Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gender in Indian Television

Show#1 The baby-faced protagonist is all excited to go to her husband’s place. But there she finds out that she has to share him with another woman. The tagline of the show is “sindoor mera batta par patnidharma nibhaungi sada”.

Show#2 Fresh college pass outs struggling to become the ultimate bahu and biwi.

Show#3 The young widow is married off to her husband’s murderer. She happily fulfils her duties as a wife and bahu while her husband romances openly with his girlfriend.

These are the standard models around which revolve popular TV shows on major channels. Marriage defines the life of a woman. Their ultimate goal is to manage the household with utmost hardwork and dedication and become the ideal Bahu, Biwi, Bhabhi and Ma. The Bahu is shown to be the most important component in the household. The Bahu is the sutra of all familial ties. Whether it’s a tussle between her husband and her father-in-law or any issue with her sister-in-law, the Bahu has to intervene and solve the matter. She is responsible for maintaining peace and prosperity in the household. Even the minutest form of negligence like forgetting to oil the evening lamp or more salt in food can prove how worthless her life is. In the introductory trailer of a popular TV show, the protagonist happily admits that she has no identity of her own. She says, “ration card pe naam toh hai par spelling galat hai”. But management of the house is not the only pressure. She always has to look picture-perfect: a fair clear skin with perfectly-shaped eyebrows, not a single strand of unwanted facial hair and heavy, waterproof make-up. This explains why an entire show is devoted to two sisters with the two extreme complexions and the struggle of the fair one to get her dusky sister married. The Bahus do all the household work in expensive silk sarees and diamond jewellery and still feel the need to change when going out. They even go to bed in the sarees with the ghunghat still on and wake up with perfect hairdo still intact. The importance of sindoor is well-known now(thanks to ramesh babu) but the magical powers of the mangalsutra were discovered recently, when a woman used the mangalsutra to drive away a man who was asking for sexual favours, in front of her husband. The mangalsutra had saved the dignity of the woman. Without it, shes a “khuli tijori”. TV shows also defies the concept of a process. They show over-night transformation. The mangalsutra is a tool which changes life the moment u wear it. From a typical modern female urbanite (or ruralite) who wakes up late (or atleast she may not be up by 6), wears jeans or kurta pyjama, doesn’t know how to cook (or atleast perfectly) and has a life of her own suddenly becomes a responsible, slow-witted, shy doll sparkling with perfection in every household chore. Her friends disappear after her marriage. She has no support system other than the wise dadima who advise her that the only way-out to a wrecked marital life is to become the ideal bahu. The husband after some dozen extra-marital affairs will eventually come back to her (the power of mangalsutra). And ofcourse, she cannot go back to her parental home as “Goods once delivered cannot be returned”. The one thing that validates the birth of a woman and which is the symbol of a successful married life is the birth of a child (preferably male). The husband may drink, come home late and beat up his wife but it is only when there is no “khush khabri” within few months of marriage that people notice that things are not going good between the husband and the wife.

Women on the small screen (in popular TV shows) are being shown as the non-changing, tradition-bound entities. This is opposed to the reality, where feminism is ‘destroying’ the patriarchal society. Media is always expected to reflect the society. Some consider it as a platform which can initiate a social reform. But here it is trying to restrict the progress. They do seem to be carrying a social responsibility but that is of projecting a kind of social idealism which is patriarchy. To understand this, we should see this in the current political and economic context. Liberalisation and Globalisation entered the Indian economy in the 90s. 1990s-2000 can be considered the transitional phase. In the 90s, we had dubbed shows (Star plus was in English), Indian shows with light themes like hum paanch, dekh bhai dekh and some good family shows. Bournvita quiz contest, Boogie woogie and close-up anatakshari were the shows which can be categorised as “reality shows”. With the rapid drive of Industrialisation and commercialisation marched in the ‘k-brigade’ in 2000s. Shows with radical emphasis on familial and cultural values dominated the Indian Television and the light-themed shows migrated to now less-popular channels. Alongside, was the notorious MTV culture. Channel V and MTV was accused of exposing the western culture and misleading the youth. But with the increasing US hegemony, the MTV influence was inescapable. Infact, it even migrated to other channels in the form of ‘reality shows’. Today, Channel V and MTV shows revolve around love, sex and money, thereby representing a full-fledged capitalist society. In Recent years has spranged a fresh wave of shows known as Women-empowerment shows. They, however, represent the existing social evils operating largely in rural India. Though Anandi is now in our hearts, Akshara is on our minds. The current Television industry shows the tendencies and fears of the society. On one hand, it aims for a capitalist economy but fears losing its culture and tradition, on the other. And because Women are considered the epitome of our sanskriti, the small screen is trying to paint the ideal image of a Bahu, Biwi, Bhabhi and Ma. No matter what kaliyuga comes, Women should be women.

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