Sudden zoom-in and zoom-outs. Closeups accompanying by explosions of music. Superlatively negative characters (can people really be this black and white?). Stoic female protagonists. Lots of weeping, revenge, and clichéd storylines – these are the characteristics of most soap operas aired across the four main Telugu channels.
As a Telugu-speaking individual, I feel disturbed by the reality of Telugu television and wish to point out everything that is wrong with it.
The serials are typically oriented towards the tastes of middle-aged women. Yet, there are hardly any laudable shows that break stereotypes like ‘Inspector Kiran’, which has a female police offer as its protagonist. The stereotype associated with women as stoical still exists. Telugu soap operas also encourage girl-on-girl hate; in fact, the content of the most Telugu soap operas actually depend on it!
Telugu television is yet to produce a series that caters to the youth and that has an honest representation of all genders. To my knowledge, there was only one serial, quite popular in the early 2000s, called ‘Yuva’ that catered to the younger population. Yuva was a sitcom revolving around the lives of five friends (a modified version of F.R.I.E.N.D.S!).
Bursts of laughter as a man flirts with another man’s wife leveraging the stupidity of her hubby (a woman is always someone’s wife and consent is not even a real thing), another burst of laughter when a man beats his wife; yet another roar of laughter with a sliver of disgust when a transgender character appears on stage – these are all characteristics of the incomprehensible comic genre of Telugu comedy shows like ‘Jabardasth’.
For instance, ‘adangi’, a derogatory term used to refer to a feminine traits traits and actions in a man, is often used in ‘Jabardasth’, a comedy show in which a few teams perform skits.
So deeply ingrained is this word in society when Roja, an actress turned public representative — who happens to be one of the judges of the comedy show, Jabardasth — was arrested, she used it to insult those who opposed her.
Furthermore, on the show, the word is used not only by men but also women, which is a clear case of internalised sexism.
In fact, the French phrase, ‘cherchez la femme’, is at the heart of the incomprehensible comic genre of the said comedy show. Cherchez la femme literally translates into ‘look for the woman’, advocating the notion that a woman is behind every problem. This is a common theme across Telugu comedy shows.
The anchor of a popular comedy show introduces a skit as “theda”, meaning abnormal as the skit unravels to depict homosexuality. Non-cisgender people are always at the receiving end of mockery.
More recently the host of the show ‘Bathuku Jataka Bandi’, continuously insulted a transman and woman who wanted to marry, questioning the legitimacy of the sexual orientation of the transperson.
‘Bathuku Jataka Bandi’ is part of a slew of shows aimed at “helping” families resolve their domestic disputes (in my words, a commercial panchayat). Such an exhibition of transphobia reflects the ignorance and insensitivity encouraged by the small screen.
Sadly, Telugu TV is yet to produce shows that smash prejudices and stereotypes existing in the society. Furthermore, the high TRPs garnered by the shows mentioned, substantiate that Telugu TV perfectly mirrors the society.
Notwithstanding this, shouldn’t such a powerful medium at least have a social responsibility not to intensify the myths and stereotypes?
Sahithi Andoju is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the February-March 2017 batch.