Is There An End To Indian Television’s Regressive Saas-Bahu Dramas?

Women donning heavy sarees with heavy gold jewellery, holding a thali containing fruits and flowers, praying for her husband and his family’s welfare—this is the portrait of the typical Indian woman (bahu) on Indian television.

Over the years, there have been many TV serials such as “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”, “Kasauti Zindagii Kay”, “Bhabi”, “Kumkum” etc., which created a stereotypical image of the Indian housewife. Each serial portrays how an ideal wife should be, how a mother, daughter and daughter-in-law should fulfill their responsibilities towards their family—be it taking care of their children or sacrificing for their husband. If the women try to work and be independent, bold and smarter than their male counterparts, then they would immediately be shown in a negative light.

Despite decades of discussions and debates on women’s issues in India, new serials are coming up every month, which revolve roughly around the same topic. In almost all these serials, marriage is shown to be of primary importance in the Indian tradition, and a woman’s life is made out to be all about her husband and his family.

Now, here is where this gets problematic: what kind of an image do these serials portray to the youth? Do men have no role to play at home? Is it only up to the women to have the strength to keep their family together?

With Indian TV serials playing no role in women empowerment whatsoever, there seems to be a change in the reality TV shows such as “Big Boss”, “Roadies”, “Dance India Dance”, “Indian Idol” etc., where women are emerging with a vast array of talents—be it singing, dancing or challenging themselves in various ways. Although women seem to be becoming more and more aggressive, assertive and competent on these shows, they hardly ever win, as most of the reality shows are based on public voting where people end up supporting a male competitor.

According to me, serials should be more realistic and not hell-bent on portraying a false image of womanhood; there are so many issues and layers in a woman’s personality which can be and need to be highlighted. This type of stereotypical TV shows directly affect the young generation and give them the impression that women are a subdued and weak gender, and can be easily suppressed.

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