By Abhismita Sen:
Dear Zee Entertainment Enterprises,
When the Zindagi channel was launched, I was not very enthusiastic. I had enough of indigenous entertainment which offered nothing beyond saas-bahu clashes, sibling rivalry, multiple marriages, scripted ‘reality’ shows and crass comedy. I was a loyal audience of English shows and sitcoms on television, because I found much less predictable melodrama there.
However, on hearing my friends appreciate Zindagi Gulzar Hai, I tuned in to it one fine day and was impressed, if not spellbound. Although the story was a regular ‘rich chauvinist boy meets middle class headstrong girl and they live happily ever after’ tale, it was much unlike what Indian entertainment offers. It was blatant, prompt and just, without any unnecessary ensembles which take the pleasure out of a daily soap; such as meaningless sidetracks, high voltage background music and distasteful stereotypes. What attracted me the most was that the series was wrapped up in less than 30 episodes, while in Indian entertainment, it takes 30 episodes for the hero and heroine to come face to face for the first time, 50 to realize they are in love, 200 to get married, 400 to consummate and another 400 to finally start a family, wherein the problems arising out of their marriage and relationships take another 200 episodes to get solved, finally dragging a soap to its 1000th episode, which is triumphantly celebrated much to the torture of the audience. Still, these Indian shows run for 5-6 years each, because the audience barely has an access to any substitute for entertainment.
Zindagi not only brought the urban, free thinking, educated, upper middle classes of the Indian metropolitan cities back to the national television and local entertainment by catering to their intellectual and spiritual stimulation, but also paved the way for a renaissance in Indian entertainment as well. Shows here began to ponder about themes with finite content and alternate plots.
Zindagi Gulzar Hai met its logical end while many other shows such as Mere Qatil Mere Dildar, Aunn Zara and Noorpur ki Rani kept its relic of substance and no unnecessary futility going.
However, these shows kept ending one after another and a new stream of shows followed, which included Maat, Madiha Maliha and Aaina Dulhan Ka. There was something starkly uncanny about these series. In all these, the women portrayed as righteous are the docile ones who do not have dreams or for that matter, any identity of their own, neither are they interested in building one, while the ones who are ambitious, demand economic, sexual or social liberation and personal space, are invariably portrayed as evil. The men in the lives of these women are mere puppets who act as per the wishes of their wives.
It was there that Zindagi failed, making it a shadow of the trademark Indian formulae of stereotyping the women not wearing a ‘chastity belt’ and not having the ‘nineteenth century sense of morality’ as the vamps, while glorifying the ‘doormat’ like behaviour towards women.
Maybe towards the end in all these serials, women take to working or become self sufficient, but that is only an ambivalent empowerment as the ‘virtuous’ women, who considered putting up with all the tortures they were subjected to as their duty, and never protested, chose to build an identity for themselves because they barely had any option for survival and would not have ever chosen to do so, if situations were according to their convenience.
Besides, I am also miffed with the typecasting and watching the same actors in similar roles in every series.
It should be noted that situations and mindsets of Indian urban and educated viewers has also undergone considerable changes in the recent years. Family, relationships, marriage, parenthood, all these definitely form an important part of entertainment but offbeat shows or the hint of themes like career, social issues, crime such as the story of Sandhya’s journey from a housewife to an IPS officer; Anjali’s struggle to gain paternal acceptance by conquering the Everest; Samyukta’s hardships in becoming a mechanical engineer; too have been loved by Indian audiences and have emerged as decent TRP mongers.
Before the ‘Ekta Kapoor’ syndrome, Indian television had a considerable number of shows which had non-filial content and professional themes, such as Sanjivani, Mahayagya, Office Office etc., which is being revived through shows like Airlines, Everest, Private Investigator, 24 etc., accordingly if Zindagi aspires to woo the changing demands of the Indian audiences, it has to move beyond kitchen politics, class distinctions and dramas which revolve around the four walls of the household with similar and predictable stories.
Kapoor also ushered in the era of dominance of women on screen, with the script pivoting around the heroine. The worst outcome of a patriarchal mode of entertainment that has been made a feature of the content on television is the misrepresentation or underrepresentation of men as the eternal oppressor and as the provider. However, Indian television is gradually overcoming this forced misandry. Shows which are pivoted around men, with considerable emphasis on women such as Devon ke Dev-Mahadev, Maharana Pratap, Jamai Raja and Saraswatichandra have found acceptance from the audience. Zindagi is currently giving Indian viewers the opinion as if every man in Pakistan is gullible and easy to be manipulated against the women in their lives or is instrumental of fortifying patriarchal norms of the society himself, which can never be true. Of course every society has men who are believers in patriarchy but all men are not alike and generalizing vices is as sinful as committing it.
Television is the strongest means of representing a community and also of communication. It gives the reflection of a nation-state’s cultural values and psyche. It can also be a powerful means of social change.
I would like to ask a question to the content managers of television on both sides of the border- is TRP so important for you all that it has eclipsed over the sense of responsibility of reforming the society, so much so that instead of changing the outlook of the audiences, you are far more desperate to percolate the already persistent social evils?
A Disgruntled Fan