Call it coincidental, ironic, even downright wilful. Television entertainment after 2000 introduced us to many Gujarati/ Sindhi families, including the Viranis in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Now that we have a prime minister from Gujarat, new TV serials have moved eastwards. Or, as the title of a new show put it, Tere Shehar Mein: Paris se Banaras (Star Plus) (?!).
Well, maybe not Paris but certainly &TV, the latest entertainment channel launched by Zee TV this Monday, has found something “entertaining” in places other than Mumbai/ Gujarat: Begusarai (Bihar), Kanpur (Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai), Ujjain, Bhopal (Bhagyalaxmi), and Gangaa, which takes us back to the Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi. There’s also Razia Sultan in the Delhi Sultanate, looking like a fairytale castle straight out of Walt Disney — or should we say Toonz Animation India, because in Modi’s Bharat Mata, it’s all about make (believe) India? Goodbye Viranis, hello Shuklas and Mathurs. Did this geographical change follow Narendra Modi from Ahmedabad to Delhi via Banaras?
&TV likes to travel around the countryside. Why? Perhaps that question should feature on its flagship programme, India Poochega Sabse Shaana Kaun. Shah Rukh Khan, the conductor of ceremonies, takes us on an imaginary tour of India on a train. Contestants (two teams of two) halt it when they want and find themselves confronted by four people, each of whom has a question for them. They must choose the one they think looks like asking them the easiest question, give the correct answer and hopefully ascend the “Koti ki Choti” for a prize of Rs 1 crore.
SRK informs us rather grandly that the quiz show is “by the people, for the people”. Be that as it may, he is its undisputed star. How could it be otherwise? Who can compete with Shah Rukh other than Shah Rukh himself, unless it is Amitabh Bachchan (Kaun Banega Crorepati)? SRK horses around too much and KBC is the better quiz show.
Back in the Delhi Sultanate of Altamash, everyone is searching for young Razia, who is out playing. Her chosen sport is to beard a lion in his den — except that it’s a tiger. Ignore such niceties. Knife in hand, she jumps from rock to rock, easy as skipping stairs. The tiger obediently follows at a respectful distance (she’s
a princess after all) until she somersaults over him and, as she hangs in midair, the obliging animal leaps up so that she can cut off a few strands of his hair. Triumph hers, she races out of the den to safety. What can one say but please welcome Razia, supergirl?
Bhoomi is a modern girl in Ujjain whose parents, or at least her father, believe in Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Bhagyalaxmi). She completes her graduation in engineering and is the first student from her college to be offered a job with an MNC in Indore. Unfortunately, her grandmama, like all good grandmamas, wants to marry her off. When the serial opens, that’s what she’s doing to Bhoomi’s sister: marrying her off to a family in Bhopal. With the exception of Bhoomi, the characters in Bhagyalaxmi are familiar to us from other shows. They could move from one show to another without the slightest ripple of difference.
Gangaa has shades of Balika Vadhu (Colors). When we meet young Gangaa, she is about to set off for her gauna. Her widowed father tearfully accompanies the spritely child bride to Banaras.
At the famous ghats, everything that could go wrong for Gangaa goes wrong: she loses her father and bridegroom to death in a stampede, while her father-in-law disowns her as “dead”. The ghat scenes of the stampede and evening aarti are straight out of Bollywood. Our TV producers still need to understand the difference between the two mediums.
Begusarai has a similar cinematic feel to it with director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s involvement. Too early to say more since we’ve only seen the Thakurs living it up thus far.
By the way, Balika Vadhu (Colors) has taken a leap forward and now we watch Anandi’s daughter Nandini being kidnapped. She is destined to become a child bride like her mother. What is it about child brides we find so fascinating?