Ghar ki biwi daal ke jaisi
Aur ki biwi
Lagti hai murgi
These are lines from the popular 90s sitcom Shrimaan Shrimati which is making a comeback, titled Shrimaan Shrimati Phir Se. This show tested a concept of couples living as neighbours, where the men hit on each other’s wives. The success of this theme is evident even today, with popular shows like Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hai running on the same premise while audiences enjoy their ‘family-friendly’ appeal.
‘Ghar ki biwi daal barabar’ is a common Hindi phrase, which compares a wife to a common Indian cuisine item, prepared almost daily in many households. The sentiment behind this is to emphasize the mundane, uninspiring and sometimes boring existence of a housewife.
In Shrimaan Shrimati, Kokila and Keshav are the normative couple where the husband works and the wife is a homemaker. The other couple is Prema Shalini, an actress and her homemaker husband Dilruba, who is often shown in a mocking light for his effeminate behaviour. Both the husbands spend copious amounts of time and effort idolizing and flirting with the other one’s wife.
Its modern counterpart, Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hai, is inspired by the older show. It works with the same concept where Vibhuti and Manmohan constantly hit on each other’s wives, Anita and Angoori. Of course, there has been some evolution as Bhabhiji… also includes film promotions and sometimes even goes far enough to promote government policies, such as demonetization.
a closer look at these ‘harmless’ sitcoms shows that it’s only the men who have the agency to flirt with their neighbour’s wife.
Both the shows have the same characters in essence: a traditional husband who is the sole breadwinner and his wife who is the homemaker. The other couple is a working woman and an ‘unemployed’ man. This man may be a homemaker, but his identity will always be associated with unemployment since he is unable to fulfil his role as the provider.
However, there is also a sympathetic lens to portray him, since his wife is financially independent, and occasionally annoyed with his failure to find work. Both shows are set in a typical middle to upper-middle-class locale, where characters are left to concentrate on their personal lives and relationships in a comfortable background where nothing of great consequence happens.
Monogamy is not natural, but a social construct. Therefore infidelity becomes an interesting concept, and many storytellers have attempted to explore it. Lovers of shows like Bhabhiji… strongly defend the plotline and themes. They say that it’s just flirting, harmless comedy, no one is actually cheating or being abused and there is a working woman and a house husband, so it’s progressive. The women are friends and have no problems with each other, and no one is being bothered. In a very superficial way, those are valid points.
But a closer look at these ‘harmless’ sitcoms shows that it’s only the men who have the agency to go and flirt with their neighbour’s wife. The wives, on the other hand, are shown to be blissfully ignorant that they are being flirted with. Their level of awareness just seems to have gone down in the modern version.
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The wives never flirt back. They never try to put a stop to the advances of their neighbour. They just accept the men as they are whilst maintaining their ‘purity’. The men on the other hand openly express their lustful feelings as well as their dissatisfaction with their marriages.
The women are, however, always satisfied with status quo: living with a husband who has his eyes elsewhere. They have no intention to confront their husbands and are seemingly ‘happy’ in their marriages. Neither are they interested in leaving their spouse. This is how women who are perfectly compliant with patriarchy look like.
Confrontation would make them appear as a disturbing force in the otherwise stagnantly still waters of the idyllic patriarchal setup. And no one wants that. No one likes women with agency, especially ones which disturb a man’s freedom to flirt without consequences.
It’s not just other’s wives that TV’s men are imposing their libido on. In May I Come in Madam, the protagonist falls in love with his new female boss. The makers try to justify this by showing that he is henpecked and has an over-imposing mother in law.
The responsibility of an unsatisfactory married life is purely on the wife. She’s too career-minded and nags too much. She is such a simpleton and just a housewife, she must be terribly dull.
No one likes women with agency, especially when disturbing men’s freedom to flirt without consequences.
The husband, on the other hand, has no responsibility in making the marriage work. His behaviour is just him ‘being himself’; it has no consequences. He is never the oppressor, no matter how he behaves. He is, in fact, the hapless victim of the wife having any sort of expectations from him.
As for the women who do flirt on TV (the ‘Komolikas’ if you will) are almost always unmarried (unless they have a marriage of convenience to seek revenge). The Komolikas are purely villainous, out to destroy another woman’s household. You will never find such women in comedies because a man being cheated on is horror and drama.
It has no place in light-hearted comedy. This is a unique form of mass gaslighting by the good TV folks. “Relax, your husband is just harmlessly flirting, it’s a comedic situation”. “This woman is flirting with a married man? She is an evil vixen who cares for no one. Do not ever be her. Be the pure one who is happy with her husband”.
Daal does not impose restrictions on anyone. Even after you go to have bahar ki murgi, the daal will accept you back without asking questions or being upset that you had murgi. The murgi, on the other hand, is only good as a temptation.
There is no obligation towards her: she is a mere temptation to seek once in a while. Comparing women to food items is definitely a form of objectification, but it’s also a glimpse into how women are categorized: as the boring wife or the alluring but unattainable beauty.
Featured Image Credit: India Today