Move over saas-bahu soaps, girl child issues are in!
By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) After the success of "Balika Vadhu", a serial that highlighted the evils of child marriage, a slew of shows based around the theme of a daughter in Indian society has taken over the Hindi entertainment channels, slowly edging out the saas-bahu dramas.
While the channel Colors has four shows - "Balika Vadhu", "Uttaran", "Mere Ghar Aayi Ek Nanhi Pari", "Na Aana Iss Des Laado" - all based on the girl child, STAR Plus and Zee TV have on offer "Sabki Laadli Bebo" and "Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo" respectively.
The current trend bears resemblance to the time when Ekta Kapoor's "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahi Thi" became a hit and most television producers and channels rushed to cash in on the formula.
According to Purnendu Shekhar, writer of "Balika Vadhu", the increasing number of shows related to the girl child is a result of the "herd mentality".
"When 'Kyunki Saas...' started and turned out to be successful, the concept was followed by everyone and the 'saas-bahu' (mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law) theme became a hit. I always used to be frustrated at this, but this time I'm happy because at least through these shows some social issues are being discussed," Shekhar told IANS.
While most people believe that serials on the girl child emerged only after audiences appreciated "Balika Vadhu", Ajay Balwankar, head of programming at Zee TV, feels otherwise.
"I think shows on the girl child have not emerged now, they have been on air for a very long time. We did a show like 'Ghar Ki Laxmi...Betiyaan' that is about gender discrimination. Other shows came much later."
Vivek Behl, senior creative director of STAR Plus, stressed that treatment of issues like child marriage and female foeticide has become "realistic".
"What has changed is that characters and situations have become more identifiable and believable. The days when all (families in) TV shows were having businesses worth Rs.5,000 crore (Rs.50 billion), people returning from the dead with different faces, etc., have gone out. In that sense, I believe Indian soaps have naturally matured a bit from the earlier phase," he said.
Child rights activists, however, weren't too happy when Colors' new show "Na Aana Iss Des Laado" went on air. They felt footage of a baby girl being immersed into a pot of boiling milk was too grim and hard-hitting for a TV show meant for entertainment.
According to Sandhya Bajaj, member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), if people feel they can help in eradicating such social evils through a mass medium like the television, it is worth appreciating, but it must be done in a "very subtle" manner.
"We have been monitoring the show 'Na Aana Iss Des Laado'. We are not liking the rigidity that is shown in the serial. By this I do not mean to say that female foeticide does not happen in India, but methods like putting a girl child in a boiling pot of milk are not used any more. I have had complaints from older people saying - 'My granddaughter came up to me one day and asked - Wasn't I required?'" Bajaj said.
"These shows must be handled in a very subtle manner so as to avoid conveying a wrong message to all those who make an audience for it," Bajaj told IANS.
Even producers and channel officials are making an effort to be as close to reality as possible when depicting social issues.
"When one talks of something that is prevalent in society, you can't go wrong because if presented the wrong way, it can have negative impact on the audience," said Shekhar of "Balika Vadhu".
Bollywood actor Rahul Bose, who supports an NGO called Akshara that works for the upliftment of Dalit girls, also stressed the importance of depicting these issues correctly on the small screen.
"If TV producers can handle such issues sensitively, I appreciate their effort. But it is very important that the shows have integrity. Unnecessary exaggeration of the issue is uncalled for because shows with such themes can't be exploitative. People have to consider striking a balance between what to show and what not to show," he said.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)