Saas, Bahu, and Nonsense
Guest post by Mallikarjuna Kalika, who is a brilliant blogger and a cricket buff. Currently doing BTech from a reputable institution, but is disillusioned with engineering (who isn’t!). A voracious eater, eats like he is paid to do it, and an avid reader. You can find his blog here.]
Finally, I am home after what seemed to be an eternity.
Well, I do have doubts as to whether 47 days qualify as an eternity. But the burgeoning pile of untidy clothes (which warranted the purchase of a room freshener to help Set Wet’s cause) that threatened to bury me alive in my own room failed to suggest otherwise. To Mom and her washing machine then!
Nothing much has changed in these intervening 47 days save the state of my wardrobe.
Apart from the fact that onions now cost almost the same as underwear, and that the PM talked (yes he did, about the most ideal candidate to be his successor as a puppet), things have remained the same more or less, especially on the soap opera front.
These soap operas have become the raison d’etre for many news channels too that provide news feed about a popular TV actress indulging in manicure, or the latest development in a soap dealing with child marriage. Well, Syria can wait.
The allure of almost every other Indian woman, the reason for delayed dinners, and the cause of skirmishes over the ownership of the television remote, these television soaps have this distinctive ability to vacillate between two extremes: either they remain immune to change, just like Nargis Fakhri’s facial expressions. Or they change too rapidly, reminiscent of a popular politician’s opinions during the last presidential elections.
In the first case scenario, the episodes are as separated from each other as the storylines in Rohit Shetty’s movies. And the paradox is, they are eerily similar to his movies too, in trying to be rational and making sense.
Their popularity defies odds. Maybe it is the jewellery, maybe it is the idea of being a Bappi Lahiri doppelganger. Because apart from that, and the glitz and glamour of the ubiquitous vamp prodding leading men toward infidelity, soaps are as relevant as integral calculus while buying potatoes.
The most striking feature, which is also the most redundant, of any Indian soap is a Saas-Bahu setting, with the mother-in-law behaving like a child whose pencil was stolen in kindergarten, and the daughter-in-law essaying an eternally sulky, obsequious lady that would put the ruling party’s workers to shame.
There is the quintessential son who finds himself torn between his duty towards a mother who sometimes looks (and in actuality is) younger than him, and his responsibilities as a husband, while at the same time trying to keep his fling with the vamp under wraps, the vamp he would later marry, or in some cases, kowtow to after she enters his house as his elder brother’s wife.
These soap operas also expect the viewers to make sense of Raghupati-Raghav being played out in the background while people are fighting and abusing each other. Each show has its own distinct tune, and the more important characters have their own customised tunes ranging from the luscious ‘Lika’ for a Bengali vamp to classical overtures for the leading lady.
Then there are those irrelevant ingredients in the soap-opera-main-course who merely serve as garnish, like the uncooked broccoli bud that is rarely eaten, but provides entertainment and decoration.
These characters are deemed worthy of any footage only once in every two-three episodes, especially during a fierce showdown between the Saas and the bahu, or the bahu and the coquette, when there is a need of a ringside setting.
They also find prominence during a family tragedy, like the death of the leading actor, and turn their heads in shock, that too in order of their importance with respect to the plot, the last to do so being a full 10-odd seconds late in reacting, or more precisely, overacting.
The more important characters react, or overact, thrice with the accompanying, mandatory cannon boom and flashes of lightning.
And invariably, the death would merely be a hoax because the body that was recovered was distorted beyond identification, while the presumed-dead would be making merry with a new pretty face (hired to resuscitate a directionless plot) in a faraway land having lost his memory and face, who is later made to confront his wife in a temple that is probably Balaji telefilms copyrighted and is seen more frequently than the broccoli.
In fact, it would be safe to say that these soaps have taught Indian kids more about polygamy, infidelity, patriarchy and plastic surgery than any book or news channel could ever have.
Then there would be this watershed moment wherein the Saas would overhear the Bahu who would be voicing her noble intentions and talking to herself even when she was all alone in her room, leading to an ephemeral period of serenity and sanity before the entire family is thrown out of their house by the vamp. Do you talk to yourself? If I ever started voicing my thoughts or talking to myself, and if someone chanced to overhear that, I would be branded a lunatic or a despo or both.
Some Indian soap operas even depict people living in houses made of gold. The audacity of the storytellers nowadays is beating spokespersons of political parties hands down.
On an average, the main family is a multi-millionaire having chauffeur driven sedans, diamond studded maidens and never ending maidans. And the head of the house is always the Saas’s Saas, who is genteel if her bahu is peevish and vice-versa, which ensures the final bahu’s torment as well as counsel.
The old lady defies logic and refuses to die, and succeeds in celebrating her 120th birthday with her great-great-.. How many greats, I have no idea.
Then there is another variety, which takes a leap of faith every now and then owing to the script writer who had a stroke of dementia trying to make sense of his own creation. Apparently, you should not let your own creation run too wild, like Frankenstein.
People age 7-20 years in a matter of two days, and their daughters/sons are replaced by ladies/men who could have passed for their partners in real life. And as a proof of ageing, a strand or two of whitened hair is all that is on offer. Some soap operas do this leap of faith regularly, but fail to eliminate the old lady whose age approaches astronomical values.
Whatever be the varying views regarding the soaps, they provide an evening of intrigue to those who fail to make sense of a 15-year old girl copulating with men twice her age in blatant indifference to established laws, a travesty of sorts. The relatively more sensible ones continue to keep children hungry for another hour or two.