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Through Indian soaps, we subconsciously affirm the preconceived notion of women’s household responsibilities which cannot be shared by the ‘men’ in the house.
For centuries the prototype of Indian women has never been independent of the word Sanskaari. In this 21st century where even the most celebrated ‘ideals’ and prototypes have undergone revolutionary transformations, Indian soaps are still there where it has been decades before. The only change over all these years is in accessories, clothes, and, yeah, makeup.
As an admirer of fiction and dramas since childhood, I have been watching one or other Indian soap operas from my teenage years. Every show had almost the same story with different titles, like the same chips in different packets.
Since these shows mainly targeted female audiences, the protagonist is always a woman; to be more specific, a bahu or soon-to-be bahu.
Unlike the diversity of women we see around us, the characteristics of all protagonist women will be the same, smart, selfless, well-behaving, high achieving, outgoing, enthusiastic, independent, and mostly fair.
Above all, she will be a ‘sanskaari’ all-rounder who can multitask extraordinary tasks just like a walk in the park, who never questions elders, no matter whether they are right or wrong, just because they were born some years before her.
Adept in the art of forgiving
Another remarkable characteristic of these women is their art of ‘forgiving’; they always forgive, no matter whatever trauma and sufferings they have been subjected to, whether they have been insulted, kidnapped, tortured, or even if someone has attempted to murder, they are always ready to forgive that too in a single apology.
The best cook of large families
Whether she is educated or not, she always has exceptional cooking skills and single-handedly feeds her family members, which is always double digited as joint families are the only happy families.
If she does not have culinary skills, she will eventually master them through the course of the drama just to be the perfect bahu who can be the only prototype to every other woman.
A quick run through the plot and other characters of most Indian television dramas indicates that the role of the antagonist is played mainly by another woman (of course, as women are women’s worst enemies), either another bahu who is jealous of the unconditional acceptance and fondness of family members towards the protagonist bahu.
These characters will also have a uniformity in their features, overdressed, modern with heavy makeups, unlike our ‘sanksari’ protagonist.
Moreover, these women are always portrayed as selfish, greedy, ‘kaamchor’ (lazy), and consistently engaging in conspiracies to destroy the unity of the large joint family. Not so surprisingly, it’s always the protagonist, bahu, who saves the family from all such so-called disasters, by going to any extent doing anything and everything ranging from an overnight lawyer to a surgeon irrespective of zero expertise and degrees.
Unlike the female characters, male characters are opposites, especially the male protagonist. He is almost always arrogant, short-tempered, good-looking (with abs), and spoilt.
But at the same time, deep under, he is pictured as a kind-hearted soul, which no one has realized yet as “only a Goldsmith can scratch gold from the darkest mines.” It is to prevent the hero from being perceived in a bad light. Mostly story revolves around this rich spoilt man child who is reformed into an ideal and prototypical version of a man through the sanskari heroin (who’s his love interest).
For years, we have been working hard to uproot preexisting gender roles, which unfortunately is not visible in these shows. Though in most shows, the female characters evolved beyond the homemakers into businesswomen, doctors, and even civil servants; at home, they are happy to be homemakers who single-handedly cook and take care of the family. It’s as if the responsibility is only hers, no matter whoever she is, however hectic her job is, and whatever her identity is outside the home. Through these shows, we subconsciously affirm the preconceived notion of women’s household responsibilities which cannot be shared with the ‘men’ in the house.
After all, what are we trying to imply through these shows? What are we trying to make our daughters believe? To stick to gender roles as it is the ‘parampara’ or to keep mum to any abuse in the name of values and ‘sanskar’ just because the ones on the other end are your family? Or to be okay with the male counterparts not respecting consent or lack of it? Or to not take a stand for herself when she knows she is right?
I think it’s high time for our show makers as well as the audience to change and move beyond this preoccupation with ‘sanskar,’ unrealistic romance, and saas-bahu dramas as the impact it creates on the audience’s minds are huge.
Image source: a still from the soap Anupamaa
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