I am a serial-watcher… or was one till a while ago anyway. There were a few serials (soaps) that I used to love to watch just because they happened to be playing when the home was empty and I needed to hear human voices. And then again, there were some I felt a ‘connect’ with. And then there have been some that would give me a happy feeling all over.
Were? Would? Was? Why am I saying all this in past tense? Well, that’s because I am afraid I have developed a memory problem. I just can’t remember who’s whose who when I watch the big fat Indian dramas!
I am one of the first-generation television watchers. Doordarshan was the only channel that aired back in those days and we grew up watching the “7 O’ Clock News”. Ramayan and Mahabharat were the only two ‘serials’ that aired back then. Other than that, there would be some nice songs that would occasionally play on the T.V. set.
Sita is Lord Ram’s wife and Ravan is the evil asura who has kidnapped Sita to avenge the insult to his sister at hands of Lord Ram’s brother while the trio is living in exile. Hanuman, the ardent devotee of Lord Ram helps rescue Sita from the evil asura. See my point? I was able to summarize the entire epic saga in a line or two.
Now let me try the same with modern-day serials. An orphaned girl grows up in the home of her mama-mami. They have a daughter of their own too. The two sisters grow up together. The mami obviously had to favor her own obnoxious daughter over the oh-so-bechaari, super well-behaved, sarvagunn sampan orphan niece.
The now grown-up sisters now of course have to get married into the same home. The orphan girl has to end up marrying the elder son of the family – the one who holds the most power in the family business, while the mami is unhappy that her daughter is marrying the wealthy, but less powerful younger brother.
No one wonders why anyone would want to marry college-going girls. And no one wonders why the college going girls would be willing to give up their fun-filled carefree college life and get married mid way through college.
Anyway, now that they are married, the behen-jethani combo should be happily married, shouldn’t they? But no, the elder brother has to have some weirdo ex-girlfriend who still loves him and wants to woo him back despite the fact that he’s now a married man. And this fellow also chooses to keep his gareeb-gaay of a wife in the dark about his past. Not only that, they decide to sleep on separate beds albeit in the same room, for reasons I fail to understand.
Over time, the gareeb-gaay wins over the love of all the family, including that of her husband, while being draped in heavy saris and ornaments. She is shown heavily made up with zumkas and lipsticks and bindis even when she is busy toiling in the hot kitchen or preparing to go to sleep. Ouch!! Even watching the poor little rich bahu gives me an ache in my earloboes, my back and my neck!
The obnoxious younger sister is meanwhile shown enjoying the life of a newly married girl spending lovey-dovey moments and exchanging mushy romantic notes with her husband. And yet, the mami is unhappy that her daughter is ‘poor’.
Thus follows a looooong saga of employing various tactics to get the younger brother to ‘wisen up’ and become the leader of the company. You may choose to call it a modern-day urban take on the Ramayana. If Lakshman left his wife in the marital abode to follow his bhaiyya Ram and bhaabhi Sita into exile, then today’s Lakshman ends up doing the exact opposite by trying to usurp his brother’s power in the family owned Business Empire.
One fateful day, while the elder bechaari bahu is doing her shringaar after her morning bath, she accidently drops the tiny box containing red vermillon (sindoor) – the mark of a married woman. The bechaari bahu lets out a blood curdling scream. All the family members enter her room and the camera zooms in on the shocked faces of every single family member who is looking in a daze at the floor.
The episode ends there, leaving me wondering if I mistakenly thought it was a sindoor kee dibiya. Seeing the shocked expressions, I wonder if maybe the dibiya contained some poisonous insect which has now escaped and may sting anyone present. By the way, this is exactly how I scream when I happen to see a lizard wandering about in my home. Wink Wink!
The subsequent episode wastes fifteen precious minutes in the oh-so-suspenseful recap. And when the camera finally pans on to the floor, one sees a huge amount of sindoor spilled on the floor. Now I wonder how so much sindoor could fit in such a tiny dibiya in the first place.
Well, back to the topic of discussion, the sasuma scolds the already weeping bechaari bahu for being so careless. Now I am thinking the sasuma is an intelligent lady for scolding the weepy bahu. She is going to tell the bahu to stop shedding tears and get a mop to clean up the mess. But no, I am proven wrong yet again.
Now the panditji is called upon. He prescribes a complicated task and the bechari bahu has to perform it in a very painful manner so as to ward off any evil fate that may befall the bada-beta of the khandaan. In the meantime, the married woman in me is screaming for someone to clean up the spilled sindoor mess left in the bedroom!
But as luck may have it, the beloved husband just has to have an accident the moment the bechaari bahu drops the vermillon box. Now she must pass the agni-pariksha to save her husband. While doing this, she must put her life at risk an umpteen number of times. And to multiply her woes, she realizes she’s pregnant with the khandaan ka vansh. Now she has to achieve the herculean agni-pariksha despite her pregnancy.
In the meantime, the husband recovers and the bechaari bahu has now become the laadli bahu. But as luck would have it, her good fortune is short-lived. The husband dies just around the time the baby is born and the poor widow is now thrown out of her marital home as she has committed some oh-so-serious blunder.
She spends the next few years bringing up her child by herself. The poor vidhwa-ma is now a tired old lady and her child has grown up to be very well-educated and of course good looking. He lands a job in his father’s company and nobody knows that he’s the real heir. He befriends the current owner who is his uncle and saves the family from many troubles.
Over time, they begin to invite him for various parties and he falls in love with his chachi/mausi’s maternal sister’s daughter. One day, the bechaari vidhwa maa is being insulted by her marital family for just happening to show them her face and her son steps in to “save” her from their insults. From there, it all goes south and the serial starts taking countless time leaps.
In the entire saga, there is a poor immortal dadima, whose role is unexplained. The then eighty year old dadi now looks like an eighty-five year old dadi by streaking a few more hair grey, adding thicker eye-glasses. Further time leaps are supported by adding hearing aids and putting the dadi on the wheelchair, but the dadi never dies. By now, I want to leap from my window!
Some actors who chose not to continue after time leaps are replaced by someone else. Someone is shown dying and someone is shown remarrying twice, thrice and at the end, returning to the spouse they first married. Well duh! How in the world am I supposed to remember who’s whose who?
*P.S. The blog post above is solely my opinion and I strongly recommend you agree to it. Your sanity and memory are subject to the insanity of the soaps and please don’t say I didn’t warn you when you realize I was right all along!