Watching any of the serials on any of the general entertainment channels (GECs) is probably a good way to build character. Not only must you have nerves of steel, you also need high endurance levels, plus the ability to grit your teeth, screw your courage to the sticking point and get on with the task at hand (in this case, watching the serial).
Which is why I can never see a serial for too long. I see a few episodes when it starts, then stop (soon as I start feeling ill, which happens usually in the space of the first five minutes, but then I grit my teeth etc). I return to the same serial after a break (as extended a break as I can manage, short of never), hoping against hope that things might have changed for the better. Not a chance — Mayawati might stop building statues and Mallika Sherawat might start wearing burqas, but our serials will never change, not in the foreseeable future, and not so foreseeable future either, for that matter.
Star Plus has recently launched a new serial — Tere Mere Sapne. I saw a couple of episodes and — well, let’s just say that if I were given a choice between migrating to the Arctic without a warm coat and watching Tere Mere Sapne regularly, I’d opt for the former. The serial is based in a village, and a poor, innocent young bride has just been falsely accused of infidelity. That sets the stage for the mother-in-law to throw her out of the house, even as she (the mother-in-law, I mean) keeps bellowing about her parivaar’s atma-samman, maan, maryada etc etc. Her home is pure as a mandir, she yells (and she is clearly its loudspeaker; no one else in her parivaar utters a word. In fact, they don’t even move — everyone stands around like statues, the only thing moving non-stop is the mother-in-law’s mouth).
Things aren’t particularly cheerful in Ammaji’s house in Na Aana Is Des Lado or in Dadisa’s abode in Balika Vadhu (Colors) either. Or in most other serials. Everywhere, the weeping woman is centrestage, while the wings are occupied by sundry other characters (both men and women) who ensure that the suffering continues without pause.
It’s a bit of a tragedy actually. Once the era of Ekta Kapoor’s saas-bahu soaps ended last year, all of us heaved a sigh of relief, certain that there was going to be a New Age in the world of TV entertainment. Sure enough, a new kind of soap appeared — set in villages (unlike Ekta’s city backdrops), often featuring characters from poor, downtrodden communities (unlike Ekta’s rich business families), and with a strong social message to boot.
How refreshing, we gushed.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. The new serials are as different from the older lot as the BJP is from the RSS. The setting and background might be different, but at their core, they are the same. Ekta’s soaps were negative and unpleasant. So are the present soaps. Her saas-bahu soaps were about the unceasing suffering of her central women characters. The new soaps are no different. Ekta was slammed for being regressive and ultra-traditional. Today’s soaps are equally regressive; indeed they are centuries old when it comes to the kind of values and traditions they uphold.
It’s the same old wine, only the bottle is a bit different. So why do the entertainment channels show these depressing serials? Television executives will tell you it’s because audiences like seeing them. These are the serials which get the best ratings, they say. So what can they do?
I have no idea. But I know what I have to do: grit my teeth etc and keep watching them. I'm just thankful for the breaks.