Four years ago, when a new television channel called Colors began airing in India, it gave TV audiences a show clutter-breaking show. Set in the small town of Jaitsar, Rajasthan, Balika Vadhu (BV) was based on the subject of child marriage in rural India, and began with marriage of eight-year-old Anandi to Jagdish. The child couple soon bowled over the entire country. Today, the characters may have grown up and even grown apart, but Balika Vadhu continues to remain an audience favourite, with its 1,000th episode coming up on May 14.
One reason for the show’s success was its rural setting and storyline — very different from the other shows on TV at the time that tended to focus on opulent households, larger than life characters, and multimillionaires. Soon other shows, including Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo (Zee tv), Tere Mere Sapney (Star Plus), Bhagayvidhata and Laado (Colors),picked up the same theme.
Another reason was the way it handled its theme of child marriage, a social issue that’s still prevalent in the country. Anoop Soni, who plays Bhairon Singh in the show, says, “The story and script have been written keeping in mind the sensitivity of the subject and with a lot of thought into establishing the message.” To emphasise this message, the show’s producers ran slogans at the end of each episode, describing the negative effects of child marriage.
But most of all, BV’s biggest asset was the playful young Anandi, portrayed brilliantly by child star Avika Gor. Her acting, innocence and strength of character drew a tremendous response from the audience. The young Anandi questioned Dadisa, the matriarch of the traditional family. She struggled to study further. And as she entered adulthood, she suffered the loss of love as her husband Jagya (Shashank Vyas) abandoned her for another woman.
Welcoming change For a while, BV was accused of being regressive. But that has changed recently. Currently, Anandi and Jagya are in court for their divorce, and Anandi’s in-laws support her. Actor Pratyusha Banerjee, who has been playing the grown-up Anandi since July 2010, is exuberant. “From being married at a young age to being the woman with choices, though circumstances have not always helped her, Anandi has always taken life in full spirits,” she says.
Shashank Vyas is thrilled too. He says, “I am very lucky to have been part of a great success story with BV. Jagya’s character has seen different shades and has grown on the audience’s mind.” Actor Surekha, who plays Dadisa, says, “BV is an inspiration to the many women who, like Anandi, who are trapped in unhappy marriages. The show has sustained its interest mainly because of its honest approach towards these issues.”
* Pratap’s death episode, a rating that no other show has managed in the last four years
* Sugna’s pregnancy after Pratap’s death
* The episode showing young Anandi being shot
* Five year leap episode when Jagya and Anandi grow up
* Gauri and Jagya’s marriage