Pehredaar Piya Ki: As backlash mounts, producers Shashi and Sumeet Mittal defend their show
Since the time its trailer was launched, the TV show Pehredaar Piya Ki has faced quite the backlash for depicting a marriage between a nine-year-old boy and an 18-year-old woman. Over the two weeks that its episodes have aired, the criticism has only grown louder, with an online petition being launched against what many consider a depiction of pedophilia. After the petition gained momentum, Union minister for Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani has also directed that action be taken against the show.
On Monday, 14 August, the producers of Pehredaar Piya Ki — Shashi and Sumeet Mittal — held a press conference at a suburban hotel in Mumbai, promising to clear the controversies pertaining to their show.
A quick lowdown on what the show is about: Diya, 18, marries Ratan, 9, to protect him from his evil family. Despite being engaged to a man she loves, Diya 'sacrifices' her relationship in order to protect Ratan, to fulfill the dying wishes of his father.
The sequences that have invited criticism include Ratan filling Diya's maang with sindoor, stalking her and taking photos of her, a questionable joke (that borders on pedophilia) made by Diya's in-laws after they decorate her bedroom for the 'suhaag raat'. The content in PPK has been termed bizarre and regressive.
Shashi Mittal, who is also the script writer for PPK, says the petition against the show is unfair. "Many people have filed the petition without even watching the show," she said, screening portions of two episodes at Monday's press conference. Among these was the 'wedding night' scene. “The controversies surrounding the show are based on rumours. One news channel asked for my reaction to a honeymoon sequence being shot in London. I was shocked. We don’t even have any such plans. All the answers lie in those 20 episodes that have been telecast. People should watch them and then come to a decision,” added Sumeet Mittal.
The producers said that they hail from traditional families and none of their shows thus far had ever showed objectionable content. "How can we show their wedding night? No one has seen it the way it has been depicted..." said Shashi. "A few days ago, some women were talking about the show before me without knowing that I am its writer. When I asked them if they have watched it, they replied that they do not watch television, but if such a show is happening, it should be banned. Now where is the logic to this?"
But why even have a suhaag raat/honeymoon sequence considering one half of the 'couple' is only nine? Shahshi claimed the scenes were crucial for the plot. “There is no way the girl is propagating any of these things. Ratan’s relatives are against Diya and will go to any length to embarrass and manipulate her in the name of customs and rituals. The relatives did this even during the mooh dikhai ceremony where they consciously make fun of Diya and the age difference between her and Ratan. Similarly, these things were done during 'suhaag raat' and 'honeymoon'. These scenes were two incidents where the family is attempting to make Diya give up, and go away. Diya understands that it is Ratan’s family that's trying to manipulate him and put them into an awkward situation.”
Shashi further said, "It's very normal. In real life, we decorate the bedroom for our loved ones when they marry, and there are kids around who see that."
The Mittals were also asked about what impact the show would have on the child actor's psyche, to which they responded: “We haven’t shot any objectionable scenes which would impact his thinking and innocence. We have taken special care to ensure a suitable environment for the child actor on the set to ensure his well-being at all time."
Smriti Irani has reportedly asked the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) to take immediate action against the show as objections to its content have been pouring in from all parts of India and the petition against it has about 1.35 lakh signatories. This has led to speculation that the show will be pulled off air. An excerpt of the online petition to ban the show reads, “A 10-year-old impressionable child caressing and stalking a woman who’s twice his age and filling sindoor in her 'maang' is being telecast at prime time. Imagine the kind of influence it will steadily infuse in the viewers’ mindset. We want a ban on the serial. We do not want our kids to be influenced by such TV serials.”
The producers, who’re bound to deliver 265 episodes within a year, said they are ready to give an explanation if needed to the concerned authorities. Asked if they have received any notice from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Shashi said, "No, we haven't, and if we get (one), we are ready to give our explanation because we know that we have not shown anything wrong in the story.” What if the BCCC asks the makers to change the plot? Sumeet said, "No, we will request them to view the content before taking any decision. So far, we have no plans to change the plot of the show."
The producers also denied an NGO's charge that the show promoted child marriage, saying it merely shows an 'unusual couple'. "The girl took the decision of marrying a boy who is half her age, to honour his father's last wish, as the latter had once saved her life. Despite her parents attempting to prevent her, she takes the decision emotionally and not logically. No one forced her to get married, which is what usually happens in any child marriage. So this story is not promoting the tradition of child marriage whatsoever. Here, Diya voluntarily dedicates her life to that little boy to protect him from the rest of his family members who are his enemies and want to kill him."
The producers also objected to certain celebrities who had criticised the show. TV actor-host Karan Wahi had put up a Facebook post when the show aired, calling it "stupidity in the name of content". Wahi deleted the post in a few hours, but it had been circulated widely by then and screenshots of it taken. “It was irresponsible of him to say that," Sumeet Mittal said. "I will ask my office to send a letter to Wahi, asking him why he put out a statement like that.”
Meanwhile, it is believed the controversy has helped PPK's TRPs. Refuting this, Sumeet said, "The ratings that we have got till now have been only for our content. When it goes through the roof, only then will we believe that the controversy has worked for us. As of now, we will stick to our plot and continue with the same story-line. Only the audience can make us alter it, but for now they are really happy with the show. The fans have even started a petition in support of our show and it’s getting some positive feedback. A lot of industry people are also backing us."
The channel on which PPK airs, Sony TV, hasn't issued a formal statement so far. This correspondent's attempts to reach them failed; however, the Mittals indicated they have Sony's support. Is the channel cashing in on the show’s current popularity/notoriety? Or is the channel letting the producers do the talking for now? We'll have to see once the I&B ministry and BCCC make their move.