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Friday, October 23, 2020

Kasauti Hindi GEC Ki: Why do Hindi TV shows remain stuck in a time warp of mediocrity?

Why is it impossible to imagine a show that can be engaging without pandering to the same sexist stereotypes or glorifying suffering as a means of ennoblement for women?

Written by Saraswati Datar | Updated: October 16, 2020 6:04:33 pm
indian tv showsStills from Kasautii Zindagii Kay and Saath Nibhaana Saathiya 2. (Photos: Express Archive and PR Handout)

I felt instantly ancient when I realised that a show I watched as a teenager, Kasautii Zindagii Kay was being rebooted with a new set of actors playing star-crossed lovers Anurag and Prerna. Kasautii Zindagii Kay, edition 1, was a very successful show which ran for seven years and saw both protagonists marry each other and other people multiple times as they played a game of choose the correct spouse while still pining for each other.

As I caught up with clips from the last episode of the Kasautii Zindagii Kay reboot, a frightening thought struck me. If a show I watched almost 20 years ago is being remade today with virtually no changes to the characters, storyline or the central conflict of the story, does that mean content on Hindi GEC channels is stuck in a time warp? Are we merely regurgitating ideas from a decade ago and calling it creativity?

If I had gone into a coma in the year 2000 or even 2010, woken up alone in a room with a TV in 2020 (like poor wanton eating Sanjay Dutt) and turned it on, I wouldn’t realise that any time had passed at all. Schemes, sadism, sindoor and sanskaar, it’s all still in place. How did we allow the constraints of daily entertainment to compromise the quality of content?

Take the new season of Bigg Boss for example. To be fair this is an international format that has been recreated now in hundreds of languages around the world, but in India, it has always seen multiple instances of physical assault, body shaming, slut-shaming and even threats like #Metoo kar dungi (I’ll put a #Metoo accusation against you) which reduced a powerful global movement to threatening a guy with a possibly false charge of sexual assault. Yet the show is back for the 14th season, and the same tropes of toxic masculinity, aggression and passive harassment continue to play out, singlehandedly dragging the IQ of audiences lower each day.

A few days ago, actors Sidharth Shukla and Gauahar Khan, who are ‘Toofani Seniors’ on Bigg Boss 14, were heard discussing how his mother went into denial when he told her about his girlfriend. “I used to repeatedly tell her that she is my girlfriend, but my mom was just not ready to accept that hua chokra jawaan re (the boy has come of age).” Is it just me or did anyone else have a déjà vu to Hardik Pandya’s infamous comments on Koffee with Karan? This is the same Siddharth who had last season called his fellow contestants naukrani (maid), and even shamed Rashami Desai by saying none of the women in his family were like her. Yet he has been brought back because good looking sexist bad boy means great ratings.

On the brand-new fiction show Shaadi Mubarak, a woman declares proudly she is a housewife, only to add that she didn’t need to work because she was respected by her kids for being a homemaker. Is that really the only reason women are seeking employment or demanding equal pay and opportunities for decades now? Because they raised shitty kids? Or take the case of Saath Nibhaana Saathiya which inspired several cooker and chana related memes recently. The second season of the show is here, and according to the promos, the male employer takes his female domestic worker’s haath (hand in marriage) to give her saath (support). Why does this woman need – A) A man to save her and B) marriage to improve her lot in life? At what point are we going to stop creating these women with Cinderella syndrome who are just waiting to be rescued or emancipated through matrimony?

But while we can criticise and laugh at content on television, this seeming stagnation in content is also reflective of a society that has been unable to overcome its biases and regressive attitudes. The recent controversy over a Tanishq ad being forced to go off air is a glaring reminder of our continuing religious divide. A fairness cream being rebranded as ‘glow and lovely’ instead of being taken off the market speaks to the fact that we may never get over our preference for a fair complexion.

While no one expects television shows to be preachy, there has to be a middle ground between entertainment and sermonising to audiences. Why is it impossible to imagine a show that can be engaging without pandering to the same sexist stereotypes or glorifying suffering as a means of ennoblement for women? Shows that don’t create binaries of sanskaari and scum women, or don’t pass off sexism and toxic masculinity as humour or ‘men are like that only’.

I only hope that 20 years from now when my daughter turns on the television, she is not ambushed by yards of chiffon, patriarchal women, gallons of tears and chauvinistic men. I hope she doesn’t encounter stories and people who have willingly suspended creativity and organised multiple halwa eating get-togethers while they distribute certificates of domestic proficiency to the women in their homes. That is Kasauti Hindi GEC Ki.

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