Monday 24 September 2012

Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi- Soaps and the Craft of Manipulation

One of the pre- dominant leitmotifs of my childhood was my father’s dictum on the kind of television and cinema we were exposed to. My mother on the other hand encouraged us to sample everything, exercising the power of choice and discretion. 
Both parents were remarkably liberal in other ways; I don’t remember them being strict about all the usual prosaic tedium like bedtime or report cards. They were however extremely hands on about our education beyond the school curriculum.
We travelled 3 times a year; they took us everywhere be it by boat, bus, car or plane. The focus was always on seeing & experiencing all aspects of the real world. I also remember that there was an unspoken consensus to be honest, to think for yourself and to be your own person beyond the frivolities of superficiality.
I was encouraged to read everything from Munshi Prem Chand, Jane Austen, Asterix & Obelix comic books to Bertrand Russell, the Bhagwat Gita to Ayn Rand and everything in between. There was no censorship, I remember spending most of my after school hours up on the terrace with books from dad’s library.

But when it came to TV and Films my father was a totalitarian; he believed there was a difference between films that entertained yet inspired and the mindless rubbish that was being churned out by the Indian industry at the time.
We could watch movies like Devdas, Mughal-e-azam, Pyassa, Kagas ke phool, Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind etc but anything post the 60s was strictly forbidden.
I watched my first commercial Bollywood movie when I was 17, years after dad passed away, I enjoyed it but I could also see what my father had been alluding to.

This has been a defining influence in who I have become and what I’ve chosen to do; the ability to decide what I expose myself to, what influences and inspires me, it’s been an invaluable gift, this power of choice.

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

For those of you not familiar with the ‘Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ serials ( read

The title had a catch phrase that hooked us,
 the ( Saas) mother in law was once a
 ( Bahu ) daughter in law too and what it presents itself as, is a vehicle through which the daily struggles of the ‘Bharartiye naari’ will be addressed. It was pitched in a way that indicated that this story will hold the answers; to how a woman can better cope with the most challenging relationship in the Indian family dynamic, the one she has with her mother in law. 

The sub plot and the characterization, follow the old formula of creating drama around conflict and intrigue. The scenes are then peppered with elaborate costumes, sensational dialogue delivery and over the top sound effects.

It is however a con, what women don’t get is, that they are being manipulated and subtly brain washed; being made experts in the old ways of being and doing by control, fear, shame and manipulation.

“I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

It worries me, exposing my sisters and daughters to this kind of archaic garbage. There is really no other word for it but GARBAGE.
I believe these soaps have regressed our Indian society back in to the dark ages; instead of focusing on the opportunities that this century has brought us; they focus on the petty aspects of human baseness, moral repugnancy and ratings motivated melodrama.
 There are of course some that are exceptions to the rule, but unfortunately most serials that are being mass produced; are like fast food - taste good but offer little content and even lesser or no nutritional value.

According to the last census of 2011 there are 58,64,69,174 women in India.

It is frightening to see the hidden messages in the characterization and sub plots of these soaps that are being sent out to young women today.

If viewed unconsciously the underlying messages are:-

1.     Power can only come from position and hierarchy and through plotting and manipulation.
2.     Women have to fight amongst themselves to establish their worth and position in the family.
3.     That manipulation, back biting and game playing are the tools for succession.
4.     That there are 2 kinds of women the vamp or the victim; women have to be segregated in to stereotypes and treated accordingly.
5.     Everyone around you determines your worth; you are what people think of you, so as long you pretend to be virtuous on the outside, it doesn’t matter who you really are when no one is looking.
6.     Respect is bought by virtue of position and doesn’t need to be earned through intent or conduct.
7.     Do anything to make everyone else happy even if it goes against your own beliefs or happiness
8.     Suffering in silence, sacrifice for the sake of others and general martyrdom (or the appearance of it) are the mark of a true ‘Bharatiye naari.’
9.     And of course the age-old gold digger’s mantra - marry a rich man for an immediate lifestyle upgrade, better yet make sure you marry the eldest son for complete and total domination.

“It is impossible to build one's own happiness on the unhappiness of others. This perspective is at the heart of Buddhist teachings.”

Whether you live in a metropolitan city or anywhere else, one doesn’t have to look far to see how many women are not educated today. Someone could argue that these serials are just light entertainment, not meant to be taken seriously; but ask the women around you, your cook or your manicurist if she knows about Irom Sharmila or Medha Patkar? She may not them know them but she will know Tulsi from ‘KSBKBT’ !

We are the one of the few democracies in the world to have had a woman leader.
 The rights that we take for granted in India, the freedom of speech, to vote, to practice the religion we believe in, to drive, to dress how we please, to be treated as equal have been hard fought for and even harder won by women just like us.

When I think of inspiring Indian women like the Rani of Jhansi Laxmibai or Kasturba Gandhi, who fought shoulder to shoulder with men in the freedom struggle; come Independence Day, I often wonder what we have to show these women who fought hard for the privileges we take so for granted. I wonder what they would make of women squabbling over scraps in ‘KSBKBT’ serials or the Kareena Kapoor inspired size zero obsession.

 “When you know better you do better.”

We have the ability biologically, emotionally and spiritually to create, carry and nourish a baby in our bodies for nine months. And when we are not carrying a baby that power to create, nourish and transform still exists within us. 

These KSBKBT type soaps teach women to be less than who we are; keeping them far away from who they are meant to be; spirit in a female body, the embodiment of Goddess energy, harbingers of the divine feminine.
The next time you find your young daughters or sisters watching anything that teaches that women have to be less to have more, I hope that you will exercise the power of choice and change the channel.

“It is an unconscious manifestation of the controlling energies that pits woman against woman with an age old goal of divide and conquer. If women are fighting against each other, their true power is diluted. 
When women cast off the controlling energies and work with each other and support each other rather than fight against each other, their ability to create and to manifest is exponentially increased, which is why divide and conquer is so important in a patriarchal society.” – Christine Agro

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful! Well said Divya. I personally have not watched any of these serials - but I can see the influences it has on people around me. It is so sad that we do not use art and television to uplift... Ekta Kapoor has become the role model today...the good old serials like Hum Log, Nukkad, Tamas, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi had so much more substance! I am not even sure if there is any new content coming out - we really live in the Planet of the Apes!!