A month ago, while I was having dinner with my family, as usual, my uncle switched to the famous Hindi TV serial, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah (TMKOC). As usual, a frustrated me asked, “What kind of entertainment do people get after watching this serial?” I got one reply from all my family members — that they can relate the events of series to their own lives.
This answer stuck in my head, and I asked myself, “What do they truly mean by it?” Yesterday, in that similar setting of a family dinner, my brother asserted: “Thank God! There are no SCs in the show.” Another member of my family said: “Also, there aren’t any non-vegetarians in the show.” There I started thinking — is this what they mean by ‘relatable’?
As the show started in 2008, it completed its 3,000 episodes last month. TMKOC has been like ‘an extended family’ for my house, and its 3,000 episodes gave them 3,000 reasons to feel so close to TMKOC.
Let us start with a simple one: the upper caste and middle-class depiction of the show. Perhaps, this is the thing that my middle-class Brahmin family could relate to the most. All the members of the Gokuldham society are upper caste — Atmaram Bhide, a Chithpavan Brahmin, Subramanian Iyer, a Tam-Bram, Popatlal Pandey, again a Brahmin, Jethalal and Taarak Mehta, both baniyas of Gujarat, Roshan Sodhi, an upper-caste Khatri, his wife a Parsi, and finally, Dr Hansraj Hathi, supposedly an upper caste.
The portrayal of underprivileged communities, which is an elephant in the room for a middle-class, upper-caste family, is perhaps the case. The episodes of TMKOC tend to portray themselves as something similar to ‘mini-India. Seeing the demographics of Mumbai, which accounts for having one of the highest Dalit populations, I won’t even call TMKOC a mini Mumbai, let alone mini India.
Another thing related to this caste angle is how every family is surprisingly vegetarian? I never saw Abdul, a Muslim, savouring on non-vegetarian dishes. Hathis, a ‘foodie’ family, is perhaps veg-only foodies. The Bhadraloki Babita ji, played by Munmun Dutta, doesn’t have her craving for fish on the show, I suppose! The Sodhi family, a Punjabi one, is again vegetarian.
Although some Sikhs are devout vegetarians, his wife is from a Parsi denomination, and I have never encountered a vegetarian Parsi until now. Being a vegan myself, I appreciate vegetarianism at times. However, I plainly don’t understand how this kind of society is being depicted as mini India, astonishingly missing out all the non-vegetarian members among them?
My family duly applaud these two things, but there are many different things that Indians find the series quite relatable to their day-to-day lives. Women in my family can relate to the patriarchy that’s being depicted as normal or ordinary in the series. Did anyone see any woman in the serial doing anything other than housework? Even the supposedly educated Anjali Mehta and Babita Iyer are homemakers.
A society where male members earn and females cook and serve the males of the house is the backbone of a patriarchal Indian family system. If we rewind to the old episodes of TMKOC, then the situation is far pathetic. Daya Bhabi, the main female-lead, was portrayed as the most foolish woman in the world. Jethalal shouting ‘Aye pagal aurat’ and ‘Nonsense’ in front of other members of the Gokuldham society is what I remember even today. Anyway, the only improvement is the character of Daya Bhabi has improved since then.
Apart from these issues, the thing that intrigues me the most is Jethalal flirting with Babita. A married man resorting to wooing another woman isn’t an unnatural thing. However, it is a very uncommon thing to be bought out in public discourse. The public would perhaps not like the behaviour of Jethalal with respect to Babita, but they actually enjoy it.
The reason is that people can accept a committed married man flirting with a woman, but a dark-skinned, not-so-handsome Iyer, being the husband of the beautiful Babita, is something we do not want. It is another form of patriarchy when our society expects a ‘beautiful woman’ to have a partner like Jethalal rather than someone like Iyer.
Coming to marriage, the most irritating thing in the serial is the depiction of Patrakar Popatlal as a single man. Popatlal must be 38-40 years old and yet, he hasn’t been able to find a life partner for himself. Being a man of that age without a partner is a common and natural characteristic of the Indian society.
An unmarried man of that age is not an uncanny thing. Across the world, people prefer getting into a marital commitment after some sort of financial and job security. An uncanny feature of the Indian society is that a person will remain single, and that too without a partner, until they enter a marriage alliance. Nobody is expected to break this taboo, irrespective of the prominent feeling of loneliness in many such cases. TMKOC normalises this phenomenon of ‘Popatlalisation’ through the show.
The serial again was subtle about covering various issues such as rape, corruption, cyber-crime, etc. I acknowledge the efforts of the TMKOC team for covering the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as well. But if people want to have a serial more relatable to their day-to-day activities, why has female menstrual health, such a grave issue, never featured in the show?
Middle-class societies, mostly responsible for the TRP of such serials, find it comfortable to discuss rapes, corruption, kidnapping, video-game addiction, etc., but not menstruation, caste consciousness, gender sensitisation, etc. TMKOC undoubtedly represents this mentality.
I need to tell the readers: it is not only me who gets frustrated with the identical episodes of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. In the Gada family, the centre of attraction of the serial, Tappu, who was earlier played by Bhavya Gandhi, got replaced by Raj Anadkat after the former left the show.
A report from Hindustan Times says that he left as ‘he saw no growth to the character’. Disha Vakhani is on her maternity leave is missing. She hasn’t been replaced yet, as the makers haven’t been able to find anyone who is willing to play the role of a ‘foolish’ and ‘extremely pativrata (pure)‘ woman as Mrs Vakhani did. Other notable replacements are of Sonu, who got replaced twice, the Sodhi couple, and most recently, Neha Mehta, who performed the character of Anjali Mehta.
Soon, the show will complete its 3,010 episodes by the time this article gets published. The serial has managed to keep its TRP decent across these years (with a recent plunge). Judging a show on the basis of its TRP is a reductionist approach to evaluate a show. Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV and Republic Bharat have hit super records, but there is a big question mark whether we can call them good journalists.
The onus is on SAB TV to decide the fate of the serial. SAB TV should realise that the same class of viewers are getting new viable options for their entertainment, which comes with fewer advertisements. The youth wants to be vocal on social issues and does not want a toxic male figure such as Jethalal, or an old fashioned housewife like Daya Bhabi, to be a part of their extended family. Things are changing, and they should change.