Why Does India Love Tele Soaps That Portray Women As Mute And Submissive Victims?

Posted on June 26, 2014 in Media, Sexism And Patriarchy, Taboos

By Sayendri Panchadhyayi:

Tick tock tick tock. The pre-set alarm strikes 6 pm. Now is the time to witness the great Indian razzmatazz. TV switched on, remote control in hand, on-your-mark, get set, go. But what’s the occasion? The hottest tele soaps, silly. Is it less than any other occasion when you worship your favourite characters as deities situating them in an altar and rendering them a transcendental position? Or when you become immune to any form of disturbance during your favourite shows, just like when you meditate or offer prayers- all of it indicates the piety and devotion of the viewer towards the sacred tele soaps.


But what’s there, in the Indian tele soaps that dominate the taste of us Indians. Well, the content of national or vernacular shows pretty much encash on the themes of marriage and divorce – oh, wait! In most cases, you don’t need to file for divorce, since the benign wife is contended with the second wife, as the husband is the epitome of a married woman’s ornament- or, in other words, your husband can get away with anything. Reason: He is the Husband-the God (believe it or not), in the life of an ordinary human/wife.

Of late, I’ve been noticing a trend in Bengali tele soaps: There will be teasers of a ‘never-before-seen’, ‘one-of-its-kind’, doughty and buoyant female protagonist- either known for her eccentricities of exaggerating, or dreaming of having a bollywood-ish fairytale marriage. Every week, the teasers will make an attempt to ascend the curiosity level with punch lines providing the viewers with a peek-a-boo into the lives of these protagonists and their army of co-characters. First week into the show, and you know the wings of the protagonist have been snapped by the institution of marriage. After all, what is the use of her fearless and sparkly attitude if she cannot dedicate herself into the management of her in-laws’ family?

What about higher studies and career for the protagonists? How can you forget that they have to deal with the ever-conniving sister-in-law, the manipulative and envious mother-in-law; who are ready to pounce upon her every now and then, and the booming joint family in the age of prevalent-nuclear or stem family, all of whom ploy to torture the newlywed daughter-in-law-cum-outsider-outcaste through tasks and troubles. After battling evils in the domestic front, who has time for a career? Believe it or not, the upright woman, educated, aware, and enlightened- all the certificate that was showered upon her in the teaser, evaporates. She concedes to the far-fetched demands of the family members, becomes ready to sleep in the kitchen with the maid (validating the middle and upper-class notion that the maid’s position is the ultimate form of humiliation for a married woman), leaves her job for the peace and solidarity in the family, nurses the ailing-cheating-philanderer-drunk husband to fulfil her wifely duties and embrace humiliation with open-arms. Reason: An ideal woman is defined by her will to sacrifice, tolerate, submit, and as the corollary, they keep shut.

But what is all the more intriguing, is that by projecting that these intrepid characters accept the hollow ideals of womanhood with ‘grace’ and ‘dignity’, these tele soaps are reiterating the taming of the shrew concept. You might not come across the term in a Dictionary but those of you who have read Shakespeare’s Classic, know what I am talking about. Remember how Petruchio voluntarily embraced the challenge of ‘taming’ the ill-tempered Katherine?

Well, all the women who bend the rules of the patriarchal games are ‘Katherines’. The antidote to their daredevil attitude is to ‘marry them off’, just like you sell off your discarded materials in the store room. Marriage will align her with the canon of femininity. The characters, complying with the ill-treatment, indicate that they are role-models for all women who are deviating from their path of marriage and family. It is assumed and emphasised through various co-characters, how their life is incomplete without marriage. The evil woman or the antagonist will always be the one, who wants to carve her niche, and thinks about establishing a career or dresses up in western attires.

In fact these tele soaps are latent prescriptive codes for the women-how they should lead their life and what constitutes to be happiness. A woman who lives her life on her own terms and conditions would face the wrath, whereas the ideal woman should be patient and never think about herself. Career is a ‘taboo’ in her life.

If we are still stuck into this nature of content, I wonder what it says about us. Food for thought, isn’t it?