The Great Indian ‘Saas-Bahu’

SoapsWe all have elders in the house who love to see ‘saas-bahu’ serials. So much so that they hate it even when they have to miss even one of the episodes. They get totally involved with the characters. They laugh with them and cry in their grief. But have you ever tried to watch these? I have often wondered as to what is so addictive about these soaps, that makes them want to follow it so much.

A soap or serial is an ongoing, episodic work of fiction, usually broadcast on television or radio. Programs described as soap operas have existed as an entertainment long enough for audiences to recognize them simply by the term soap. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers such as Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers as the show’s sponsors. These early radio serials were broadcast in weekday daytime slots when mostly housewives would be available to listen, thus the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience.

The main characteristics that define soap operas are “an emphasis on family life, personal relationships, sexual dramas, emotional and moral conflicts; some coverage of topical issues; set in familiar domestic interiors with only occasional excursions into new locations”. Fitting in with these characteristics, most soap operas follow the lives of a group of characters who live or work in a particular place, or focus on a large extended family. The storylines follow the day-to-day activities and personal relationships of these characters. “Soap narratives, like those of film melodramas, are marked by what Steve Neale has described as ‘chance meetings, coincidences, missed meetings, sudden conversions, last-minute rescues and revelations, deus ex machina endings’ “. These elements may be found across the gamut of soap operas, from EastEnders to Dallas.

Let’s look at the Hindi soaps now. All these serials appear to follow the same pattern. One of the main protagonists will die, be it in a tragic accident or an immediate heart attack. And then he will be born again and pop up in the family. He might be a family friend’s child or a distant uncle’s friend’s relative’s nephew. He will, nevertheless, come into the family. The wife recognizes him but he forgets everything. And then, suddenly, the bulb lights…he sees a dream or a flash back and bang…Our hero is back again! And this whole scene is accompanied by a thundering song!

If you see any of these programmes, you will notice that the female protagonist always looks heavily made up, whether she is going for a marriage of going to bed! She is always in a very heavy suit or sari and is meant to look stunning!!. The actors, no matter how rich or poor they are, always have the best phones and clothes. And the ‘vamps’ always have grey eyes. And, not to forget, they always are the best looking and best dressed in the whole show.

Have you ever wondered why the viewers of these shows go back to them again and again? Every episode ends with a suspicious question. This acts on the psychological thinking of the audience and they see the next episode which poses another question. Freaky! Isn’t it? This is the pretty much the story of Hindi soaps. I bet the people who watch it regularly, already know of it.

Anjuri Nayar