“They [audience] just don’t want to see a married woman move on even if her husband has made her life miserable,” – Ekta Kapoor.
You might imagine this is something the producer of shows like “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” would say in the last decade. But no. Kapoor said these words in an interview in 2016.
Twenty years ago, mainstream Hindi television shows were far more progressive than their contemporary successors. In the 1990s’ we had ‘Shanti’, a serial about an aspiring journalist, hoping to write the biographies of Kamesh and Raj, the biggest Bollywood production house in the country. Cut to 2017, and we are watching ‘Sasural Simar Ka’, a story that revolves around two Indian sisters and how they become perfect daughters-in-laws!
Today, you’ll also find hundreds of Indian millennials complaining on social media and blogs, about how disconnected such shows are from the real lives of people
Neither do they find a suitable reflection in conservative mythical storylines like the snake woman in “Nagin” and back-from-dead-with-new-persona Pragya in “Kumkum Bhagya” (rolling my eyes in disgust at this repetitiveness!)
All this, while Hindi television is considered “mainstream” and regional television channels are treated as “poor country cousins of the national channels”, in the words of Ravish Kumar, EVP at Viacom18 and business head of Colors Kannada, Colors Bangla and Colors Odiya. According to Kumar, big networks are venturing into the regional space.
Data on the website of the Broadcast Audience Research Council India indicates that with its ever-widening viewership, regional channels like Tamil entertainment channel Sun TV, have raced ahead of Hindi channels like Star Plus, Colors and Zee TV. What’s interesting though is that certain regional TV shows are challenging the hegemony of mainstream Hindi television, in more ways that just viewership.
Major production houses are generating fresh content, which is not regressive or misogynistic and in fact, progressive and reflective of the real lives of young people, today.
Take for example “Amruthavarshini”, a Kannada family drama aired on Suvarna. Shakuntaladevi, a domineering matriarch, plays mentor to her simple, uneducated daughter-in-law Amrutha. Instead of a game of one-upmanship, she aids in her transformation into a confident woman and helps her win her husband Vijay’s love. This storyline is definitely a departure from the repetitive “Saas-Bahu” bickering on Hindi TV channels.
Another glorious example of regional TV featuring a strong female protagonist is the Bengali television serial “Kiranmala“, which aired on GEC Star Jalsha. The show depicts how the princess Kiranmala defeats the wicked demon queen Katkati and saves her kingdom Achinpur and Amrita Nagari, and the whole of humanity.
It’s not like Hindi television channel has not made attempts to refresh their content. Serials like “Tamanna” and “Dahleez” (Star Plus) had very progressive themes; however, they succumbed due to lower TRPs.
Some Hindi serials like “Balika Vadhu” had a great start against child marriage. But over time, the producers (drunk on popularity!) changed the storyline bringing it to the realm of regressive and predictable shows.
The entertainment industry keeps forgetting that despite the name, their work comes with greater responsibility. Movies, TV serials and even advertising are not just mirrors of society but influence it, too. TV serials reinforce the contemporary shift in the ideology of society.
If Indian society is evolving towards women empowerment and gender equality, it is sad that these themes do not find themselves represented in mainstream Hindi Television. What’s sadder though, is that when they do find space, the shows fail to gain a viewership and are forced to regress into the Saas-Bahu genre of storytelling.