Indian families’ evenings consist of dinner with the family and a TV show. It could be a reality show like Bigg Boss (Indian version of Big Brother), or a comedy like Kapil Sharma show, or a soap opera like Kyunki Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi.
If you’ve never watched an Indian soap, you’re either missing out on the greatest addiction or saving yourself from absolute torture.
Indian soap operas don’t just run for 200+ episodes. I’ve known shows that ran for more than a decade. These soaps don’t even run by seasons, so it’s 5/6 episodes per week and around 320 episodes per year.
If that isn’t insanity, I’m not sure what is.
Due to the fact that there are so many episodes, you develop a serious attachment to the characters over the years. So you get mad at the antagonist because they hurt your favorite character or you cry when your favorite character dies (which doesn’t happen a lot in Indian soaps).
This attachment is dangerous because the women on the soaps are used as an example for raising Indian daughters.
Because Indian families watch these shows a lot, it’s natural for the shows to have an impact on their lives. As a result, a lot of Indian mothers tend to use the women in the shows as examples of a “good daughter/daughter in law.”
I find this very problematic.
Soap operas like Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki show women as weak, tolerant, and very traditional. It shows women to be well mannered, family-oriented, and amazing at cooking.
Since the women on the shows are portrayed to be more family oriented, that’s suddenly what’s expected of girls at home.
Men aren’t free from soap stereotypes, either.
There are also soaps that depict the truth of unwanted arranged marriages, where the man is married off to a woman who is either uneducated or from a lower caste. As a result, he despises his wife or treats her like she is beneath him.
The men in most Indian soaps are portrayed as being strong and perverted.
In efforts to intimidate the women, the men threaten or imply that they will take advantage of them if the situation doesn’t go their way. Some shows have husbands who are abusive knowing that the wife won’t divorce them because she has to worry about the family’s izzat.
These shows show exactly what’s wrong with the society in India: no matter what, it’s always the girl’s fault. If something goes wrong or happens to a girl, it’s her fault. Not the perpetrators. They’re about teaching daughters to protect their honor, rather than correcting the sons.
I have watched many shows where the woman is abused or assaulted but she doesn’t say anything because “Log Kya kahengey.” She’s afraid to speak up because it would taint her honor and purity – it would make her impure.
With that kind of mindset in the soaps, women who might be in that situation, in reality, are stripped of the opportunity of knowing how to get out of a toxic relationship or an abusive household or speak up about their rape.
There are so many cases of abuse in Indian families caused by the male relatives.
Men like uncles, cousins, and family friends who take advantage of the innocence of little girls and women.
Yet the women don’t speak up, because of log Kya Kahengey.
It’s past time. Indian society needs to stop giving a fuck about what other people, soaps or greater “society” thinks. We need to focus on what’s right and just, period.
Recently, Indian soaps are showing more realistic scenarios with stronger leading women. Shows like Ek Nayi Pehchaan (where an uneducated woman is motivated by her daughter in law to start her own business) and Balika Vadhu (a child bride who grows distant from her husband as they get older, leaves him to lead a better life and find true love, all while inspiring women around her to stand up for what’s right) have emerged into the space.
Yet these shows are still nowhere near as popular as classic shows around sappy old love triangle stories and joint family issues.
We watch soaps to get away from reality, but we need shows to provide us with education and understanding, too.
We need soaps to show women how to get help, whom to ask, how to stand up, how to protect themselves, and how to fight abuse.
I’m still waiting for the Indian soap that shows us how to be strong, independent Desi women who definitely don’t need a man.