TV serials respond honourably

BY D Mamta| IN Media Practice | 19/07/2010
Honour killings seem to have brought out the best among serial makers who are now responding by highlighting these in their shows.
Hopefully the sagas of saas-bahu kitchen politics will be put on the back burner, says D MAMTA

The spate of honour killings in the recent past and the wide reportage by the media have had many fallouts. While the government is gearing up to consider stricter legislation to deal with these crimes, television soaps have begun responding to the issue by introducing dimensions that touch upon the larger issue of women’s rights within a family. After a long reign of saas-bahu serials, entertainment channels are now taking up social evils and finding audience as well as critical acclaim.

A few months back Geet Sabse hui parayi made its debut on Star One. In the show the protagonist, Geet, has to marry an NRI boy at the behest of her family. The boy is interested in the girl’s money and land which would be transferred to him after the marriage. After the ceremony he promptly takes away her wealth and abandons Geet. Her family takes her back and wants to keep her marriage a secret but when they discover that she is pregnant they decide to get her married off again. When things do not proceed according to plan the family tries to pressurise her to abort the child and when she refuses to do so her brother tries to kill her. Geet manages to survive this attempt and decides to disown her family and the community and chart her own path. Before leaving the village, however, she trashes her community and their values in a long lecture.

Another television soap, Jyoti, on Imagine, has taken up a similar theme. In this case the boy is from a rich and orthodox family and the girl is a divorcee. The family obviously does not want the boy to marry a divorcee and threatens the boy with dire consequences making references to other `deviants’ who have cast a shadow on the family’s honour and have been killed for similar infringements. In the latest episode of the show the boy has been poisoned by his father.

Both serials show feudalistic, orthodox and patriarchal families who act to save the family’s honour, holding the woman to be the main culprit. In both cases the victims respect their parents and family elders but also believe that they have rights as individuals. Both the shows raise several pertinent questions. Why is it always a woman who has to carry the burden if a family’s honour is at stake? Does the killing or harassment of the family’s younger sons and daughters salvage a family’s hounour? How does a family retain its respect after the crimes parade them before the whole nation? Which is the bigger crime: to marry outside your caste, class and community or to kill someone?

Another serial on Colors, Yeh Pyaar Na Hoga Kam, highlights the role that caste and class conflicts play in marriages. The story is set in Lucknow where the son of a Brahmin, Abeer, falls in love with the daughter of a Kayasth, Leher. Though the parents don’t kill their children in this show they try to make their lives unhappy. This show presents the persistent dominance of caste in Indian society despite the progress that has been made in other areas.

These serials bring out the perils of challenging the boundaries defined by age old societal divisions. The divisions, among other things, being defined by the amount of money the family has, the caste it belongs to, its traditions and above all the `name’ of the family and the shame that will follow if this is sullied.

The serials as well as the recent honour killing incidents highlight the dichotomous social structure we live in where on the one hand live-in relationships are accepted easily and on the other parents take pride in killing their errant children.

Thankfully, following the hue and cry over honour killings, television soaps that harped upon the kitchen politics of the saas bahu variety seem to have become passé.  Serials like Jyoti, Agale Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, Balika Badhu and Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma have begun responding to contemporary social issues.

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