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Why It Is Much Better To Watch Doordarshan Than The Predictable ‘Saas-Bahu’ Soaps On TV

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By Biraj Swain:

Year-ender television programming has a set format of look-backs on the year gone by, TV programmes gone by, the best and the worst. Sometimes these look-backs extend into the first quarter of the new year as well. In fact, doing year-end wraps in the new year is now the new normal. For someone addicted to news, soaps are not exactly my forte but the need to fit in during holidays and family get-togethers (yes, I have such relatives too, who do watch soaps!) also means brushing up on TV soaps and plot-lines.

So, when I was researching with this very desperate and superficial agenda, I came across some very interesting articles on the serials in the general entertainment categories that seem to have caught the media critics’ fancy. One was a Times of India piece by Mani Mahesh Arora very grandly head-lined, 5 TV serials that broke stereotypes and educated India. It is important to mention here that it was not a year-ender wrap but a mid-year stock-take. It listed Gangaa, Uttran, Balika Vadhu, Udaan and Service Wali Bahu. I do think the piece was over-celebrating, but hey, when Ekta Kapoor has brought benchmarks to the basement level, these serials did stand out!

Then there was a long research on The Alternative by Nalanda Tambe and Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere on the missing working women on Indian TV soaps. They lamented the over-presence of kitchen politics and domestication of women. Again, a mid-year review article. While the first was a celebration, the second was a rant, but both listed soaps of private TV channels only.

That’s when I completely abandoned the original agenda of my search for soaps to binge-watch on YouTube to blend in with vacuous family get-togethers and started wondering what happened to the Doordarshan (DD) soaps. Where are the review articles on DD soaps? Or has DD completely abandoned soaps as a programming genre? This question became even more pertinent given that the BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) ratings have started including small town viewers and rural viewers also. DD has been the undisputed topper there. In fact, so surprising was its lead that once the audience counts were rationalised, none less than All India Bakchod gave a shout out to them on their second episode of On Air with AIB.

Voila, persistence pays and I finally found a DD serials’ review article on the world wide web! And it was on the India Today platform no less! Well, not exactly a review, it was more of a nostalgia piece by Shruti Kapoor on 15 Doordarshan serials that we would love to watch again. It excludes Tamas but includes Dekh Bhai Dekh! Well, credit where credit is due, the author does say that her bias might have been apparent in the list even though she tried to be neutral. Fair point! And this piece is dated August.

Seriously, where are the media commentaries, reviews of DD serials? The Media Foundation did a study in 2015, When The Dish Knocked Down The Antenna, where they examined the changing viewership patterns amongst the low-income populations in five states when digitisation started. Their study did not praise DD or public broadcasters (the opinion is divided whether the DD group of channels can be called public broadcasters in the strict sense of the term like the BBC since it is not exactly independent, it reports to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). A very well circulated study but even this study has not triggered media articles on DD programming!

main kuch bhi
Still from ‘Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon’. Source: YouTube

The Media Foundation’s study does talk about the unmet information needs of DD viewers. That brings me to a serial which really seems to address this particular shortcoming of DD programming with really powerful content. Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, into its second season, broadcast on DD every weekend, is power-packed with information but it is done through some very interesting and relatable storytelling.

It is the journey of Dr. Sneha Mathur, a Mumbai-based doctor who has personal and professional commitments and a strong conscience. The serial shows her navigating through work and life, family and society, ideals and reality and in the process encountering deep-rooted societal problems, from female foeticide, dowry, gender discrimination to compromised medical practitioners, villages caught in a time warp and patriarchy in all its forms. And since it has some engaging story-telling, everyday relatable characters and is full of fact-checked content, it is high on practical information too. It takes on the issue of planned families in the most aesthetic way! Highly recommended!

I also recommend it because it spares us the absurdities of most TV soaps from the Ekta Kapoor factory of TV soap making, such as:

1. Irrational, untimely, mostly pointless, generation leaps
2. Garish make-up and over-the-top costumes that make acting a weight-lifting exercise
3. Probability (rather certainty!) of the story line moving less than a single column inch in one whole episode
4. Pointless new characters to prolong the end of the serial
5. Ear shattering background scores at over 85 decibels
6. The not-so-fine art of loud acting

I could go on and on, but you get the drift! Suffice it to say, watching Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon would be a break from regressive, predictable ‘Saas-Bahu’ soaps that Indian TV is brimming with! That it has the very amiable Farhan Akhtar as the Sutradhaar/narrator, could be a bonus (or not!). The very talented Feroz Abbas Khan, of Tumhari Amrita fame, as its director and creator may help you gauge how far it would be from the run-of-the-mill ‘Saas Bahu’ sagas.

As for the audience, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon had 58 million viewers and 6,00,000 people engaged as direct audience as per the beta site Indian Television in the first season itself. Now those are numbers that should definitely get the Indian media critics writing more on the serial, and more on programming in Doordarshan generally. For that, we need to start watching DD programmes. Seems like the ‘aam janta’ is watching. It’s about time media commentators did too! And who knows, we might just come across pleasant surprises like Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon!

Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon is broadcast on Doordarshan every Saturday and Sunday at 7.30pm.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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