The transition in Indian TV shows from days of Buniyaad, Malgudi Days and Nukkad to Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Yeh Hai Mohabbatien, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai and almost any other daily soap, was the most painful for many television watchers like me. During the transition, women characters suddenly became central to shows. They were identified as either excessively submissive or extremely cruel characters.

Even after Sandhiya Raathi of Diya Aur Baati Hum became an IAS officer, her mother in law, equipped with moral authority, dictated her dressing and she quietly accepted the dictation. Gopi Bahu from Saath Nibhaana Saathiya always remained on her toes to take instructions from every member in the household. She fondly accepts her husband’s bashing and hostility till she wins over him with her love and works throughout the serial to please her mother in law.

The serial legitimatized domestic violence with a message that no matter how much violence is inflicted on women, it should be met with patience and the endings were always ‘happy’. Here, patience means enduring the violence.

More recently my attention was caught once again by Indian entertainment channels through Bigg Boss. One night as the television was running in the background, contestant Priyank Sharma called a female contestant a “drum” while criticizing her body weight.

On another occasion, the contestants, Luv Tyaagi, Hina Khan and Priyank Sharma slut-shamed a female contestant for what they believed was her “intentionally dressing provocatively”. She was called needy, characterless and flirtatious. All of this was being said on a national television. The instances continue with remarks turning abusive and racist, with contestants laughing off those remarks.

these clips are chosen to be telecast on television because its easier to capitalize on controversies in a reality show.

Not just the women, the men weren’t spared as well. The contestants never hesitated from making jokes about the sexuality of the men in the house. In one of the conversations, the contestants, Puneesh Sharma and Akaash Daadlani referred to all other men in the house as women. The statement was repeated in two episodes.

The former also admitted to, without any signs of remorse, calling Priyank Sharma “Priyanka”, mocking his masculinity. However, no one seems to be have gotten a proper education on gender sensitization, as Priyank himself called another contestant a “vagina”, for which he later apologized.

The remarks are taken to be anything but offensive. The contestants were once given a piece of mind by the Bigg Boss for physically assaulting each other, but there has hardly been any flak from the Bigg Boss for making highly insensitive comments.

Instead, these clips are chosen to be telecast on television because its easier to capitalize on the controversies in a reality show such as this one. Within the house too, the contestants shot off insensitive comments and fought over mundane issues.

Also Read: Pehredaar Piya Ki: Dissecting Pedophilia, Child Marriage And Regressive Gender Roles

If reality TV is meant to show “reality” and if Bigg Boss is a reality, then the reality of Indian society is very dark. Whats more worrisome is that every night people watch these contestants shaming each other on television and yet abusers manage to get support in terms of votes to stay in the show.

It’s true that contestants like Hina Khan were criticized over social media for slut-shaming Arshi Khan, but social media criticism soon turns into vicious trolling which may be resorted to by fans of some other contestant. The fact, however, remains that in the end, one of these abusers will emerge as a “winner” with audience support. In that moment of jubilation, their abusive behavior will be forgotten and they will be lauded for emerging victorious and the audience will wait for next season to get a dose of “reality”.

During the ad break, the channel has recently started playing the trailer for Rising Star Season 2. The trailer shows two women singing on stage with their faces covered because of family diktats on covering the face. The family is also shown to be resenting their singing. The trailer, in short, attempts to include too many things.

After they are done singing on stage, judge and Bollywood singer Monali Thakur, while taking pity on them asks them the reason for them hiding their face. “Itni achi gaayaki ko dupattey mei kyu chupa kar rakha hai?” (why is such a good singer concealing her face?) she asks. Both her tone and question smell of a colonial mindset, attaching more importance to their dress rather than their talent.

if Bigg Boss is a reality, then the reality of Indian society is very dark.

The judges called for a change in mindset making it unclear whether the change in mindset is represented by a change in attitude towards dressing or a change in mindset by letting women enter the field of music. If latter is the intention, then incorporation of dress angle is unnecessary and stereotypical.

The trailer tries to make awareness and emancipation of women a USP of the show. But can one really expect these things from a TV channel which in other shows overtly promotes gender-based insensitivity?

It happens to be the same TV channel which, in the guise of entertainment, encourages highly insensitive comments. In that very episode of Entertainment Ki Raat, the actors pretended to be Bigg Boss contestants, while guests were asked to scoff at them.

Comedian Raju Shrivastav mocked actress and Bigg Boss contestant Shilpa Shinde. He called her face a pumpkin and said “Tuje maa banney ka itna shouq hai tou Bigg Boss ke ghar se bhar nikal. Shakti Kapoor tera intezaar kar raha hai” (If you are so keen on being a mother, get out of the Bigg Boss house. Shakti Kapoor is waiting for you). To this (at 26:35) there were whistles, claps and laughter. How these jokes translate into abuse on roads and elsewhere is something that no one on the sets seems to understand.

All these instances of television watching have given me reason enough to believe that entertainment television in India cashes in on an archaic understanding of gender-related issues. It needs an overhaul more than ever. If not to make society better, but to stop trivializing sensitive issues in the name of entertainment.

Also Read: 17 Ways Popular Media Like Television & Cinema Could Be More Gender-Sensitive


Featured Image Credit: Financial Express

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