Consider this: Saas-bahu conflict. Scheming vamps. Suffering heroine. That’s what we saw on our TV sets for many years, from 2000 onwards. (Does anyone remember Star Plus’ Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi or Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki? Or have the serials been forgotten – deservedly – like bad dreams?)Now consider this: Village settings. ‘Burning’ social issues such as female foeticide. General gloom and doom. That’s what we’ve been seeing on our TV sets for the past three years, ever since Balika Vadhu (Colors) became a runaway hit.
And finally consider this: Our very short letter to Hindi TV channels. Dear Star Plus, Sony, Colors etc. Can we please see something different? Thank you. Yours sadly, viewers.
To be fair, when it comes to serials and soaps, it isn’t as if there’s nothing else on TV. There are a few crime shows on Sony which get good ratings. There are a few other serials (such as Saas Bina Sasural – doesn’t the name say it all?) which are different and which do decently in terms of popularity. But in the world of Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs), where nothing matters except ratings, to be different is akin to tempting fate. A ‘different’ serial will usually not hit the really high spots in the ratings chart. Or so many nervous channel executives believe.
Audiences seem fixated on regressive, traditional (as in resistant to change), clichéd serials, they claim. Case in point: at the time of going to press, the country’s No. 1 show is the singularly depressing Sathiya Saath Nibhana (Star Plus) about a simple bahu having a really hard time in her sasural, which is peopled by at least two very scary women and one very uncaring husband.
But two recent serials which appear to be bucking the trend are Bade Achche Lagte Hain (Sony) and Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon (Star Plus). Of the two, Bade Achche... is the real bona fide hit. Already the No. 1 fiction show on Sony, it’s racing up the TRP charts across channels. The success of Iss Pyaar Ko... is more modest though by no means unremarkable; currently it is the fourth most-watched serial on Star Plus.
Both shows are supposed to be primarily love stories with the family as a side show instead of being family sagas with a bit of love on the side. Moreover, the love stories themselves are hat ke. Bade Achche... is a mature romance where a 33-year-old woman falls in love with a 42-year-old man after an arranged marriage. Incidentally, the relationship starts off on the wrong foot: neither can stand the other.
It’s difficult to believe that this serial comes from Balaji, whose temperamental boss Ekta Kapoor was the original creator of saas-bahu serials.
"Actually Ekta has always been a trendsetter," points out Bade Achche Lagte… director Ravinder Gautam, "It was her idea to make this serial as real as possible. She wanted the writers to keep situations contemporary and convincing. For example, the character of Sakshi (the heroine) is shown as mature and level-headed. She is in her 30s, single and quite fine with being single. Today, there are many single women in their 30s who identify with Sakshi’s character. They are becoming part of the audience for the show. The kind of feedback we are getting is amazing." Gautam adds that he has been working on serials for ten years but for the first time, one of his close friends who is a Navy Commander is actually watching a Hindi serial and liking it!
But even in a modern serial like Bade Achche..., traditional elements are very much there – Sakshi’s mother, for instance, is one of those desperate, nagging mothers whose only mission is to see her on-the-shelf daughter get married. Love...hate?
In Iss Pyaar... too the lead pair (though they are young, unlike the Bade Achche… couple) can’t stand the sight of each other. The serial tracks their journey from intense hatred to intense love. As Vincent Franklin, the script head of Iss Pyaar… puts it rather dramatically, "Hate will bring two absolutely different people together, love will separate them and a misunderstanding will get them back together again. Finally, love will triumph over everything else." The fact that there is sizzling chemistry between the good looking lead pair adds to the drama.
Iss Pyaar... is mainly meant for a younger audience, but the creative team says it recognises the fact that there are older family members watching the show too. For their benefit, the hero and heroine’s families are shown to be from Lucknow. Characters speak with local inflections; colloquialisms abound. Both households are devout and celebrate all festivals, major and minor, with extreme enthusiasm. Noble sibling love is another major thread of the show.
So while both Bade Achche... and Iss Pyaar... are not exactly run of the mill shows, commercial compulsions mean that they can’t be too different either. Iss Pyaar… would have been another show altogether if it had been 95 per love, and five per cent family. Ditto for Bade Achche… But that’s probably being too optimistic. Maybe in another ten years, we might get a really full-bodied, passionate love story. Till then, wait.
What the show is about:
Bade Achche Lagte Hain launched on Sony May-end this year and has become a certified hit. It’s the story of a 30-plus middle class working girl called Priya (she takes coaching classes; come on, everyone can’t be a rocket scientist, can they?) who falls in love with a 40-plus rich businessman, Ram, after an arranged marriage with him.
The fact that the heroine works and wears kurtis and jeans and doesn’t look like a walking-talking jewellery-cum-wedding-saree store. That the male lead is fat and everyone (including our heroine) makes fun of his portly frame. Says Ram Kapoor who plays, well, Ram, “I told the scriptwriters not to be subtle about my weight but to go ahead full steam. That kind of realism is very attractive to male members of the audience.” The idea of two relative strangers finding love after an arranged marriage is equally real, he adds. On her part, Sakshi Tanwar, who plays Priya, found the idea of mature love very attractive. The initial clashes between the two also made for lively viewing.
Ram and Priya just got married in a ceremony that seemed to last several centuries. So many tears were shed, they could have irrigated an entire farm. Also, doesn’t the mother-in-law look like she’s going to turn into a scheming saas? Can the serial’s pace quicken a little please? And can the focus stay on the lead pair?
Love Aaj Kal
The serial on Star Plus is a love story of two young people from traditional families and how they move ahead with their relationship while maintaining their values.
Diya Aur Bati Hum
A new offering on Star Plus, about a man of modest education who helps his wife to fulfil her dreams of becoming a civil servant (while braving much ridicule).
Kuch To Log Kahenge
Soon to be seen on Sony, it is a love story between two doctors. The rumour goes that it’s a bit like the old Pakistani serial, Dhoop Kinare, which became very popular
Geet Hui Sabse Parayi
This serial on Star One is about a young girl’s arranged marriage to an NRI which turns out to be a farce. She runs away to save herself and also to finally find true love.
What the show is about
Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon began on Star Plus early June and is getting good ratings. It’s a Mills and Boon sort of love story between a cheerful, innocent small-town girl, Khushi, and a heartless business tycoon with a tragic past, Arnav.
The fact that the love story is more intense hate than inane romance. That the lead pair have scorching chemistry. That the serial began as an office love story (even though we can swear we have never seen such an office in our lives). That Khushi is spirited and fun. That Arnav is a dark, enigmatic character in the best tradition of romantic anti-heroes. Says Barun Sobti, who plays Arnav, “The two characters are complete opposites and opposites attract.” Adds Sanaya Irani, who plays Khushi, “The fact that it is a young love story has attracted a lot of young viewers.”
Often we’re confused whether we’re watching a love story or a religious channel since so many people in the serial visit temples, fast and pray with such unflagging piety. And sometimes we wonder if we are seeing a family saga after all, since some episodes have so little of the love story and so much of the family (a scheming vamp and mean aunt are already on the scene...so is a pet goat, by the way). And at other times, we wonder if the directors go to sleep while directing some episodes, because the pace is so slow, it would make a tortoise look like a hare. Oh and by the way, whatever happened to that office?
Once Upon A Time
Kahin To Hoga
This Balaji serial, which ended in 2007, became an instant hit due to its lead pair and their chemistry. Everyone fell in love with Rajeev Khandelwal who played the hero.
This was the ’80s version of a Mills & Boon story about a successful, snooty film director and a newcomer in the industry. He’s nasty to her, just to hide his feelings.
This charming 1984 remake of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Trishna was also the acting debut of actress Kittu Gidwani. But would it seem dated now?
Astitva - Ek Prem Kahani
Shown on Zee, it was the story of a doctor who falls in love with a younger man. The show ended in 2006, and is remembered for its strong female lead.
From HT Brunch, September 11
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