It's no longer breaking news that the newer lot of Hindi serials are not all centred around saas-bahu conflicts. Don't get too excited though — it's not as if these serials have disappeared from our screens altogether. There's still that scary-looking lady with big, black-lined eyes in Saathiya, and there's still that other scary-looking lady with big, rolling eyes in Diya Aur Bati (both on Star Plus), and what's more, both these serials are still fetching good ratings. But there's also a wider range of stories and ideas on air now.
A couple of examples: Sony has started Kya Hua Tera Vaada, which is the story of a married couple with three children. After ten years, their lives and conversations revolve around school tiffins, office politics, the lack of money, parenting problems and other such romantic, passionate details. As a slice of life story, it's a charming idea. But at the moment, the most charming person in the serial is Mona Singh, who plays the wife. The last time Mona appeared in a fiction show was — if I remember correctly — in Sony's Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin. But subsequently, she mostly anchored TV shows such as Jhalak Dikhla Jaa (which she also won in a previous season) in her customary warm and vivacious manner. Those are the qualities she brings to her role of the wife in Kya Hua Tera Vaada, but her husband, played by actor Pawan Shankar, is a little humdrum in comparison. Just like the overall feel of the serial. Maybe things will perk up in the coming episodes?
Imagine TV has also begun a new show, Mi, Aaji Aur Saheb, whose story sounds suspiciously like the Anil Kapoor-Sridevi starrer, Lamhe. There's a young schoolgirl being brought up by her Aaji (grandmother). In a refreshing turn, the old lady is determined that her granddaughter should get a good education and make something of her life and not end up as an illiterate, unskilled worker like her (the Aaji, I mean). Aaji is helped in her mission by a young man, Saheb. And presumably, once the little girl grows up, she will fall in love with Saheb. But all that is very much in the future. Right now, it's only hardship and obstacles. Aaji has to pay the school fees and has no money. I'm waiting for the real story to kick in, it sounds far more interesting than what's happening right now.
Imagine is also starting another new serial, Jamuna Paar (yes, it's set in Delhi), the love story of a rough-at-the-edges boy who lives across the Jamuna and a sophisticated lass from New Delhi. (Is there such a sociological division in Delhi, as the serial seems to suggest? Er…).
Which brings me to the million-episode question: even when the new serials are not saas-bahu dramas, why aren't they rocking our TV sets? A possible answer is the very format of the daily soap. To shoot and edit and package one episode every day, five days a week, is a tough call. Production houses seem to have tackled this by sticking to a cookie cutter story-telling style. To give just one example: the excruciatingly slow pace of most serials. (The rationale seems to be to shoot less, then stretch the few scenes as much as possible. That's why a lot of the time, nothing actually happens in an episode. Directors get around this lack of forward movement by seeking to build a couple of 'moments' in every episode. But that's not enough, especially if the moments are not arresting enough).
Someone needs to throw away the cookie cutter. Quickly.