The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gandhis by another name vs Viranis
- Shobhaa De's reality show

Mumbai, April 20: Will the Gandhis ' if called by a different name and behaving somewhat differently ' be able to beat the Viranis in the TRP game'

Zee TV and writer-columnist Shobhaa De seem hopeful that India's first family ' or a family that resembles that family very closely ' can lend itself aptly to the kind of plot charged with 'family drama' and intrigue that has stayed at the top of the television ratings charts.

Zee launched Sarrkkar ' Rishton ki Ankahi Kahani today, a serial written by De about a woman chief minister with short hair and a spartan way of wearing the sari who shares uncanny resemblances with Sonia Gandhi's life and times.

Played by actor Divya Seth, Priyamvada Veer Pratap Singh doesn't sport an Italian accent. But from being a 'mother' and a 'wife', with a fuller hairstyle and more colourful clothes, she is plunged into a political career after her husband ' in a white kurta pyjama ' is assassinated.

The channel and De do not say that the serial is based on the Gandhi family. While Zee calls the soap 'a high-voltage family drama set against a political background', De defends it as a take on reality.

'We are aware of the dramatic value of contemporary politics,' said De, speaking at the launch. 'We feel India is ready enough to tackle a representation of contemporary history.'

The resemblances with the Gandhi family do not end with Priyamvada's figure, but extend to her two sons, Kunal and Karan, played by Ronit Roy and Rohit Roy. But here, the viewer would encounter what looks like a complex Freudian fantasy, involving the sons becoming their father and uncle, quite literally.

As the father-Rajiv figure (played by Rajat Kapoor, who looks very Rajiv) is felled early enough in the serial by the assassin's bullets, the Sonia figure gets the hot seat, but her two sons begin to resemble Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi.

The elder, Kunal, is set on doing something big in IT, in Bangalore, away from politics, and will not compromise his 'vision' of the future. The younger, Karan, is a brash young man in a hurry who wants to revamp his country and believes that the 'end justifies the means'.

Asked if Karan's character was based on Sanjay Gandhi's, De said it was an assumption that was being made. But she conceded: 'Fiction does borrow from real life.'

As the plot progresses, the Sonia-figure, too, seems to morph into the other, more-feared Gandhi who had led the Congress. Priyamvada starts sporting a white streak, a la Indira Gandhi, in her wig.

One big difference remains: the characters really do not seem to have enough to do with the nation's history. Priyamvada rules over a hypothetical state called Vishaal Pradesh and over a hypothetical party called Jan Abhiyan. But the real site of power for her seems to be the family; the real battles ' the battles between parental authority and children's choice.

So will this become another saas-bahu saga, featuring a femme fatale as the matriarch, the queen of intrigue, official ruler of a state, but actually obsessed with holding on to her small family rights' Sarrkkar, the name of the serial, is spelt with two 'R's and two 'K's, and the tag line is 'Rishton Ki Ankahi Kahani'.

Is Sarrkkar not following in the footsteps of another channel that has earned its place in the sun with the Viranis of Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and various other sets of female in-laws'

The channel says the spelling is incidental. De says the serial is about the dynamics of power. The viewers will decide the matter.

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