Friday, March 30, 2007

Oh, Just Soap It!

It was one of those nights that started off interesting and gradually progressed to mind numbing boredom and it was then that I chanced upon the Hindi soap phenomenon and a phenomenon it is. I started watching a joint family saga and as the seconds ticked on, a sharp pain developed some where in my body and the more I watched, the more I needed to stop. It was as if a part of me was willing to change that damn channel but a stronger part willed me to watch it. Guess which side won out? I think there is a strange pervert lying dormant in all of us that raises its head at the most inopportune moments. It was this perversion that led me to watch all those soaps that I did, and just in one night, I realized the more I cringed with discomfort, the more I stuck on to find out why, why I was captivated with mindless television?

“Mamta” is a soap about a wife lying to her husband and another woman’s stronger bent of mine towards “Mamta”(the Maa ki Mamta kind). Oh and that other woman is also called “Mamta” (Yes, word play at its best). Another soap called “Saat Phere” is about the troubles a dark skinned woman faces (yup, all because she is dusky). Fair and Lovely, its fair game. And then there is “Thode Khushi Thode Gham”, a tale of joint family where men rule and women are allowed to only cook and care for their husbands, house and children. And then there is “Ek Ladki Anjaani Si” where the main lead actress is pregnant because of an accidental insemination done by her Gyno, the father in question who is a married man and the wife who puts a whole new spin on Cruella. That’s just tip of the Iceberg.
And then there is the magic that is created by the story conceptualizers, screenplay writers and those who pen the dialogues, all sanctioned by the directors and producers. Welcome to the land of irrefutable logic.

The “people” of the Hindi Soap genre are a whole another subset of humans. Think about it, they have no peripheral vision coz heaven forbid they spot their long lost, believed to be dead husband, standing right there, buying flowers, because if they did, what of the next hundred episodes? And then there is the magical make-up fairy that visits all the women in the dark of night so that when they wake up the next morning they have their make up on and flat ironed hair in place. In their world, no economic rules and financial sense apply, because an out of work father, buried deep in debts with a family to support, can still afford a sea facing multi-bedroom apartment in Bombay (What do you have to do to get a lease there, I wonder? And how can I?). It is a world where men have never ending source of starched, ironed, spotlessly white kurtas (Tide?) and the women have stylists and wardrobe assistants who are on crack! Seriously, have you seen their loud make up, louder clothes, and bring on an eclipse jewellery? It is a world devoid of logic, filled with improbable co-incidences, bound by strange events, all contained in studios, which are, as removed from reality as is Rachel Hunter from her supermodel days (Who you ask? Exactly.).

But why are countless people hooked to these soaps? What am I missing here? It is a world where there is no room for shades of grey, either you are evil (flowers wilt, puppies howl and everything you touch rots) or you are sickeningly sweet, good and perfect (a perpetual halo and an angelic glow). Why does it mean that if you go out, have your own friends, like to shop, eat out, maybe even socially drink, you have to be the vamp? The ideal bahu is of course the one that does hundreds of pujas, takes millions of dives over elders’ feet to get their blessings, constantly sermonizes and is a sacrificial goat. All the women in these soaps are cunning, manipulative and spookier than the kid in omen. They are all even generic in their appearances; sequined saris, the nice bahus with their waist long hair and enough sindoor to give the red sea a whole new meaning and the evil bahus with their bleached hair, snazzy sari blouses, contact lense laden eyes, weighed down by the darkest of eye make up. No wonder all these women in soaps are so unhappy and frustrated, look what they are made to walk in everyday! Men in this world are hen pecked, mere accessories and are pawns in the quest for succession of a story (Feminists of the world, you can now retire.). It is a world of crappy soundtracks, crappier (it is now a word!) clich├ęs, exaggerated everything, overrated acting, constant slow-motioned sequences, rising pitches, falling TRPs and before you pause to catch your breath, the plunge in TRPs only leads to a surge into the future, twenty years ahead! There is just no beating them. Is that why we continue to watch? If you can’t beat em’, join em’?

What impact is this having on the ever-evolving impressionable society? Rich people lack morals? Women need to be pristine and at home only? By whatever means, get your revenge? Is that what we are getting across to the millions who tune in every night? Am all for masale’daar entertainment once in a while, but if that’s all that is served, with a huge side of misrepresented reality, then all I walk away with is indigestion.

If art imitates life imitates art, where and how do we put a clink in the wheel?

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