Over the last few years my parents have become rather fond of pathetically scripted dramas on the telly. As a consequence, I now have to listen to the louder dialogues every evening from the next room. I am, therefore, well equipped to make cruel fun of them — they’re sitting ducks, really, entirely wrapped up in their own consuming vapidity. But I shall desist. Not because my heart’s pure gold and I respect the creative freedomof commercial art, but because these serials have frankly begun to alarm me.
As a favourite author of mine said, in Bengal the women may be aw-bawla, but never aw-bow-la (weak but never silent). Our culture is deeply patriarchal, but expectation of female behaviour does not follow the norms of, say, middle-class United States in the 1950s (or frankly, even now). Bengali women, generally, are strident, assertive, and decidedly unafraid of confrontation. The national stereotype is that they make wonderful lovers but very poor wives — they’re (relatively) uninhibited and adventurous, but their meekness quotient is in the negative.
One would expect that such a culture, or at least a culture perceived as such, would reflect these beliefs in its chart-topping television shows. Apparently not.
Who are our prime-time TRP stealers? They are, in theory, strong — even eponymous — female characters from women-centric shows. And yet, and yet, these ‘strong’ characters are ones that embrace servile or secret marriages, abusive families-in-law, have scream-fights only with other women usually about a man, compulsively follow religious portents and rituals, deliver incredibly regressive speeches about gender roles and duties, and cry rivers in every. damn. episode.
Look. If you want to pull a con on the idea of strong women so you can have a perfectly satisfied yet thoroughly under your thumb woman at home, you won’t hear me objecting. I mean, popular media does it anyway, and if people are sheeply enough to take their cues from carefully orchestrated hegemonic cultural production, well, there’s very little I can do to heroically dismantle it. However, I’d plead you to show some discretion while you go about your evil nefarious plans. Please, abandon the trash currently in your service. Employ me instead. Allow me the privilege of being a gender-enemy (and if you like, a class-enemy too). Show me the colour of money, and I’ll do SO MUCH of a better job that these obvious, blatant idiots.