Screen Switch

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By Indian tele-serials are breaking stereotypes to become bolder and smarter, says Saimi Sattar
  • Published 8.07.12

It was a moment that TV audiences had been waiting for with bated breath. After months of will they or won’t they ever, Priya and Ram, the middle-age couple of Bade Achhe Lagte Hain on Sony TV, finally consummated their marriage. The earth may or may not have moved, but the social networking sites went ballistic and the episode garnered a million hits on YouTube. And telly-viewers heaved a collective sigh of relief, as the moment had been long awaited.

Switch channels and more recently, Mohan, the young crime reporter of Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha on Colors, has started to fall in love with Megha — and the TRPs have stayed steady at a healthy 2.0 for weeks. It’s a romance with a slight difference, for, Mohan is a young man while she’s ‘Mrs’ Megha Vyas, a widow with two small children.

Welcome to the new world of Indian television. Where the women have gone bolder and are independent-minded and the men are — well — men of the world. And the story-lines are taking on everything — middle-age love stories, remarriages, homosexuality. And there are even the occasional explicit scenes to rev up the stories and the TRPs.

While the saas-bahus and their over-the-top bejewelled look haven’t moved over altogether, today’s soaps are venturing out to newer pastures, playing with different kinds of themes and coming closer to the realities of modern India. So, Parvarish on Sony TV, with current TRPs of around 1.6, offers a slice of life by portraying the conflicts that arise between three generations of a family.

Says Suzana Ghai, programming head fiction, Star Plus: “The way relationships are being explored has changed completely. The characters and the content are more true-to-life and relatable.”

And audiences are, apparently, loving it. Not surprising, the TRPs for Bade Achhe… were steadfast at 2.7 through June and peaked to 3.1 for the June 26 episode as an earlier episode had hinted at Priya’s pregnancy. Balika Vadhu on Colors too continues its long run with high TRPs which have touched 4.0 in June ever since romance began to bloom in Anandi’s life once again after her bitter divorce from Jagdish.

A clutch of new age women is emerging on television like the ambitious Saanchi Mathur in Ruk Jana Nahin, the headstrong Priya in Bade Achhe… the young but efficient Dr Nidhi Verma in Kuch Toh Log Kahenge who is in love with a much older man.

Saanchi Mathur played by Pooja Sharma in Ruk Jaana Nahin on Star Plus is comfortable tackling the male-dominated politics at her university while in Diya Aur Baati Hum on Star Plus, Sandhya is forging ahead in her struggle to be an IPS officer despite opposition from her in-laws. The serial currently has TRPs of about 5.0 per week.

Or take the case of Ammaji in the popular Na Aana Is Des Lado on Colors who has evolved from actively encouraging female infanticide to championing women’s causes.

Says Prashant Bhatt, weekday fiction, Colors: “Though shows in the past did portray strong women characters who faced adversities, today this story has been taken forward. Now serials are reflecting the fact that besides maintaining the work-home balance, women continue to be the backbone of the family.”

Men too are evolving to keep in step with the changing times. Says actor Jayati Bhatia, who plays Mataji in the Colors’ serial Sasural Simar Ka, which currently has TRPs of about 3.0: “The men are standing up for their wives in many serials, which didn’t happen in the past.’’

Cut to Balika Vadhu where Bhairon, played by actor Anup Soni, goes all out to support his daughter-in-law, Anandi, played by Pratyusha Banerjee. He encourages her in all her endeavours from opening her own school to accepting the post of the village sarpanch. Soni says of his role: “Bhairon is the most progressive character in the serial.”

The serials have also relocated from the metros to smaller towns and lesser known villages of India. Baliya, Bulandshahr, Varanasi and Bhopal are forming an integral part of the stories. So, while Sony’s Kuch Toh Log Kahengey is based in Lucknow, Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha is set in Bhopal.

And yes, all-out attempts are being made to ensure authenticity. Research teams are in position at all the channels to incorporate nuances of the locations of the serials. And that includes the cuisine, the customs of a particular community and the language (down to the dialects).

Says Ghai: “We interact with people from these places and often the producers and writers hail from the cities where these serials are based.”

Sukesh Motwani, head fiction programming, Zee TV, adds that sometimes it’s important to set the serial in a particular city as the issues tackled are integral to the place.

As daily soaps turn a new leaf, we can expect more of the unexpected.