Dolled Up Bahus & Devious MILs – But Where Are The Real Women?

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At least in the early days of cable TV, we had some real women on TV, with shades of grey. What we get now are unrealistic cardboard cutouts that are nothing but stereotypes.

The year 2000. Bill Clinton was the President of United States, smart phones were rarely used outside Japan, social media was confined to Yahoo chat, and the first episode of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi was aired on Indian television.

It will be safe to say that world has undergone a great deal of change in these 18 years; Indian television on the other hand, seems to be stuck in a time warp.

A quick image search for ‘Indian women and television’ reveals almost all women actors in flashy ethnic outfits, bedecked in jewelry, many with a pallu over their heads. Last time I saw women dressed like that, was at a distant cousin’s wedding over a year ago. Yet I see them every day on screen going about their daily business all dressed up, and I wonder why there aren’t any believable woman characters on television.

Early days of Indian serials

Let’s go back in time to the 90s. At a time when India was undergoing privatization, cable TV had just arrived, and along with it many channels and shows were depicting the modern Indian women.

There was Tara, a story about trials and tribulations of four urban women friends long before Veere di Wedding became ‘path-breaking’.

Hasratein where the main protagonist (not the vamp) leaves her husband and maintains an extra-marital relationship with another married man, with both their spouses being aware of the situation.

Another popular show was Astitva – Ek Prem Kahani which focused on the concept of women’s identity through the character of Dr. Simran, a gynecologist who enters a complex situation when she marries a man 10 years younger than herself.

And not to forget Sailab a fresh take on a platonic relationship between two ex-lovers now happily married to other people. Swabhimaan, Shanti, Saans, Heena, Buniyaad, and the list goes on.

Such strong female characters who are opinionated, have desires and self respect, sometimes with shades of gray quite like the women in real life sadly seem to be missing from the TV of today.

So who are the women seen on screen now?

Presently most reel women are broadly divided into 3 categories –

  • Good virtuous women – always decked up in heavy ethnic wear, spend their time praying, fasting, cooking or saving the family from catastrophic circumstances all alone.
  • Scheming vamps – modern, free thinking, drink alcohol, occasionally smoke too (so evil) and don’t flinch while plotting murder, kidnapping and trying to destroy homes of good virtuous women described above.
  • Subset of good virtuous women who harbour some career aspirations, but only after their in-laws ‘allow’ them to work and fulfilling all their homely responsibilities to the T.

Gap between reel and real women

Now I don’t want to be too harsh and I am sure there must be good characters out there but there is still a glaring distinction between the ‘reel’ and the ‘real’ woman and a huge gap in terms of realistic portrayal of woman of today. Women onscreen have no career aspirations, always look and dress perfectly, and seem to be completely disassociated from real world issues.

Television as a medium has a huge outreach and going by the TRPs, it is evident that Indian soaps have a high viewership. I wonder what keeps the huge audience hooked on to this daily dose of sheer travesty, misogynistic and regressive typecasting. Even though Indian TV is largely aimed at a women audience, these shows are watched by everyone including young boys and girls. What is worrying is that this may lead to skewed opinions and expectations regarding woman and their role in society.

It does not mean that instead of entertainment, TV becomes a sermonizing and preaching medium. But a realistic portrayal of women will be more becoming. Actors need not consume alcohol or smoke onscreen to become flag bearers of feminism. All it needs is professionally educated women characters who wear regular clothes and somehow manage job, family, and home and have basic self-esteem just like the rest of us. Is it too much to ask for?

Well, one can only wish things change till then say yes to online content.

Image source: YouTube/Promo material

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Dentist by education, writer by passion. In my earlier avatar I taught budding dentists and

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