Remember The Strong Women Of 80s-90s Serials Like Shanti, Saans, Rajani, Udaan, Etc.?

The 80s and 90s were a turning point in how women were depicted on the screen, and the women in TV serials of this era were often ahead of the time.

The 80s and 90s were a turning point in how women were depicted on the screen, and the women in TV serials of this era were often ahead of the time.

The time period of the 80s and 90s was revolutionary both in the reel world of television and the real world of gradual social transformation that we all have witnessed. Before that era, women were looked upon only as submissive beings having no rights, opinions, etc. of their own.

These 80s and 90s Indian television serials though were works of fiction (some of them inspired by real-life stories), and they reflected the possible facets of a woman apart from being an ordinary human being devoid of any rights and privileges.


Staying silent is easy but does it bring any metamorphosis of the irrational government policies? Rajani, the central character of this ‘bold’ TV serial played by Priya Tendulkar and directed by Basu Chatterjee on Doordarshan was the one who depicted this with its excellent screenplay and performances.

What was phenomenal about her character was that she was a middle-class housewife who dared to be a protagonist against government laxity in spite of all odds.


The ardour of a girl named Kalyani Singh to become an IPS officer is depicted in the show directed by Kavita Chaudhary and how she becomes a paragon in her chosen profession. There are several moot points that this serial throws light on i.e. gender discrimination, women empowerment and reverence due to idealism.

The first women-oriented Indian TV show was, in fact, an inspiration from the true story of an IPS officer, Kanchan Choudhary Bhattacharya.

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Udaan (to fly) truly taught women to fly high as the sky is limitless and so can be a woman’s dreams and aspirations.


It’s an adaptation of the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. It’s a story of five sisters, their credos, their mistakes and how they learn from them. The lead character, Rekha is prejudiced about Rahul, a rich guy. But, how she learns from her mistakes is remarkably portrayed in the show.


It is a path-breaking TV show way ahead of its time as it depicted women joining the Indian Navy, which was not yet allowed back in the 1990s (the Indian Navy started including women from 1992). Though it was short-lived with only 13 episodes, it presented a strong-willed woman character like Nikita which was very rare back then for women.


This weekly serial in which Mandira Bedi was the protagonist, emphasized on women’s education. She rebelled against her family to get an education instead of marriage, to become a successful lawyer. Eventually, it was up to her to free her family of debt. The title song, “Ye Aurat hai kudrat ka anmol tofa” sung by Jagjit Singh was instantly illustrious among the people back then.


This serial aired on Sony channel was all about the grief and miseries women suffer in unhappy marriages. A Muslim woman demanding divorce due to infidelity was not a usual occurrence back then.

Heena played by Simone Singh had to face the harsh reality that her husband Sameer loved someone else, on her wedding night itself. An end to the unhappy marriage was brought about by a divorce. Heena who gathered the courage to remarry still had to encounter tons of challenges in life like a recurrence of infidelity, kidnap of one of her children, though she comes through this to a happy ending.

Kora Kagaz

It is a tragic story of a harsh reality of a woman’s life; her life and its decisions are not hers. The premise is that a woman is born as a blank piece of paper (Kora Kagaz) on which everybody else has got the right to write anything, except for her – a woman’s destiny is written by her parents, and then husband, her in-laws, her children but it’s never she who decides.

The lead character, Pooja, faces infidelity in marriage. To recover from this, she gets support and affection from her brother-in-law, Ravi. No sooner does some happiness arrives into her life, that her husband comes back into her life, and she is again left with no choice.


Though a love story, it asked the questions: ‘Why can’t a woman take care of her old parents? Why can’t she be married AND take care of her old parents?’

The lead actress, Rajeshwari Sachdev playing the role of Margarita, is the youngest daughter of a Goan family and as per the family tradition, she has to take care of her parents without getting married. But her lover Pedro marries one of her two sisters to be close to her.


Manasi Joshi Roy played the lead role of Sudha who has a very orthodox father, who is in opposition to send his daughter to college. Back in the 90s, not all families sent their daughters to college. Some made their daughters take distance education; some stopped their education before attending college.

Saaya also included Achint Kaur as Kamiya, a bold and vibrant girl as a friend of Sudha. Boldness in girls was not all that common back then. So, it also demonstrated a different aspect of a woman’s personality apart from shyness in a woman.


After this serial, Mandira Bedi became synonymous to Shanti, the lead character of it. Shanti was an aspiring journalist in the serial who reveals the crime committed by two villains of the serial. How a women journalist stuggles in the men’s world in depicted dramatically with an excellent screenplay.


A woman’s self-respect was the core essence of this Indian television drama that was the pioneer to have completed 500 episodes.

Svetlana, the protagonist was an attractive woman who goes through several turmoils in life after her patron, a business tycoon passes away. She struggles to protect her self-respect in the face of all odds.

Mahesh Bhatt directed it with an outstanding screenplay and pace that kept viewers stuck to their seats.


Today’s urban contemporary woman living by her rules was shown in this 90s serial. Three friends lived together in a city where they shared friendship, ambition, secrets, etc.

Three different women, three different stories! One of them was Tara, a short-haired modern independent woman who falls in love with a married man way older than her. Though there was a negative tinge to her character, she was loved by the audience because of bold character.


Neena Gupta was both the director and the lead actress of the show, Priya. The show was all about an extra-marital affair, and how a woman stood up and fought for herself. When Priya found out that her husband Gautam was having an affair with another woman Manisha, she decided to stand up on her own rather going into depression. She takes up a job and learns to handle her family independently. Eventually, Gautam, fed-up with Manisha returns back to Priya.


The show revolves around extra-marital affairs because of unhappy marriages. The lead protagonist, Savi unhappy with her marriage finds love in a married man.  She wants a child of her own and is gracious enough to let go of her love as she accepts the truth that he can never be hers. Himani Shivpuri played the role of an exquisite woman forced to marry an old man unable to satisfy her. So she decides to quit the marriage.

Kshitij ye nahi

The meaning of the title says that no horizon is the last one. There are limitless possibilities, limitless horizons in life. It deals with the sensitive issue of re-marriage of a widow (especially if she is a mother as well) which was very rare back in the 90s. The lead actress, Supriya Pilgaonkar gets tremendous support from her father-in-law to marry again.

Is it not justified for a young widow to get remarried and live a happy life? Is it fair for the society to oppose such a marriage when the woman wants a remarriage? Are the customs and traditions more important than the life of a woman? These are some of the questions of debate that this serial provoked at that time.

Image: YouTube

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About the Author

Sonal Maharana

I'm a post-graduate in pharmacy by education and a writer at heart. As a woman, I feel that women need to change the way they portray themselves. Instead of a symbol of jealousy, read more...

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