Pitfalls of Indian television
Television serials showcased on Doordarshan seem to be a distant dream compared to the banal nonsense that is served today.
When I was 5 years old, I was motivated to become a cop. India's first Director General of Police (DGP), Kanchan Chaudhary's character essayed by her actor-sister Kavita in the television serial 'Udaan', was my inspiration. I wanted to fight the bad guys, protect the weak and save the day. I was always the hero in my own fantastical stories. By the time I was 10 years old, I had decided that journalism would be my calling. Mandira Bedi's Shanti paved the way for what I hope will certainly be my lifelong journey.
With access to limited programming while growing up, we probably didn't realise how good we had it. Every TV show had a distinct quality that set it apart. Whether it was Sunday mythology, thanks to Ramayana and Mahabharata, or mysteries surrounding the escapades of detectives, Byomkesh Bakshi and Karamchand, there was something to cater to everyone. The entire family enjoyed rib-tickling comedies such as 'Dekh Bhai Dekh', and 'saas bahu' serials at that time meant hilarity of the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law duo of 'Tu Tu Main Main'. We were indeed privileged to have grown up with this array of shows.
Satellite channels and cable TV brought the world to the click of our television remotes, and we were completely spoilt for choice. In the recent decade or so, Indian television, however, has descended into the throes of regressive content. Gone are the days when strong women characters dotted the screen inspiring young adults; gone are the progressive stories breaking the shackles of superstition and stereotype. Today's shows are sprinkled with the likes of 'icchadhari nagins' (something resembling shape shifter women turning into snakes) fighting mongoose on our quietly nested television sets!
The fight to retain TRPs and thereby produce long-running dramas has prompted many a twist and turn to radically modify the original content. These twists in the plot with their dramatic pauses shot and edited from five different angles, coupled with theatrical background music, have ranged from being bizarre to the ridiculous. The serials have often started off all right tackling the issues of joint families, relationship woes etc. But never has Indian television viewing stooped so low as it has in the current drama, 'Pehredaar Piya Ki'.
When a friend first told me about this show, I simply couldn't come to terms with it. Sure, we'll show family dramas where women have to quit jobs if the 'laddoos' don't taste delicious. I have consoled myself that may be some women do dress up even if at home, and may even choose to be branded like cattle with garish 'sindoor and mangal sutra'. After all, it's their choice, and there's nothing greater than free will. But shows such as 'Pehredaar Piya Ki' need to be universally chastised for showing the unthinkable that is also undeniably illegal.
18-year-old Diya marries 10-year-old Ratan Singh in order to protect him from his enemies. Surely, there could have been other ways of protecting a child without sharing his conjugal bed. Ratan is an all-out creep. He stalks the girl, clicks her photos from the strangest angles without consent, and then most preposterously he not only proposes marriage but also dramatically fills her 'maang' with vermilion.
This shocking excuse of a story line legitimises everything that could be wrong with society—child marriage, stalking, perversion, and a pedophilic approach. No surprise then that there's a campaign on Change.org urging Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani to scrap the serial. After all, should only the words 'Gujarat' and 'cow' be censored? If sex and violence are unacceptable to Indian broadcast regulators, how can a show, which has the power to influence young minds, get away with such blatant portrayal of criminal endorsement? Child marriage is still a punishable offence last time I checked.
Needless to say that many of us, who've enjoyed Indian TV serials that were way ahead of their times (think 'Hasratein' and 'Saans') have shied away from the current crop of shows. There have been shows such as Ketan Mehta's Pradhan Mantri or even Powder. But now they are few and far between. For now, Netflix and Amazon Prime are the saving grace, providing the much-needed entertainment that has long vanished from Indian screens. Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, The Man in the High Castle, 13 Reasons Why, even Epic's 'Siyaasat', the list is endless. And if it is 'desi' drama that you still crave for, then switch over to Pakistani TV shows. It may take a while for Indian TV to get its act right.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views are strictly personal.)