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Middle-aged, Middle class and Single!


The headline caught your attention didn’t it? Well, that is  why the male protagonist in a popular Indian TV soap was screaming these words at the top of his lungs at the female protagonist. I do follow TV soaps occasionally to keep myself abreast as they are great social conversation starters when I find myself out of words  in specific settings and I continue to be awed by how much they impact the way people think.  

Disclaimers – if you have never watched an Indian Balaji telefilms soap or if you do not think that television soaps impact and reflect the social mindset, this may not be for you.

When Indian television launched daily soaps, Ekta Kapoor revolutionized it by giving us the typical Indian Bahu who wore the mangal sutra like a medallion around her neck and retired to bed every night in all her finery. An excessively regressive portrayal of an Indian household where under the garb of sanskaars – everyone was adulterous, jealous and immortal. Though some turned up their noses at it, there were many unheard of festivals that started getting celebrated in Indian households because Tulsi and Parvati’s families celebrated them. A whole industry of georgette saris owes its existence to the women in these soaps.  

While we were still grappling with the number of reincarnations of the characters in the serial, suddenly one day, the Indian television woke up to the fact that there was an increase of single people in their thirties in India, divorce rate was going up and women were becoming independent. The sanskaari yet scheming household stopped getting TRPs and behold – Balaji Telefilms graduated to making serials with 30+ women falling in love with 40+ men and picked up ‘sensitive’ topics like late marriage, second marriage or a  big age difference between couples. The household conversations changed. The focus shifted from the 'recently entered adulthood' members of the family to their elder forgotten single siblings. People felt that the ‘middle aged' folks also had hope.

However, amidst all this change what remained constant is the depiction of the Indian single woman. So here is the typical character of the single ‘middle aged’ woman on Indian television:

  • She is boring –she dresses very conservatively (probably does not even know when those kurtis went out of fashion), carries the world in her tote handbag, goes to sleep at 10 p.m, does yoga in the morning and is a wall flower in parties.
  • She is financially crunched aka middle class- she cannot be beyond a teacher, a nutritionist or an administrative coordinator. Cannot afford her own vehicle (at best a two -wheeler), has never been out of her vicinity and looks totally out of place in any glamorous setting. She surprisingly discovers her talent and up-levels her career only when her beau dumps her. Otherwise, she is happy in her 9-6 routine.
  • She has a tragedy in the background – she is single not by choice but because a personal tragedy forced her to take on family responsibilities (which she couldn’t if she got married).
  • She has an amazing number of morality restrictions – while she gives everyone a broad-minded opinion on live-in relationships, girls staying out all night etc, she will flip out a sanitizer if someone gives her a hug and not to miss, she always drinks only fruit juice.

 

On the other extreme coming to her rescue with advice would be her single friend or sister who probably can’t keep track of the number of men she is seeing at one time and is party hopping and drunk all the time. And if one was to write the character of a rich and successful female protagonist who is single, she must have a mental disorder/obsession.  


The verdict- she needs to be boring, in emotional/financial distress or promiscuous for the audience to justify her singlehood.

While our movies are evolving in their portrayal of characters, they impact the audience one time while television systematically impacts the thought process as we watch and relate to the characters on a day to day basis. There are more than 70 million single women in India* and the number is rising every decade. Isn’t it high time our creative writers evolve their thinking beyond these stereotypes?

 

*Source- IndiaTV News

Comments

  1. Really well written Ruchi... Though I am totally averse to these serials, my infrequent dandlings with them through trailers during cricket matches or other family members watching them reaffirm the mass stupidity that ails an average Indian household from 7 pm-11 pm. Your ideas are totally refreshing and I love your writing style. Look forward to more articles. Xx

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