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A popular show that promised to move away from saas-bahu toxicity, Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah nonetheless shames its characters in many ways.
Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah, commonly known as TMKOC, is aired on SAB TV and Sony LIV OTT. The show doesn’t need any introduction as it is a very popular family time entertainment.
Produced by Asit Kumar Modi, the first episode aired in 2008 and since then, the show has been on air for 13 long years. It has an IMDB rating of 8.2 with over 9K votes. The show started in an era when typical saas bahu serials were at their peak. As per its producer, the show aimed to bring laughter to the family living room to replace those toxic saas bahu serials, and in its initial days, it was quite successful in achieving that. The show became an instant hit as it was inspired by the Gujarati column Duniya ne Oondha Chashma by the legendary columnist Taarak Mehta.
However, there are certain issues which make the show problematic for its viewers, especially the younger generation. Its toxic misogyny, casual sexism and upholding of the patriarchy on the small screen is really a matter of concern.
Let’s have a look at the toxicity and misogyny it serves.
Jethalal’s character is shown as a Gujarati businessman, who is an obedient son, an ideal father and loving and caring husband. However, his attraction towards Babitaji and his simping around her are simply not acceptable.
Jethalal’s actions show too many red flags, but still Babita can’t figure out any of it. Despite being a married man, he thinks of Babita more than his own wife. Also, in one of the episodes, he goes to a swimming club, disguised as a Punjabi waiter, just to see Babita in a swimsuit, while she was teaching swimming to the club members. His param mitra, Taarak Mehta, knows about it but never advises Jethalal to stop such behaviour.
The show has often made fun of the Tamilian-Bengali couple, especially of Iyer’s skin colour. Other characters, especially Jethalal, often pass racist comments on Iyer, promoting body shaming and skin shaming in the show. Iyer, despite being a scientist has to face everyday racism, and the sole purpose of showing a ‘black and white’ couple is to create comedy out of peoples’ skin colour.
Just as with Iyer and Babita, the Hathi family is also mocked and body shamed. The characters are assigned the surname Hathi (elephant), which only shows how much the show is into fat shaming the family. In one episode, Komal Hathi says, “Aaj main ek kilo wajan kam kia” (I lost a kilo today) to which Dayaben replies, “Who toh aapne apna nakhun kata hoga” (You must have cut your nails) and the entire mahila mandal laughs it out.
Moving on next, we have the Gada family, where Dayaben is shown as a sanskari, homely housewife who is always into serving her family. Despite, all that she does for the family, she is often yelled at by her husband.
Jethalal often uses words like “Nonsense” and “Satvi fail” (school dropout) and Dayaben often takes it as a compliment rather than abuse saying that, “unke daant me bhi mere liye pyar chhupa hua hai” (There’s love behind his harsh words too) and never raises her voice against him. Dayaben’s character is shown as a simpleton Gujarati wife.
The good thing, on the other hand is that, she is always supported by her father-in-law. Champaklal comes to her rescue whenever Jethalal yells at her, and scolds him for his rude behaviour.
The show’s protagonist, Taarak Mehta, is a writer who is often put on a strict diet control by his wife Anjali Mehta. Anjali ensures that Taarak eats only diet food, so as to keep him healthy and his weight under control.
Food is everyone’s basic right, and a wife cannot simply put a restriction on her husband’s food habits. One simply cannot eat salad, karele ka juice, diet soup and green tea all over the day. Often, when Taarak Mehta eats something else, hiding it from Anjali and she catches him, she treats him as if he had cheated on her. She makes a mountain out of a molehill and in the end, Taarak begs his wife’s forgiveness, as though he had committed a grave crime.
Atmaram Bhide, an ideal teacher, lives with his wife Madhvi. He is often shown having a problem with the growing closeness of his daughter, Sonu with Jethalal’s son Tapu. They are childhood friends since long, and its quite natural that there could be some chemistry between them. They are grown-ups now and they have the freedom to decide upon their relationship. But Bhide’s reaction to this is completely irrational and absurd.
Also, it’s the viewers who are now demanding the show makers for on-screen chemistry between Sonu and Tapu, which again proves that Indian audience cannot accept a friendship between a boy and girl as just friendship and nothing beyond that.
Popatlal is a journalist, who has remained unmarried for long. Belonging to a respectable and responsible profession, he must behave maturely and report all sorts of wrongdoings going on in the society. Instead he is shown flirting and simping with every other girl he meets for a marriage proposal. He is over-excited about marriage, but his dream of getting married never comes true.
His behaviour with women makes him a pervert and a flirtatious character, which needs to be addressed properly. On the other hand, he is often made fun of by other married men, for not being able to find a life partner for himself.
Gokuldham’s Mahila Mandal consists of all the women of the society. The problematic thing is, they are only shown to be homely housewives and none of them is shown as a working woman. In the wake of taking care of the family, they often forget to take care of themselves.
The overly sacrificial nature of the Indian housewives is glorified in the show, which shouldn’t have been done. They are shown falling prey to fraudsters and cheaters, which portrays a very wrong notion that women can’t use their own brains. Sometimes, they find their own way out of the problem, while at other times, they are helped by their husbands.
Champaklal often scolds and rebukes his son Jethalal, who being a businessman, has to deal with customers, suppliers, bankers, auditors and also with his dad’s rebukes. The kind of toxic parenting shown in the show is problematic. Champaklal must understand the fact that his son has grown up now and he must behave with him accordingly. But he still treats him like a small child, which at times, brings embarrassment to Jethalal.
Jethalal’s unique chemistry with the English language is well known. He often mispronounces common English words for which he becomes a laughing stock. 200 years of colonial rule has made us compare a person’s knowledge and wisdom with his ability to speak English. We often undermine our mother tongue and speak in English just to show off how cool we are. Jethalal’s English is often made fun of disregarding the fact that he is a successful businessman who established a business empire from scratch.
Just like Jethalal, Iyer’s Hindi is also made fun of. He often mispronounces Hindi words which are then corrected by others. But unlike Jethalal, he is shown as a learned man and a well-known scientist. His lack of knowledge of Hindi is not much of a concern. He is still a literate man despite not knowing Hindi properly, while Jethalal is shown as an illiterate despite the fact that he can read, write and understand Gujarati, Kutchi and Hindi. This very well shows the colonial mindset of the makers of the show.
The level of toxicity, misogyny and casual sexism in the show is endless. Although the makers have made the characters more rational and logical over time, the show has become less of a comedy and more of a moral science lesson. This proves that the makers don’t know how to show healthy comedy, without hurting the sentiments of people, and showing sexism, misogyny and body shaming the characters.
I hope the makers understand these issues and try to eliminate them, while upholding the same old comedy and laughter.
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