Bhartiya Naari – Perceptions of the Idiot Box

Heavily bordered and embroided shiny saarees, atleast 5 inches wide patch of vermillion, one as long as the torso “mangalsutra”, permanently entact make-up and not to forget helplessly efficient tear-buds- THIS is the prime time Bhartiya Naari whose presence is more than enough to make people forget everything from Lokpal to 2G scam. As the clock ticks 8.00, the tellywood overshadows every other aspect of a common man‘s life. The various soap channels meanwhile enjoy the TRPs and claim to be the platform for “mirror image of true Indian Women”.

So basically, anyone whose existence is like that of a doormat, who practically spends all her life as a living sob-story and ofcourse whose tongue perpetually remains tied up is a “bhartiya naari”. This happens to be the approach which is the cornerstone of tellywood. What amazes me the most however, is the fact that a character who is bang-on, who knows how to use the tongue and has the potential to point out right from wrong is VERY creatively lapped up as a vamp with tonnes of voice-overs and ever-lasting plots and scandals up her sleeves. Technically, any female character with an ounce of strength (and in the writer’s personal opinion BRAINS) is maligned as an incessant b*tch who deserves nothing more than being looked down upon.

For reasons beyond my intellect, a lady who has the attributes of respect, family honour, dignity and honesty,  and who at the same time is strong-willed, intelligent, outspoken and most of all HUMANLY is somehow never viewed as fitting into the big picture of an ideal Indian woman. Probably because she does not bring along enough “masala”! The over exaggeration and pointless drama, which is often wrapped with taglines like “ek aam ladki ki kahani” and “yeh kahani hai aapki aur meri” are probably the most unique forms of a white lie! I haven’t till date come across an “aam ladki” who always stays shut n takes it all when she is tortured because of the colour of her skin, her infertility, her husband’s infidelity, her in-laws’ torture and the other “day-to-day traumas” of life! The reason? We DO NOT live in the times of our ancestor Eve! This is the 21st century where even the most illiterate women, unlike our highly “educated” protagonists, are capable of responding to the basic mortal instinct. Much to the disappointment of the script-writers, these are not instances of the life of a common girl.

The fact that serials like “Hum Log”, “Tamas”, “Buniyaad” were not only responsible for initiating the trend of T.V. serials in India, but also made international soap stars turn their heads to these concrete Indian dramas is well known. “Mahabharata” and “Ramayana” compelled people to literally worship their television sets because of authenticity that they carried. Following the suite of these critically acclaimed shows, many channels have turned their attention towards mythology, history and the various social evils prevalent in our society. Shows based upon themes like child marriage, casteism, widow remarriage, female foeticide/infanticide have come up in recent times. However, many viewers complain that the actions and reactions given by the characters still lack the element of logic.

The intention behind this piece of writing is not to blot the Indian television industry. My mere intention is to point out that probably one of the few things that haven’t changed from the 80s and 90s to the present day is the want for realism in our prime time shows. The “entertainment value” should not be the cover-up for passing out wrong notions and ideologies to the Indian masses. It is necessary to remember that this medium of entertainment often is an important tool in opinion-building.

However, pushing the entire blame on the big soap giants is unfair. We must remember that they ARE at the end of the day (or we could say, at the end of the prime time slots), business houses which seek profit through whatever means which wouldn’t earn them a legal notice. They come up with these shows because there happens to be an audience for it. And the audience is us. As a college student Akshita Jain correctly puts it, “Potrayal of women on TV might be regressive but people are voting for this potrayal with their remotes, right?” In times like ours when an act of reviling a person can end up in legal hassles, the fact that women’s collective identity, historically studded with characteristics like sacrifice, power, grace, strength, etc. is now being politely mocked is depressing. The grand tag, however, for the saddest part goes to the irony that main audience for these saas-bahu sagas are WOMEN themselves. I would like to end in the words of Nicholas Johnson – “All television is educational television. The question is what the teaching is?”

Kaumudi Tiwari