Most Hindi serials fail to reflect political and social upheavals outside the home.
Those of us who begin the week by at least pretending we have more important tasks to perform than to watch the TV screen all day missed the man with the black mane bounce out England. Lordly Ishant Sharma and “Sir” Ravindra Jadeja helped India win the second Test between the two countries on Monday evening IST. In vain did we search for highlights of the famous victory before or during dinner. It wasn’t till many people had gone to bed/ sleep — 11 pm — that Star Sports replayed how India ruled England, if only for a short while.
The pleasure of watching the match on high definition is to see the elements so well defined that you can pick one blade of grass from the other. Well, almost. Certainly, you could see every grey blade of hair on Kapil Dev’s head as he celebrated India’s victory on air alongside Rahul Dravid, whose every furrow of concentration on the brow — and if you’re Dravid that means very many — was clearly visible.
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Ditto Amitabh Bachchan’s face as he contorts with pain and stiffness when his neurological disorder (Huntington’s disease?) catches him unawares (Yudh, Sony). It takes masterly control over the muscles to achieve the likeness of a man suffering from such a condition but Bachchan does it effortlessly, if rather too often. And apologies for incorrectly identifying Mumbai as the city of Yudh when it is of course Delhi — although the dark, grim city silhouettes could belong anywhere.
Yudh is a family drama wrapped in a contemporary and topical social and political context. There’s the unscrupulous politician, the corrupt police commissioner with a builder-mining angle to the plot that gets embroiled with Naxalites. It’s all rather convoluted and confusing — the standout flaw of the series thus far — but Yudh is not just all about family, husbands-wives-relatives. Much of it relates to the world beyond the home — that is refreshing. Anil Kapoor’s 24 did the same, but this is Amitabh Bachchan and where Amitabh Bachchan goes, others tend to follow.
The question is whether Yudh will lead entertainment channels and producers to create serials that go beyond the parivar. Most Hindi serials are family melodramas. Full stop. It’s as though the front door of the house and its windows firmly shut out the world of 2014 instead of welcoming it in.
The Pakistani serials we see on Zindagi are more open. Two series, Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Aunn Zara, have completed their runs, which is wonderful — Hindi soaps only end when the lead actors leave, say after a 1,000 episodes? They deal with the themes of love marriage, rich-poor divide, modernity, professional women’s lives, etc. Other serials such as Kash Mein Teri Beti Na Hoti, Kitni Girhain Baqi Hain, and the more recent Noor Pur Ki Rani and Maat, tackle similar themes with more emphasis on the oppression of women. Most of these serials are based on novels and short stories written by Pakistani authors (like Umera Ahmad) or on well-known books, such as Daphne De Maurier’s Rebecca (Noor Pur Ki Rani).
This gives them an edge over Hindi serials. However, it’s interesting that while the treatment in Pakistani serials is low-key and aims for realism, much of Pakistan’s current reality is shut out. Zindagi Gulzar Hai shifts between Karachi and Islamabad but remains largely within the homes of the main characters, whose conversations are personal — there’s no hint of the public turmoil, the political tensions, the sense of insecurity in a country wracked by terrorism and violence.
Hindi serials are equally oblivious to political, economic or social upheavals. Read or watch the daily news and then watch the daily soaps — the chasm between them is ocean-wide and deep. To be aspirational is good; to give viewers relief from the sordidness, squalor or grimness of their lives is laudable, and many serials do reflect the feudal nature of our society. But this is portrayed within a family context. To ignore the world beyond when “www” and social media have brought it home, to dress everything up into a costume drama where most characters appear as period pieces, is to be completely and wilfully blind.
That is why Yudh, for all its apparent weaknesses, must succeed. How long will television content be a gift-wrapped doll’s house?