A 10-year-old boy walks into a palatial room, with as much regal swag as a kid his age can muster. Waiting for him in the room is a woman dressed up in her sartorial best, with a pooja ki thali. The scene ends with the kid applying a generous amount of sindoor on the lady, as they both smile heartily.
This could well be a sight from the erstwhile princely states in India, in the early 20th century, but it happens to be a scene from Sony TV’s upcoming drama Pehredar Piya Ki. The show is already in hot water for its portrayal of child marriage, even before it has hit the screens.
Anand Gandhi, who began his career writing dialogues for TV soaps, at the height of the saas-bahu drama era, and later went on to helm the award-winning Ship of Thesus, believes that the content is rather backward.
“Nothing is more detrimental to our collective sensibilities than the glorifying of regressive traditions done by these TV shows,” he sighs. “I’ve personally been guilty of this and have even written for shows I felt had several regressive ideas. I think now it’s time for writers to change the narrative.”
The promos for the show itself run with a disclaimer that says the makers of the drama do not encourage child marriage. “It’s regrettable that on the one hand, there’s such resistance to sex education, and on the other, you have TV shows like these,” scoffs Poornima Mandpe, who started Gaana Rewrite, in an attempt to change Bollywood’s sexist lyrics. “It’s disturbing that despite the fact that he’s a child, he holds a more dominant position and the wife submits to him when he applies vermilion. The audience buys into these tracks.”
Writer and actor Danish Husain believes that this is part of a larger problem. “It all boils down to patriarchy, where a woman is only seen as an object to be lured and traded. It’s so deeply entrenched that the writers are playing into regressive sentiments.” He adds, “Every person has his or her set of sensibilities. So you have a filmmaker create a movie like Pink, and you have another create a Balika Vadhu. It is all about how you present your ideas.”
TV writer Ved Raj, however, believes that one must stop looking at the medium as a moral science lecture. “TV is going through a transition right now. We’ve not seen a significant hit in quite a while. It’s up to the audience to decide what’s good and what’s not. You take a well-thought-out idea and the audience may reject it in two episodes, while a loosely thought of concept will be a hit.”
But while social causes continue to remain a relevant topic for both movies and television, what matters is how the makers deal with the issue. Poornima says that romanticising them can have a bad impact on society. “It’s best to show the adverse effects that it has on the characters, and have at least one person who opposes the situation. A disclaimer helps too.”
— With inputs from Dyuti Basu...