Pehredaar Piya Ki to Jeet Gayi Toh Piyaa Morre, must Hindi TV shows always be about 'patni dharm'?
Just across the road from the busy Lower Parel railway station stands a huge hoarding of a new Hindi TV serial. A young bride stands with her wrists manacled in a heavy golden chain, the length of which is held by an angry looking man who is presumably her groom.
'Jeet Gayi Toh Piyaa Morre', the hoarding announces as the title of the show.
A quick Google search reveals that Zee's latest serial is reportedly an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's Jogajog, a story about two rival families, one representing a fading aristocracy, and the other, arrogant new money. The daughter of the first family is married off into the second; there, faced with a boorish husband, she finds her personality and upbringing clashing with her new reality — a reality that includes marital rape. She returns to her maternal home, only to find out that she's pregnant.
With such a sensitive subject as its premise, it is with no little trepidation that one wonders how Jeet Gayi Toh Piyaa Morre is going to turn out.
In Hindi telly land, a truth universally acknowledged is that all roads lead to the saas-bahu soap. The shows may no longer have those words explicitly mentioned in their titles, like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi did, but they are invariably about family politics, with most focusing specifically on the equation between a woman and the members of her marital home. The milieu may differ — it could be a Rajasthani household in one, an Uttar Pradesh clan in the other, or even a seemingly urban setting in a third — but shorn of the fancy trimmings, of bizarre twists that see women turn into houseflies or snakes, most of them have a family saga at their core.
A recent example that makes this very evident is Sony's Pehredaar Piya Ki. The show garnered much backlash for depicting child marriage and a petition to have it pulled off air gathered over one lakh signatures. Finally, under the directions of the Information and Broadcasting ministry, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council asked the channel to shift the show's time slot to 10 pm from the previous 8.30 pm.
PPK showed a nine-year-old Ratan being married to an 18-year-old Diya on the wishes of his dying father, to protect the child from his grasping, villainous relatives. Producers Shashi and Sumeet Mittal vociferously protested that their show wasn't promoting child marriage, and although some misguided sequences in PPK didn't help their cause, for the most part, their statement was actually true. Take away the fact that the groom here is a nine-year-old, which was possibly an attention-grabbing gimmick on the part of the producers couched as an 'unusual premise', and what PPK really is about, is a young woman being mistreated by her in-laws.
Even before she enters the marital home, she is scalded with a set of hot keys, and there are barbs aplenty directed her way once she does move in with the family. There are attempts to humiliate her father. And when she is emotionally manipulated into marrying the child, she receives a spiel about patni ka pyaar, Savitri petitioning Yama for her husband's life, and sindoor ki shakti etc to reconcile her to this arrangement.
Jeet Gayi Toh Piyaa Morre seems to be using similar tactic — a gimmicky premise that will lead into the regular patni dharm fare.
There's also the little matter of the hit-and-miss track record of books adapted into popular Hindi shows in the recent past: Manju Kapoor's Difficult Daughters became — believe it or not — Yeh Hai Mohabbatein. Govardhanram Madhavaram Tripathi would not have recognised his Saraswatichandra in the TV series that starred Gautam Rode and Jennifer Winget. Dilli Wali Thakur Gurls was considered an abomination by fans of Anuja Chauhan. Some readers have said characterisations on Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah differ from the original. And these barely skim the surface.
The issue here isn't just of TV shows taking a few cinematic liberties with their source material; in many cases, the essence of the original story is entirely lost, to focus solely on the kitchen politics aspect of it. If Jeet Gayi Toh Piyaa Morre is indeed an adaptation of Jogajog, then Tagore's work could be in some trouble.
'Regressive' is a word often used to describe Hindi TV soaps; it's also a questionable one. Then there are judgment calls about their essential quality — also entirely a subjective opinion. Much of this fare is popular; it works for the viewers it is targeted at, and in some instances, even towards unexpected audiences. From Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi's popularity in Afghanistan to Balika Vadhu's undisputed hold over Vietnamese viewers, Hindi TV fare has found fans in places like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Indonesia, Turkey, as have its stars.
Perhaps it's time Hindi telly utilised its mass base to have its shows make a different point?
Stay tuned for more.