Exit Role Model,Enter Girl Next Door

This year television's ideal bahus made way for women we are familiar with.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | New Delhi | Published: January 1, 2012 11:00 pm

This year television’s ideal bahus made way for women we are familiar with.

What would Parvati make of Priya? What would Priya,for that matter,make of Parvati? Parvati,TV’s ideal bahu with her prim bun of hair,the sindoor emblazoning her status,the perfect pleats of her saree matching the equanimity of her demeanour. Parvati,the protector and the preserver of the Aggarwal parivar.

Priya’s long hair,on the other hand,falls untidily about her face,her saree spills off her body as if it has a will of its own and she giggles insanely; she’s 30-something,carefree,recently married to a very large Mr Ram Kapoor and doesn’t care much for the Kapoor clan. Priya tipples and sings Bollywood songs; Parvati sang bhajans at aarti and drank water only,always neat.

A funny thing has happened to Sakshi Tanwar as she went from the first decade of this century to the next: the actress who played the straitlaced and self righteous Parvati bhabhi of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki is now the bubbly,wide-eyed wife of Bade Achche Lagte Hain. They’re about four years apart,on the screen,and no two women could be more unlike: if they met,they’d disapprove of one another,instantly. Come to think of it,Parvati would sniff at many of today’s leading ladies and they are likely to stick out their tongues at her.

Yesterday’s bahus have been replaced by today’s betis and behnas,determined young women with an eye on something more than the bridal jewellery. Preeto is struggling to support her family,child bride Anandi is now a social activist (Balika Vadhu),Sandhya is a wife who wants be an IAS officer (Diya aur Baati); there’s Maanvi and Jeevika,orphaned sisters struggling up the ladder of life (Ek Hazaron Mein Meri Behna Hain),and Simar,a mother who wants to be a dancing queen (Simar ka Sasural),there’s even Phulwa,the revengeful but suffering dacoit.

TV soaps in 2011 showcased a new leading lady — and the men in her life. They’re young now,often single but on the verge of marriage to the person of their choice. TV entertainment has suddenly grown very romantic,recognising perhaps the demographics of a youthful country. So kitchen politics have made way for marriage manoeuvers. In 2000-2010,TV was littered with married women or widows and generations of a family under one roof between the ages of 20-something and over 150 years old (remember Kyunki’s Baa?).

Now the lead characters range from 10 to 35 years old and even the older ones are in love (Parichay,Kuch Toh Log Kehnge). The joint family is the site of action,but the focus is somewhere else,often in the young couple’s bedroom,although sex is still a bad three-letter word. The women,however,are not always retiring for the night dressed to attend a wedding. That’s because some of them have just come back from work. Yes,the characters,now do have professions (Parichay).

Women have their own families too (Sasural Genda Phool,Bade Achche…,Saas Bina Sasural),not just their husband’s parivar. Many even have friends to turn to in a bad moment (Kuch Toh Log Kahenge).

A new generation of viewers,possibly more open to experimentation in the era of internet and social media,has seen the unconventional become the commonplace: Dr Nidhi is in love with Dr Ashutosh,18 years older (a remake of Pakistani tele-serial Dhoop Kinare); an openly gay man is a leading character (Maryada Lekin Kab Tak).

The themes are of love and then marriage,or the other way around; of young people finding their way around relations with the opposite sex — not the revenge-avenge model of saas-bahu soaps. If earlier characters were archetypal,now they are individualistic with defining characteristics,like Ram Kapoor’s fondness for food. The experiment with rural India as the backdrop of serials two years ago,especially on Colors,has given way to urban settings like Bhopal,Lucknow,Amritsar.

Another departure: the reigning Romeos are not the flashy young men with workout bodies but a fat Ram Kapoor (sorry,but there is no other adjective for him) or the motley band of brothers in Saas Bina Sasural. The melodrama has somewhat abated: the loud music,the camera acrobatics; the constant repetitive close-ups are fewer,perhaps recognising that love cannot be treated like a circus.

Serials may have become quieter,but reality shows are more boisterous. Bigg Boss is the venue for scheming women; Masterchef India has stiff competition. But the real drama (and melodrama) of 2011 played out at Anna Hazare’s Ramlila Maidan and on news channels.

Which is not to say Parvati’s petticoat regiment has disbanded entirely. It still has recruits and thriving saas-bahus — Gopi in Saathiya is the perfect woman,opposed by the lovely Rashi with a heart as black as the thick kohl lining her eyes. The popular Archana in Pavitra Rishta started out as a middle class girl looking to support her family,but a scheming mother-in-law with an evil tick to one eye has reduced her to long-suffering tears.

Give us Priya’s giggle any day.

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