The beauty of Indian family system is that it promotes staying together, it promotes sharing and caring. In the old days extended family members stayed together and took care of each other. Mother’s could leave their children behind when visiting their parents’ home and won’t worry because their were lots of aunts and grand parents to look after them. The father would sprawl on a Sunday evening in the verandah while his children would learn riding a cycle from their uncles or elder cousins. It was a great system that ensured that a members of a family took care of each other. Things have changed now. Families break apart – sometimes due to difference in opinion, sometimes due to financial reasons and sometimes because a smaller unit of the family or an individual decides to migrate to a different place for better education and job opportunities.
When I was growing up their was a flood of television serials mostly starting with a “K”which upheld the idea of traditional joint family system. It was a new wave whence the Indian family became the center of all discussion except that there was no discussion. These television serials were all alike in their set up and get up. Women wearing blingy sarees and jewelry and men who suddenly found themselves pushed to the periphery but equally manicured and well-dressed. These serials changed the small screen forever and boy it was horrible. What began around the turn of the century has infested the small screen since then. It’s like a bacterial growth that has only grown over the years.
These serials put women to the forefront, but it wasn’t good news. These television serials were like a hundred steps back for every step taken ahead for women empowerment. It happened all of sudden and before you knew it, housewives across the country were watching them. I won’t deny that I watched them. I did because my mom and all my aunts and most of my classmates did. So before I knew anything about the covalent bonding between two carbon atoms, I knew more about bonding between a mother-in-law and daughter-in law.
While I recall a lot of things from my childhood with nostalgia, these serials are something that fill me with abhorrence. These serials, and all of them without any exception, had some stock characters like an ideal daughter-in-law, a mother-in-law who never liked the ideal daughter-in-law, a grandmother who despite a hundred ailments failed to die, a perfect husband who would later to highlight the suffering of the ideal Indian woman was sure to cheat and several other members who had nothing else to do except either smile or disrupt the peace of the home. These are characters that still find a stronghold in present television serials in India.
There were certain things that one learnt from these serials. For the sake of organization I would put them in points.
1. Women who were good wore decent sarees with a decent blouse. Women with evil intentions wore designer sarees, well-defined makeup and blouses that often lacked a neckline and sleeves.
2. Women who worked were evil, didn’t respect elders and were sure to cause a fall out between family members.
3. That all rich men lived in a joint family.
4. A relationship without marriage was doomed.
5. That a woman ought to forgive her husband if and when he cheated while a woman who cheated was sure to die.
6. That successful women were often obsessed after married men and were hell bent to get them at any cost.
There were a lot more things but these points might be able to help one comprehend what values (or lack of them) these serials propagated.
In an era when women were trying hard to create a space for themselves, these serials just pushed them back.
These serials portrayed an ambitious woman in bad light. Ambition was only for men and a woman’s job was to support the men in sickness an health. An ambitious women was an alien who knew nothing about morals, was easy to get in bed with and was sure not the right fit for a wife. Not once in these serials I have found a woman who runs a business successfully or is successful in professional life. And if there is one, well watch out, she must have a secret agenda.
Anyways I have stopped watching these, right now I am more into watching Grey’s Anatomy and Once Upon A time which are way better and have some real women kicking ass. But watching these shows makes me feel a void that could only be filled by a woman like Shanti from the serial Shanti that aired on DD National in 1994.
P.S. The serials I am talking about are Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu thi, Kahani Ghar Ghar ki, Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Koi Apna Sa, Kavyanjali and the list goes on.
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