A couple of weeks ago, I happened to catch a soap my aunt was watching (a particularly nasty example, I should add – about some fellow who has married a dark girl. The least they could do was GET a dark skinned girl rather than smear what appeared to be wood polish on a not-so-fair female)
I just got to thinking about the trajectory of soap operas in India over the last fifteen years or so. And I realized something which I found very interesting - that the early-nineties ‘serials’ (which is what they were called then) were essentially middle class – in the sets, in the stories, in the sensibilities and very – REAL (especially the characterization). This tone of these has changed drastically over the last few years – becoming larger than life, opulent, exaggerated and well, regressive.
Just think about some of soaps from that era – the ones I remember at any rate Girish Karnad’s Sara Jahaan Hamara (the sensitive, understated story of a family dealing with adoption), Ravi Rai’s Sailaab and Thodha Hai thode ki zaroorat hai, Udaan ( WAY ahead of its time), Mr. Yogi, Lifeline, Alpviram – so MANY of them. As opposed to some of the trash that is dished out today - dark skinned outcasts dripping the milk of human kindness, fair skinned- over made up vamp- saas (es?), ineffective bleating men, Alok Nath being Alok Nathish..
Interestingly cinema ( or the multiplex cinema) seems to be headed in the other direction – from a super heroic time where the absolutely perfect, large-hearted hero could take on fifteen armed men, to a depiction of a much more flawed and gray person, who is not self-sacrificing, or extraordinary ( if you discount movies like Ghajini, that is). Whether it is the calculating, self-absorbed Farhan in Luck by Chance, the melancholic, unsuccessful Joe in Rock On, or even the fact that a SRK has attempted to be ineffective, middle class Surinder in Rab De (which I have not seen, just going by reviews).
And what I find most fascinating is the fact that the directors no longer feel it necessary to justify WHY the heroes and heroines are manipulative, egotistic or opportunistic. So we are not inflicted with stories of poor widowed mothers, or gang raped sisters or crushing poverty which has led to the birth of the rather noble villain. The characters of today are not heroes in the conventional sense, but interestingly neither are they anti heroes. A maturity which somehow seems to be lacking in television – rather lopsided, given the nature of the medium isn’t it?
It brings up an interesting conundrum of the sociological evolution of the Indian entertainment. In other words, why is it that cinema seems to be moving towards realism of characters, (if not the trappings – yes, we are still obsessed with picturesque Swiss locales) while soaps are getting increasingly more formulaic and unrealistic.
One possible explanation could be the shifting kaleidoscope of the prime audience for the medium. If we assume that in the nineties – television was available only to the upwardly mobile intelligentsia and not to the ordinary middle class, viewer. For the latter, the distraction from dreary mundanity came from the weekly movie – thus, it had to be as big, colourful and loud as possible. Now television proliferation has meant that they are seeking this antidote to reality within their homes – and at the switch of a button. The upwardly mobile crowd, on the other hand, has either shifted to other channels or are seeking actualization in the entertainment fare.
Another reason could be the fact that as actors are entering our living room trying to sell Navratan Tel to us, it’s too much to expect the audience to be wowed by them in super-heroic roles - which might necessitate a more subdued characterization in cinema. Celebrities are far too real now – what with Page 3 and innumerable gossip and glamour magazines and on every other reality shows. So we are okay with seeing them deglamorized.
On the other hand, television stars since they come from “people like us” - it is easier to watch them in fantasized roles of opulence and grandeur - gives the viewer the legitimacy to dream as it were.
A caveat here, when I speak of cinema in this post, it is essentially the late eighties – early nineties genre ( there HAVE been middle class heroes – who can forget the delightfully wry Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt combination for instance) and as a broad direction which cinema and television is taking rather than specific movies per se.
Of course, I have refrained from stating any opinion on Rajni or Chiru movies – since they are a world apart.
What do you think?
P.S I had some other points which I had thought up in the middle of the night (when I am at my brightest), which I have completely forgotten now. ..er...
P.P.S Title inspired by Mo who kept on talking about scary sines and inverted sines and giving me a complex.