Women have been ruling Indian television since the past two decades. Women characters in all those endless TV soaps have been keeping their pan-Indian audience — predominantly women, of course — hooked to the small screen not only during the evening prime time, but also in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, most of these soaps still have mean women in palatial homes hatching devious plots against other women. Or they have two women fighting over a man at a lavish party, with the man and one of the women suddenly launching into a slapping spree.
The woman slaps the other woman, while the man slaps the first one. And all the time, the horrible background music blares so loudly that you just put the TV on mute till the scene passes away.
For heaven’s sake! This is 2020. Will our TV channels ever stop this torture? Will our production houses ever have the courage, and the creative skills, to come up with a refreshing idea for our women characters? For how long do we have to see women either trying to kill each other over a man or caught in a love triangle? What is even more unfortunate is that such TV serials continue to rule the popularity charts.
This throws up another question — do Indian women really love to watch such stories, or are they watching them just because they have no other choice, on TV at least? In other words, will this same audience of women watch with the same interest the story of a true woman of substance, narrated in a sophisticated style during the same time slot? That is something market research agencies would do well to find out.
Some production houses are certainly trying to introduce powerful women characters, but are unable to sustain the narrative for long. A highly popular series on Dangal, Baba Aiso Var Dhoondho, started on a promising note, revolving around a women affected by dwarfism fighting for her identity.
But it has sunk into the same old rut, with this woman, a housewife, being subjected to her sister-in-law’s relentless scheming against her, while her husband, thankfully, supports her wholeheartedly. But why does a woman character in a TV series always have to be a housewife or a girl-friend? Can’t she be just a normal, single, career-oriented woman, like many in real life are?
Fortunately, there are a few series — very few — that have tried to go off the beaten track, and give their women characters some real, well, character, in keeping with the times. One such series that comes to mind is Beyhadh.
The series, now in its second season, revolves around the refreshingly real and powerful character of Maya Mehrotra, played beautifully by Jennifer Winget.
This woman, who has had a troubled childhood because of her abusive father, always lives in fear. And this childhood fear later transforms into extreme possessiveness in her relationship, which consequently turns her into a killer.
She is not the typical housewife of a TV series, bedecked in heavy jewellery even at home, spouting melodramatic dialogues straight out of a third grade Bollywood film. Maya is the sophisticated owner of a fashion magazine and her love interest is the photographer who works with her.
There are very few production houses, if any, that would dare to have a mentally deranged character as their main female lead. But Cinevista Films, the old war-horse of the TV industry, did that. The first season of the series soared high in popularity charts. At one point, it even topped the TRP ratings with 11.5 points.
But here’s the bad news. The second season has not been doing as well on TV as the first. But it is hugely popular on the digital platform. So, Sony has decided to take it off the channel and put it on Sony Liv. Another consequence of this is that Jennifer Winget reportedly does not like Sony’s decision at all. And she may quit the series.
Now, isn’t that very strange? A women-centric series that dares to be different gets crushed in the race for TRPs while those that depict women in the same ancient mould, with the same hackneyed plots – including turning women into serpents – top the TRP ratings continuously.
And what is even worse is that behind the creation of most such regressive series lies the brain of a woman!
(A weekly look at the good, the mad and the tawdry on the TV scene)