are meant to be- entertaining.

However, my point is not making public that I am not a very discerning viewer. I want to comment on the rather heartening development of Indian Television going back to regaining some class. I will explain why I say going back. When I was younger, around 10 or 12 I think, there were some pretty good serials on TV. Stuff like Saans and Kora Kagaz and Heena, which although melodramatic like stuff that has been on TV for the last 5 years, still had some respect for the Indian audience. They were not pure masala and scary music- they had story lines and often, a social message. This vacation, like in all others, I have actively watched TV. And it was a pleasant surprise to see that Indian TV seems to have grown up. Serials aren’t just saas-bahu fights, or intra-family plotting to win over property any longer. Agreed, there is probably still a fair share of this kind of stuff on TV. But what is refreshing is the fact that there are plenty of serials which actually have a story, discuss and present important social themes very relevant to India to a section of society probably ignorant to them, and that this presenting is done intelligently. There are two serials which have stories based in Bihar. One is called Bhagyavidhata and another is something called Agle Janam Humi Bitwa Kijo (I am not entirely sure about the names because I switch channels when ads come and often miss the names.. these are the names my domestic help has told me). The first is about this brother who kidnaps the guy who was supposed to marry his sister but had walked out on the wedding because his family insisted on some preconditions which weren’t fulfilled, and gets him married to his sister, and the events that follow. The other is about this girl in a village in Bihar who gets sold off to a zamindar because her family could not afford medicines for its many children. And I would like to emphasize that these serials are still dramatic, and the women (the rich ones in the houses, at least) are pretty dressed up. There is dramatic music, lighting that one would never see in a regular household, and the protagonists, though they are supposed to be impoverished women, are rather pretty. However, the point I am trying to make is that despite all these embellishments common to an Indian TV show (and for all those who criticize the fact that women in all Hindi serials are always dressed up and have tones of make up on, I ask you, would you watch a bunch of ugly buffoons running around on screen? They’ve got to do whatever sells, and fortunately or unfortunately, heavy make-up and fancy sarees do the trick for a large part of the Indian audience!), the stories are very close to reality. I am not going to pretend I know a lot about Indian culture, or for that matter, social realities in Bihar. But I have read a bit, listened to a lot of stories, and think I do know a little. And both these stories ring very true. There are actually cases where poor families kidnap grooms because they can’t pay dowry for the wedding of their daughters or sisters. And the sale of women for money- I believe that’s fairly common to a lot of places, but it certainly is to villages in Bihar. I have heard of some real-life stories along similar lines. Then there is another serial on Star Plus called Mitwa, which portrays the very matter-of-act despicable treatment of a girl child, and how in a particular Rajasthani family, whenever the bahu is pregnant, a sex-determination test is carried out and if it’s a girl, it is promptly aborted. What’s interesting is the way the concept is handled- it’s not like the family is insane, the woman who is pregnant has a really loving husband and doting mother-in-law. It’s just that it’s an accepted norm of things to want a male child and kill a female, and no one thinks it’s absurd or cruel- it’s just a ways of life.

Again, I am not a huge fan of pedagogical, preachy modes of entertainment. But I would like to commend the fact that TV-serial-makers no longer view the Indian audience as being a dumb lot, which watches serials with pretty things and manipulative plots. I also commend the fact that through a rather entertaining mode, they are able to create a certain amount of awareness. Now I am not saying that by making us aware of brutal issues like female infanticide, the artists or creators are inspiring any of us to run to NGOs and do some social work, or even make fashionable contributions for any charitable purpose. I think simply making us aware of certain things that are an intrinsic part of the country we live in is quite a commendable job in itself.

I am also very glad to see that after a rather scary phase of mindless TV soaps with random crying all over (although I was faithful even through this low time, I did think it was slightly insulting to everyone’s intelligence that marriage was a top-most priority for every damn girl in every damn family), we have returned to the phase of Nina Gupta’s Saans or Renuka Shahane’s Kora Kagaz or Simone Singh’s Heena (you’d probably like to count in Shanti, which I’ve heard is a good serial but have never watched), which were extremely entertaining, well-made and intelligent pieces of work. And while we still have a long way to go (there are still a lot of stupid things on, trust me, I watch some of it!), it’s good to note that we’re moving ahead, and that the idiot box isn’t all that idiotic anymore.


Divya said...

There are some very interesting tam serials around actually also. There's one about orthodox tam brams and the relevance of their culture in modern times. Then there's another about this smart well educated woman who gets married to an illiterate guy because she loves him, and how they deal with it. There's also another about this village girl who marries a guy from the city, only to later find that he is already married to another city girl. Quite well taken, the village girl actually looks like she's from a village. There used to be these other really nice hindi serials on zee - Aan, Sarhadein and Kitty Party(though this was mindless entertainment), the other two were quite good. I recently discovered that DD has started showing them again. I have this time moved to mindless English serials. And no not OC and Gossip girl, but Knight Rider :D Lipstick Jungle is quite nice though.

Bhavya said...

You understood Hindi serials? Liar!! :P

Yeah.. the marked improvement in Indian serials generally is quite remarkable. Although Gossip Girl is a classic, I swear.

Divya said...

Not much. Its not like I understand the tam ones properly either :) but I can follow storyline. Please I used to watch Kyunki Saans and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and also Kkusum.

Divya said...

Bold and the Beautiful is still the *best*!