Once in a while, be it in a movie or a TV serial, there emerges a character that dominates the proceedings and carries the show on her shoulders. As Balika Vadhu gathered steam and settled down for a long run, even those who spurned TV serials developed an interest and argued it was a show which showed promise. There was no eternal saas-bahu conflict, episodes moved smoothly, the characters were believable and the acting appealing. TRP ratings went up.
The show appealed to viewers because the events could happen to any average Indian family. Even after the Sharda Act made child marriage illegal, traditional society would not abandon it, child brides and grooms went on tying the knots and perpetuating the evils of this social custom. The serial appealed to both the rural as well as the urban audience and TRP ratings remained high.
The heroine, the precocious, gutsy young girl could not understand why the stakes were piled against her. School was out of question. Marriage, which was made to appear a child’s play, was thrust upon her. Fortunately, most of her in-laws were nice people and though the dadisa was domineering, she did have a soft heart. But school, to start with, was a big no-no and young girls had to follow every ritual dictated to them by the household. The affectionate husband was caring but not to the extent of giving too much liberty to the wife. To a great extent, she fights back without sacrificing domestic harmony. The early days of their marriage are well filmed and often puzzled or enraged modern urban dwellers. The male superiority cannot be questioned — it was a crime for Anandi to be more intelligent and outshine her husband in studies.
Despite her ambition for higher studies, it is the husband Jagya who enjoys urban hostel life while Anandi continues her rural life without giving up her studies. Even the formidable dadisa is won over. All these are shown through enough flashbacks and anecdotes. By now the serial is more than seven years old. Anandi’s character is well established and so is her determination to abolish child marriages and encourage education for village girls.
Mind you, this was what the serial set to achieve. And it did achieve this with some tight direction and subtle blending of urban and rural scenes. Anandi, on a visit to the city to meet Jagya, is shot at and wounded by a robber. She survives after a long and tortuous treatment. If Anandi had died, she would have become a martyr to her causes and justified the serial’s title. But as in Indian showbiz the show had to drag on. The plot lost its cohesion. New villains cropped up, old villains were given up for dead, they reappeared and still Anandi continues with her good work. While inconvenient characters who had outlived their use were quietly allowed to slip away, Balika Vadhu struggled on.
Well, that is Indian showbiz for you. It did not know how to end a serial which had lost its punch. We are now on to ‘Anandi III’ who is doing fairly well at her work. Sad to report Anandi II (Pratyusha Banerjee) died last week allegedly by hanging herself in her room. Just 24, she was the prettiest among all the Anandis. The death is a mystery – obviously—probably triggered by the inability to adjust to urban life and the perils of the glamorous showbiz. Parents were blamed and so were the boy friend and his parents. Her fair-weather friends made sure they made their appearance in TV news flashes and the news channels did their best in spreading more confusion and melodrama.
But unfortunately, nothing could bring back Anandi. On TV screens she fought the system but in the end it was the system which claimed her life just like it claimed Jiah Khan’s, yet another high flying starlet. Pratyusha fought hard to find a place but ultimately it claimed her life.