When the majority of the leading Hindi channels seemed to have been ruled over by the customary Saas-Bahu soaps, in which women have nothing much to do but gossip about their in-laws and have extra-marital affairs with other men, the freshly launched channel ‘Colors’ from Viacom18 came up with a new TV Serial ‘Balika Vadhu’. Though my attitude towards daily soaps is completely indifferent, like many 20-year olds, but the concept of this particular serial appeared to be quite appealing, since it is different from the mundane TV soaps and at the same time highlights the menace of early marriage still subsisting in contemporary India. The trailer was sensitive yet cute and beneficial in generating interest among the masses. A small, bubbly village girl, still ignorant about the meaning of marriage, but all excited to wear new clothes, eat sweets and see people coming to her place is shown inviting the viewers to her wedding.
As the name suggests, the story revolves around the life of an 8 year old child bride Anandi, married to an equally young boy Jagdish. Her education is discontinued and she is sent off on a journey to discover new customs and relationships. Amidst the joyous marriage ceremony and the merriment of the relatives, Anandi’s teacher appears who tries to explain them the peril of getting their children married at an immature age. But her protests are ignored and her attempts to stop the marriage from taking place are failed as she is kidnapped by a policeman. Meanwhile, Anandi gets to know from her friend that her marriage will not be taking place because of her teacher. She starts crying, not because she is upset due to her marriage being broken, but for the reason that she will have to give back the new clothes and ornaments adorning her.
What follows is Anandi’s discovery of herself in an alien environment, among people who are complete strangers for her. She wakes up in the morning to find herself in an unfamiliar house, she looks around and starts crying and the way she says ‘Mujhe apni asli maa ke paas jaana hai’ (I want to go home to my real mother), is deeply touching. While her parents-in-law; Sumitra and Bhairav are extremely understanding and caring, her husband’s grandmother (Dadisa) and father’s brother (Tauji) perfectly fit into the picture of monsters-in-law. Dadisa, who is a troublesome woman, is irked when she sees Anandi at play and orders her to cook food. She is supported by her parents-in-law who treat her like their own daughter and stand by her. They also encourage her to continue her studies.
Avika Gor who plays Anandi has done an incredible job. Her cheerful role accompanied by her cute looks and innocence in no time fetched her place in every heart. Although every scene is lovely in its own way, there are a few heart-touching scenes where her credulity is reflected perfectly.
Even though the practice of child marriage has been declared illegal in India since the passing of the ‘Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929’, it is still prevalent in parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Set in a village of Rajasthan, the serial portrays (in a sensible manner) the miseries faced by the young children in India, particularly girls on being married at a tender age. What compliments their misfortune is the presence of nasty, depraved in-laws. Additionally, the superstitions, gender discrimination and malpractices still haunting the country in the name of ‘tradition’ have been unfolded. One example could be stated from the scene of Anandi’s wedding, where she wants to go with her friends to see the Barat, but is stopped by a relative saying that if the bride hears the music of the barat she becomes deaf. On hearing this, the innocent girl gets frightened and tries to close her ears but is upset as she could still hear the music.
Jagdish (Avinash Mukherjee), the young husband, who is the ‘chiraag’ of the family, is treated like a prince, stuffed with food specially cooked in ghee, while his wife is asked to eat in the plate in which her husband consumed the food.
I often used to wonder why the social menace of child marriage is still in practice, even when the Government has declared it as punishable. Why young boys and girls are forced into the responsibilities an institution like marriage demands while they are still in cradles? The answer to it is again in the serial, which is the existence of unscrupulous cops, whose mouths can easily be shut with the power of money getting the marriage certificate legally approved. This TV program is a strong initiative towards discouraging this evil. A large number of scenes have been shot outdoors, which gives a break from the usual soaps confined to a room or a house. The dialogues spoken by the characters are in Marwadi language, which gives a real flavor of the rural Rajasthan. The script is written in such a way that every family living in a village can see their own daughter in Anandi and relate themselves to her family.
The program begins with an important note in Hindi: “According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) 2005-2006, a research shows that approximately 45% women between 20-24 years of age in different parts of the country have been married before they turned 18. For a nation to be successful, such malpractice has to be eradicated from the roots to secure a better future for the forthcoming generations”.
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