Women, Indian Television and Idiot Writers

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.

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7 comments

  1. Pun radar : awbola vs awbawla –> Silver Star!

    The reason might be the following : these serials are produced by some Telugu dude (some Ramoji Rao or some linear combination thereof). He of course is a praaper bijneshman, so he wants profits. If you want profits, what do you do : why, repeat a formula that works, of course! Hence, take the Ekta-Kapoor-Saas-Bahu template, tweak it a bit here twack it a bit there to conform to “Bengali” parameters, and unleash! Keep hitting with the same twat for a certain period of time, every day, and everyone will ultimately conform. Easy as fishing a prole. People tune in, because they have nothing else to watch, the serials get the ratings and the ads and the moolah, Raoji Ram gets his two-pice, and everyone’s happy. Why in the world would anyone want to make shows of the quality of, say, Sherlock? Too much work; percentage of success in Indian environment, minuscule.

    • Yes, in general principles. No in this particular case. Here’s why:
      (a) The point is precisely that these don’t conform much to recognisable Bengali parameters. Indeed, the people dress and act like folks from television, not real life. If one must find parallels to real life, one might have to the look to the west and north-west of India, not Bengal.
      (b) This is not, in fact, a case of feeding the golden goose, although it IS a case of hitting the, er, synonym for vagina till everybody conforms. This whole cooking-in-Kanjeevarams family-intrigue cryathon of incredibly well-off people is fairly new. Go back a mere ten or twelve years and look at the stuff on the telly. Middle-class joint family struggles, rawer political statements, travails of a female IPS officer, documentaries, illegitimate daughter fighting for her mother’s rights, an actual hospital drama (not its modern twee versions), comedy of errors involving politicians… things one can relate to. Those were, if I may be allowed a moment of sentimental indulgence, times when reality shaped the show. Now, I’m afraid, people are anxiously trying to get their realities to conform with utterly unrealistic shows. More’s the pity.

  2. Hey you mentioned something about expectations out of women in even the modern American society. I have never lived in the US. Visited the place for work, sure. But never lived there. Not yet at least. I am very curious about these expectations that you mentioned.
    And totally agree with your opinion regarding these soaps of course. My mother has started spouting very regressive philosophy herself. And spends all her evenings watching these soaps on various channels every day.

    • Well, mine are my subjective impressions, of course, but I’ll try to make them into a post.

      And isn’t it scary, how the people who brought us up to be the way we are are influenced by these serials to become oddly repressive/conservative? Quite scary, when you stop think how negatively powerful these are, and the ideology they help spread.

      • Yes, the same woman who brought me up to be the way I am, now regretfully says ‘I should never have give you the freedom to do what you want. You have grown up to be someone I do not recognize.’ And I think to myself that I have lost the mother I was so much in awe of growing up.
        Anyway, this whole exchange that I have with my mother has led me to think that loneliness and boredom can bring in extreme changes in any personality.

        • I agree, actually. We’re conditioned into thinking conservatism is a herd-mentality thing, and perhaps it is, but the herd can be made of lonely people locked in their little flats, watching TV.

          • Yeah exactly. I have a feeling that a majority of people in the herd would give up their conservative ideas if only they had a life. The sad truth is that they don’t. And they are using all their energy in tying themselves up and others they interact with in their daily lives, in more and more rules, just so it takes their mind off this gnawing fear that they are colossally bored and lonely and tired with their lives.
            Just my tuppence really. 🙂
            This post actually forced me to get out of hiding. It hits home.

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