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Kitchen in, workplace out in soaps

Mumbai, May 14: Just as the Indian woman was stepping into the workplace, women’s liberation was hijacked by the saas-bahus.

An overwhelming number of the small screen population today is female, married ' or at least “traditional” ' wears the bindi, and young. A research by a media research agency analyses the contribution of the saas-bahus to this changed demography of the small screen.

According to the research conducted over more than a decade by the New Delhi-based Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), there were 514, 385 and 400 women characters in 1995, 2002 and 2003-2004, respectively, across channels in prime time soaps.

In 1995, the channels looked at were DD I and II (Metro) and Zee TV, while later they were DD I and II, Zee, Sony Entertainment Television and STAR Plus.

Working women, 36 per cent of the total female population, dominated the small screen in 1995, while homemakers made up 27 per cent; by 2002, homemakers constituted 61 per cent of the population, even as working women shrank to a mere 21 per cent, says the research.

“Television in the early ’90s ' the serial Tara was an example ' saw women entering the professional sphere, engaged in diverse occupations and a significant amount of time being spent in the office. The entry of the saas-bahu serials saw the trend reverse with women preoccupied with their large, extended families, rituals and celebrations and trying their best to safeguard family values,” says CFAR.

“A family drama like Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, monitored in 2002, showed as high as 73 per cent homemakers, 21 per cent working women and only 6 per cent students,” it adds. “During the nineties, the women were expected to be superwomen,” says Akhila Sivadas of CFAR. “But later, as the saas-bahu serials became well-entrenched, the homemaker began to be privileged again.”

Then Ekta Kapoor and her ilk effected a sharp turn in the female profile ' towards extreme youth.

“By 2003-04, students took the lead with 36 per cent representation.” In 1995, they were 10 per cent of the total women; in 2002, they were 8.6 per cent.

“There was also a significant increase in the presence of young people since soaps were trying to consciously reach out to the younger audiences. Serials like Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kasautii Zindagi Kay took 20-year leaps and brought in the next generation of characters and their dilemmas,” says CFAR.

The use of traditional symbols like bindi, mangalsutra, bangles and sindoor has also increased over the last 10 years. The research analysed over 300 episodes of serials. It doesn’t go down well with actors, who are neither the right age or gender.

“This is not the time for actors like us, from a theatre background, to be on television any more,” rues comic actor Javed Khan, a veteran of serials like Nukkad. “To survive in television today, you have to be a woman and glossy. I am neither.”

But with the popularity of the K-serials unchecked ' STAR says their recent peak ratings are comparable to those one year ago ' there seems to be no end of the “traditionalisation” in sight.

Another indicator of change is the lifestyle factor. In 1995, 252 episodes (126 hours) were monitored on DD I and II (Metro), Bangalore DD, Zee and SUN TV and of the total 1,900 scenes, 43 per cent were in luxurious homes ' sprawling bungalows, old-style havelis, even apartments with the drawing rooms, bedrooms and lawns being the most commonly shown space. But with more working women (predominantly businesspersons, media or ad/PR professionals), the workplace, often luxurious, was also considered important.

In 2003-2004, 76 episodes were monitored across DD I and II, Sony, STAR Plus and Zee with 650 scenes. The upper-class home occupied 50 per cent of the scenes. The office space drastically came down.

The outdoor, public spaces increased, occupying 28 per cent of the total scenes. The high presence of school/college campuses (11 per cent of the total) denoted the presence of young people in the serials.

The ads showed similar curves. “In the first years of consumerism, the stress was on women’s products,” but later, they got used to the goodies.

In 1995, about 35 per cent of the products advertised were soaps and shampoos; then came hair oil and creams at 14 per cent. Soft drinks, food and tea followed at 11 per cent.

In 2004, soft drinks, food and tea were at 30 per cent, and hair oil and creams at 15 per cent with the soaps and shampoos slipping to 14 per cent.

News is not much different from serials. During the 2004 elections, issues related to women and development found much less space compared to the elections in 1998 and 1999.

In 1998, women’s issues constituted not the very substantial figure of 2.3 per cent of coverage in news and current affairs programmes.

In 1999, it came down to 1.9 per cent and less than 1 per cent in 2004. Local governance issues occupied 13 per cent, 4.7 per cent and 1.1 per cent of the total coverage in these years, respectively.

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