Marriage, divorce, vamps, heavy jewellery and obscene make up even at night, endless tears – ring any bells?? Yes, these are trademarks of saas-bahu shows on television. There were shows like Buniyaad, telecasted on Doordarshan pre-liberalisation, but these shows were often classics, and attempted to combine art with a dash of real life drama. Post liberalisation, the saga of saas-bahu shows became popular with the show “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi bahu Thi”, produced by Ekta Kapoor under the Balaji Telefilms banner. Since then, Ms. Kapoor has been criticised for producing similar shows, but using different actors. Her main critics are feminists, who allege that these shows are demeaning to women, and send out wrong messages to the society.
For over a decade now, soaps on television have been ruling the roost. Saas-Bahu shows, though now many in number and are shown on various channels, have some common features. Most of them revolve around a female protagonist. She is supposed to be smart, kind, sensible, and fiercely independent. She is usually from a joint family, beset with financial problems. Although everybody at home keep thumping down old-fashioned customs on her, for some reason, she is expected to solve all their problems. She is either married, or is going to be married within the first 10 episodes. All these shows, may have had good intentions at the beginning of spreading social messages for women empowerment, somehow end up concluding that women are silly, emotional creatures, and whose only aim in life is to be married and have children. She swoons at the slightest provocation as a mark of her femininity, slaps people when they are wrong (which is shown thrice each time), cooks in the kitchen wearing full makeup, and obsesses continually over her marital issues.
Another trademark of these shows is the vamp. Now, I really don’t know why they are called such. True, their dialogues often border on the ridiculous, their makeup is inexcusable. Most of them don’t seem to like the colour of their eyes very much – and wear ridiculous lenses. Their entry and their dialogues are usually preceded with weird sounds – snake-trance music, or cat-like screeches. Yet, these vamps generally speak sense – and they always win all the battles. They know what they want from life, and because the heroines are busy presenting their weaknesses on a silver platter, they take advantage of them. But isn’t that what happens in real life too? So why are they called “vamps”? They would never be able to do any of the things they do if the heroines just used their common sense for a change, and stopped waiting for men to rescue them.
Next, the Hero. The heroes of these shows are usually rich. They are good looking and completely useless for all other purposes. They never trust their spouses, and in spite of professing true love for them, dump them at the drop of a hat, and have affairs – but somehow are always forgiven by their loving families. The families in themselves are a puzzle. They are all industrial families, and supposedly making pot loads of money from some business. But whoever heard of people in business houses, sitting around all day in their living rooms, sipping tea and finding faults with their daughters-in law?? That too, wearing tanks of makeup, heavy jewellery (which would suffocate any normal person living in a hot country like India), and shiny clothes (which normal people would wear only at a wedding).
These shows have deep faith in medical science. A plastic surgery and a miraculous recovery of a character who supposedly died a horrific death, after which they were mourned and cremated before several witnesses is very common. And even with all these lines, when the story writers are no longer able to stretch the plots any further, the serial is jumped by 20 years, in which several new characters (children of the old ones) are seen, and the old characters look exactly the same, except for a thin strand of white on their head as a mark of their age.
Ridiculous as they are, these shows have a faithful audience among Indians. Research shows that it’s not just women, but also an equal number of men who watch these shows. People may criticize them to the devil’s end, but watch them they will. And this is the reason why, even on the so-called reality shows, the drama is recreated. People openly abuse each other, are often violent, fight, cry and sob for no apparent reason when their families are mentioned.
The melodrama is here to stay. Because, deep down, Indians simply love it.