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Archive for July, 2012

Before launching into my post, I would like to clarify that nothing I write is intended to insult any particular Indian TV show or its audience. It is also certainly not aimed at passing judgment on anyone’s beliefs or love for Indian rituals or societal norms. I tend to like some Indian shows from time to time, although in the majority of cases, I lose interest sooner or later (explained below) and have no aversion in itself to traditions, provided there is no blind acceptance of them and they are not those customs which are inherently subjugating or discriminatory.

Exclusion clause drafted, I can now proceed to deal with the real purpose behind this post, although many may be forgiven for thinking that the main reason is simply to vent. Be that as it may, one must have certain privileges in one’s own blog, so I choose to exercise any such rights I have at this point.

I have often wondered why Indian TV audiences are obsessed with watching and even worse, actively admiring and enjoying, the very practices and actions or customs that they are likely to have themselves been oppressed by. If anyone thinks oppression is too strong a word, they have not been exposed to life in a traditional Indian household and have not undergone a full spectrum of festivals and major life events such as wedding(s) or death(s). Please do not misunderstand me – there is a lot of good about our customs and festivals. They are underpinned by deep and spiritual thinking, they are meant to empower and enrich, celebrate all aspects of love and life and they are meant to bring families and people closer, not just to each other but to God too (in whatever form He/She is worshipped in).

Where does it all start to go wrong then? I am not sure I have a comprehensive answer to that but a common theme to me seems to stem from the tendency to get so caught up in the mindless ritualism of it all, without actually understanding the rationale behind it. Let us take the institution of marriage for example. I am sure every culture can extol what they like and vice versa about their particular wedding customs but an Indian wedding has to stand in a class apart. Oh, a lot of Indian weddings are great fun, they are colourful and festive, there is great food and lots of laughter. What is not to like? Well, how about the multitude of people who “must” be invited even if the bride and groom neither know, nor like them. Then there are the customs, espoused as the linchpins of an ancient and civilised culture. How is it civilised to glorify in effectively re-enforcing at various stages of the process, the domination the groom and his family have, “as of right”, against the bride’s? It is not so unsophisticated as the demand for dowry in most cases, no, the discrimination is a lot more subtle. The girl is to leave her maternal home, symbolically meant to break all relations with them, culminating in a crying fest having to be enacted when the couple finally leave after the wedding, replete with sad and depressing songs in the background. God save any bride who does not exhibit heart wrenching grief; the “Aunty brigade” will not spare you from their gossip as to your uncouth behaviour for weeks, if not months.

The above is one example in a non-exhaustive list. I know I have departed from the sequence of it all here, but do not even get me started, as if I were to list all that I find essentially offensive to my feminist sensitivities, it would be a novella and not a blog post that would need to be written. The overall point is that whilst the original concept behind the custom may have been laudable as it was coined in a day and age where women were respected and even glorified in their own right, in today’s world, where sexism runs deep, these very acts take on a much more sinister and insulting connotation.

Yet, it seems that these very anachronistic customs and rituals make for prime-time TV for Indian audiences. Melodrama sells, and weddings in particular, are seen as hubs of on-screen romance and wonderful portrayals of our rich culture. So much so that even my one-time favourite mythological drama, Devon Ke Dev Mahadev, feels compelled to abandon its so-far totally unique and ground breaking portrayal of the story of Shiva, one of the most powerful of Indian Gods, to cave in to the endless quest for TRP success. For those who do not know, TRP is essentially a rating criteria that seeks to measure the popularity of a channel or show on any channel, based on its target audience. I am very confident that the majority of audience who watch at least Indian soaps, will be entirely familiar with the terminology.

Sad to see and say, but it seems that when it comes to the TRP race, the masses rule and as the majority of Indian audiences obviously want to see mindless drama, centred either around typical and incredibly tedious “kitchen politics” or run of the mill love stories, loosely based on a Mills & Boons format but significantly modified for Indian audiences. What does “kitchen politics” refer to and modified how, you may ask? Well, the former phrase commonly refers to soaps predominantly portraying family sagas, most of which centre around either an awful mother in law or daughter in law, warring family members and very defined all-out “good” or “evil” characters. There is no room for grey, or any shades of it (do not even think 50 Shades, you would be in a metaphoric different planet!). There is usually a wonderful and angelic and long-suffering woman involved, a macho hero, supporting cast who are either good or bad and seldom in-between and then there is heaps of injustice unleashed on the stoic female lead, who even if she fights back, must do so in the most conforming manner possible. There are cliches too numerous to list here but hopefully, you get the picture? Again, anyone who has ever watched the popular phenomenon of the “K drama”(coined to describe popular TV producer Ekta Kapoor’s various soaps which mostly thrived but were generally along the lines described above), will immediately relate.

Again, I see nothing wrong with light entertainment, I myself have from time to time “dabbled” with watching shows that are simply aimed at entertaining but for me, just cannot engage interest for long. The story always tends to drag on as once a particular “track” garners good ratings, it seems its makers want to eke every second of its success and then promptly proceed to drag the story on to seeming infinity, making me for one lost interest fairly quickly. Also, if you wish to explore deep meaning and wider themes, do so at your peril. Audiences who get attached to the show and their actors will brook no criticism, even any tendered entirely objectively or constructively. Anyone who write against bad scripting or certainly mediocre acting, will be lynched in a manner of speaking by fanatical admirers. Healthy debate is an impossibility and be prepared for a vitriolic barrage of responses should you dare to state any views that are not totally complimentary about a popular show or its cast.

I know I have probably presented a very negative picture. I do not mean to. I genuinely acknowledge that Indian TV is ever evolving and there are various shows, especially recently, that aim to portray different concepts, show injustice in our society and undertake a much more reasoned and informed analysis of practices or norms that are disgraceful. However, it seems that a lot of them start of brilliantly and even manage to keep that up for long periods, but seldom throughout the lifetime of a show. I see it as an eternal tug of war between the desire of makers and their creative teams to deliver thought-provoking subjects and well executed programmes and the need to sustain audience viewership in large numbers, which unfortunately seems to translate into losing quality for quantity in the literal sense.

A lot of people are likely to disagree with this piece, a lot may actually take offence. I will not bother repeating the caveat I started off with but I cannot claim to be sorry for my fairly impassioned but honest views. A lot of what I write originates from a desire to see change and I sincerely hope someday to write that since I wrote this, we are in a different era for Indian television and bad scripting, stereotyped characters and concepts are more the exception than the norm. Unfortunately, that day is not today. I hope at least some enjoy this post and can reassure me that I am not alone in thinking what I have tried to sum up above.

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This is my prayer for you,
I cannot promise it will be heard;
But at the very least it must,
Resonate somewhere in the cosmos.
That it will keep echoing until,
Someday when even a lingering refrain,
Finally reaches the Master of the universe;
Is the hope that keeps me pleading.
May you ever be safe,
From the ills without and within.
Rich be your whole life,
In the way that really counts.
With health and happiness and good sense,
For without those all wealth be meaningless.
There will be times both good and bad,
And may you always prevail through them,
Emerging not just older,
But wiser always for the future.
Know always that no matter where you go,
Or however grown up you get,
Your big sister will forever;
Keep you not just in her thoughts,
But in the discourse she has daily with God.

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Oasis

Where can I hide
From that noise in my head?
Where do I go
To seek true solitude?
For even when I am by myself
There is not a moment’s respite
It is not physical space I need
But the quiet place in my own soul
I know it is there, I have been it’s past occupant
And though it eludes me right now
I have to keep searching
Until I find it again…….

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