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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Is the ‘regressive’ small screen changing? TV’s women have their say on Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day, we talk to television actors, directors and producers whether the ‘saas-bahu’ soaps are becoming more progressive and attempting to leave their regressive roots behind.

Written by Sana Farzeen | Mumbai |
March 8, 2021 6:10:29 pm
indiawali maa, anupamaa, imlieAs per the women of TV, the small screen is slowly stepping towards women progressive content.

Television, by far, has been the medium of the women, by the women and for the women. Starting off with Shanti and Tara to the more recent Tulsis and Parvatis, producers have always put women right, front and centre when creating content for the small screen. Even if a show is launched as a love story, it ends up being narrated from the female protagonist’s point of view. It is a travesty then that a medium so powerful continues to kowtow to patriarchy and espouse regressive ideas about the perfect ‘beti’ and ‘bahu’. There are neat boxes that every show has to tick before it can screen into your homes and sprint towards the TRP heaven. What ails TV then, and especially content that is being created primarily for women, by women?

Creators, unsurprisingly, point straight towards the audience when asked that thorny question. They reveal their shows are a mirror of the society, and one has to stick to what’s happening around them. They say that instead of showing a ‘superwoman’, they are depicting aspirations and hopes of everyday characters and their stories. And while doing so, one has to show them going through struggles, so that viewers can then find solace in their victory, whenever it happens.

Writer Bhavna Vyas (Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai and Anupamaa) says it is ironic how people, while eating food cooked by their mothers, complain seeing a woman in the kitchen on TV shows. While no one will question themselves, their friends or family, it’s always easier to point a finger at their screen. The writer also mentioned that serials have to play out regressive content in order to show progression. She said, “At the end of the day, we have our women taking a stand and fighting for her rights. And when we, as a society are not perfect, how does one expect TV shows to show content through rose tinted glasses. We have to strike a balance. What’s most important is how we promote bringing a change in our lives and people around us for the better.”

Producer Kinnari Mehta, from Jay Productions, believes showing a world which is different would be ‘farcical’. And as makers, she says, their responsibility lies in showing reality with a subtle message that can help bring about a change.

 

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A post shared by Kinnari Mehtaa (@kinnarimehtaa)

 

Mehta is also of the opinion that today shows are slowly inching towards women progressive content. “Our show Indiawali Maa helped women realise they could turn entrepreneur even at the age of 50. Maddam Sir is about women police officers fighting the most heinous crimes in the city. Not just us but there are other co-producer friends who are also pushing the boundary trying to show women in a different light. Television gets called out because of the dramatisation that happens. But we are in a medium where we need to attract eyeballs. On one side when domestic violence is shown, serials have even propagated the thought of widow remarriage. When we take up a social issue or a cause around woman, we have to show the regressive side and then how to end it. Finding a solution and imparting the new belief makes TV a medium to still reckon with,” said Kinnari Mehta.

Rupal Patel, who played the iconic character of Kokila in Saathiya, thinks along similar lines. For her the journey of a woman from being the damsel in distress to becoming the protector in the family is what should be the learning point. In an earlier interview to indianexpress.com, she shared, “In Saathiya, we had an uneducated girl, who had no knowledge of life and society, was mentored by her mother-in-law. If we showed her very smart from day one, we couldn’t have taken the story ahead. This girl who washed a laptop with water is sent to a school, trained to handle business and get over that ‘bechari’ image. I feel that was so progressive.”

She also mentioned that while people do not talk about it there are many in the society, who stop their bahus from working or wearing certain clothes. “We present their stories and showcase the journey from wrong to right,” added Patel.

Sudha Chandran, who played the vicious Ramola Sikand in Kahiin Kisi Roz added that television today cannot be termed regressive as there are many shows that push the envelope. “Today, I don’t think you can call small screen regressive. It was when we used to do dailies. Now, there are so many relatable shows. I really enjoy watching Anupamaa, Imlie, Namak Ishq Da and Kyu Uthe Dil Chhod Aaya. These are stories that you want to sit and watch. Also, these actors are so natural and make it look so real. There is no fabrication or over the top drama.”

Not just on screen, off it also, TV is a woman’s medium. Women producers like Ekta Kapoor and Rashami Sharma have made an empire for themselves as have many others. Bhavna Vyas, who has created characters such as Naira, Seerat and Anupamaa, credits her producer Rajan Shahi for giving her the liberty to shape them. She said, “It might feel weird but when a boss is giving full freedom to his woman employee, it does bring a sense of relief, even in today’s time. It is liberating and that helps me write better. Also, given I come from a family where I was pampered and never treated differently, does reflect in my work.”

 

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A post shared by Bhavna Vyas (@bhavnawritervyas)

As these ladies share there is no differentiating between men and women off camera, Kinnari Mehta adds that at the back of the mind, people do divide roles. “It has been two decades for us in the business and I don’t know how the message has gone ahead. People call me for everything related to content, creative and storytelling, and call my husband Jay for anything to do with finance and administration. That’s how we have kind of beautifully divided our work,” she shared with a laugh.

But does that disparity affect her? No, as Kinnari says that she has never enjoyed money matters. “Also, one should focus on what’s one good at. You cannot be nitpicking on everything,” the producer mentioned.

As readers would know, the audience has been moving to the web for its more ‘relatable content’. So what’s next for TV, will we see a change or will it be a long race to see women being portrayed in a better light?

Kinnari Mehta mentioned that while housewives too are watching streaming platform at their leisure, television continues to be a family viewing experience. And that’s where the difference of content will always come in.

“However, people today demand finite series which has a precise story. The audience is in a hurry and wants a complete story than waiting for 700-800 episodes to play out. And that has also given rise to stronger women and better writing. Also, the world is changing, and as I already mentioned, when there is progression in society, the same will be portrayed on screen too,” she added.

Echoing her thought, Bhavna Vyas feels that the change might be slow but it’s happening. “There was a time when TRPs badhti thi jab bhi heroines roti thi (ratings would shoot up when the protagonist would cry). Now people enjoy watching her take a stand. They have also accepted that a TV bahu can have a career, and she can balance both well. They like it when she wants education, or dreams of an ambition. And I think things will only get better with time,” Vyas concluded.

On that note, and the hope, cheers to the women who made television what it is today.

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