Laxmi Sangara was just a year old when her parents married her off to a boy in Jodhpur. She grew up believing that marriage was her fate and came to accept it. Things changed for her when she saw her favourite onscreen character,Anandi from Balika Vadhu ask for a divorce. Inspired by Anandi,Sangara moved court and annulled her marriage. Recently,in the shows 1,000th episode,Sangara was honoured for her brave move. Anandi had to move on and find a new life. Its a slow but sure change, says Purnendu Shekhar,writer of
Balika Vadhu. Surekha Sikri,who plays the role of Dadisa in the soap,is also proud of this progressive move. This is not just Anandis story; many such women are trapped in situations like these, she says.
Indian television,which dealt with the saas-bahu sagas for a long time,is now talking about issues such as widow remarriage,child marriage,child sexual abuse and womens empowerment. Call it a race for better television rating points or simply an effort to make an impact,the results are there for all to be seen. Zee TVs Punarvivah recently sparked off a debate on remarriage,Afsar Bitiya talks about educating a girl child while Phir Subah Hogi is about protecting them from exploitation by Thakurs in Bundelkhand. Stars frontrunner Diya Aur Baati Hum is the story of a middle-class girl,Sandhya,who dreams of becoming an IPS officer. Aamir Khan is contributing to these changes in a big way as his show Satyamev Jayate focusses on womens rights and other humanitarian concerns.
Relationships continue to dominate the small screen but with a twist in the tale. Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha,Kya Hua Tera Vada and Bade Acche Lagte Hain have redefined relationships and marriage. Kuch Toh Log Kahenge is about a young female doctors decision to marry a much older man.
Its high time we broke the rules and conveyed to the audience that television programming is not regressive in India, says Prashant Bhatt,fiction head,programming,Colors. India is changing in a lot of ways and so are its people. There is awareness among Indians today and they have become more open minded towards various issues. We want to reflect that, he says. Still,Bhatt makes sure that he understands the concerns of the audiences before introducing a new subject in any of their shows. Our focus groups are spread across India and we take their views seriously, he says.
Television shows are dominated by women characters and now they are at the forefront of addressing women-oriented issues. Sugni (Gulki Joshi) in Phir Subah Hogi,is clear that she will not follow the age-old tradition and refuses to do the Raai dance before the Thakurs. Our aim was to showcase a young,free-spirited bold woman who makes her own choices, reasons Sukesh Motwani,Fiction Programming Head,Zee TV. This is also taking forward the core principle of the channel,Umeed Se Saje Zindagi and,in turn,helping womens empowerment. Motwani has decided to engage more viewers by asking them to blog on issues. In Afsar Bitiya,he has tied up with Competition Success Review magazine to create a counselling committee to help students in competitive exams.
The diminishing gap between the first and second-tier cities has also resulted in the mature television programming. The audience in Baroda is as exposed as the audience in Delhi. This makes it easier for channels to talk about difficult issues like adoption,remarriage,caste system,education of girls and dowry in the middle class conservative set up, Bhatt says.
It isnt just the makers who are happy about these changes. Actors too seem to be equally excited. Shows are moving from scheming mothers-in-law and conniving daughters-in-law to topics that are fresh and strike a chord with viewers, states actor Varun Badola,who plays the role of Thakur in Phir Subah Hogi. The TRPs,however,are not always very encouraging these shows bag points between one and three while Balika Vadhu and Diya Aur Baati Hum get maximum response with ratings touching five points in a good week. But channel heads seem unfazed. Like the characters in their serials,they,too,live on hope.