The “Rasode Mein Kaun Tha?” memes, other than being hilarious, are a commentary on the pathetic state of TV serials’ content in India.
At this point, the term “TV serials” automatically conjures up images of women clad in expensive sarees and jewelry squabbling about running the household as the incessantly loud dhoom tananan music rages in the background. Like jalebis dunked into sugar syrup, shows like Saath Nibhaana Saathiya are lessons in patriarchy.
They constantly reinforce the notion that women are only meant to work in the kitchen, do household chores, and have children. Any woman with the slightest shred of independence is automatically painted as conniving, villainous, and deceitful; an abomination to our Indian sanskaars. Not to mention the bizarre plot twists and rampant misogyny served as content in these shows.
But contrary to popular belief, not all TV serials serve up sexism as the main course. Let’s consider the award-winning show Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi. It is about a young couple who fall in love and learn to respect each other’s background, personalities, and lifestyles. The show ran for over 1.5 years and was exceptionally popular, even winning awards.
A refreshing departure from the saas-bahu genre, the show focuses on the love story between the rich businessman Dev Dixit (played by Shaheer Sheikh) and successful nutritionist and entrepreneur, Dr. Sonakshi Bose (played by Erica Fernandes). The duo face numerous, but realistic hurdles, including an intercultural marriage, unsupportive and/or meddling family members, and different ideas of how a marriage should work.
There are still some dramatic tropes to add mirch and masala to the show: a conniving aunt who creates misunderstandings between Dev and Sonakshi, a scheming brother, and even a seven-year divorce and separation between the couple to name a few.
Yet, the show remains grounded in reality, never letting any character become caricaturish, and instead gives them room to learn from their mistakes, grow, and develop further.
Not only does this show present strong, opinionated, and independent female characters, but it also radically shifts the burden of compromise in relationships onto men, rather than imposing it solely on women. When Dev and Sonakshi have their second child, everyone, including Dev, expect Sonakshi to quit her job for a few years to raise both children.
However, after realising how much Sonakshi’s job means to her, Dev slowly unlearns and begins to question why only females are expected to take care of the family. After all, the family is theirs, not just hers.
Upon further self-reflection, Dev decides to quit his job to raise his children for a few years, while Sonakshi continues to run her company. This is just one of the many examples of how Dev learns to challenge the ingrained patriarchy within Indian marriages. Throughout the series, it is Dev who changes himself to become a better husband, learning to respect Sonakshi’s individual identity outside of their marriage.
Dev doesn’t start out as the perfect husband, but learns to become one with Sonakshi’s help and support. In the process, he becomes an ideal role model for Indian men in today’s times.
So why don’t we see more TV serials like this today? Part of the reason has to do with a TV serials rating system known as Television Rating Point (TRP). TRP is a mechanism to measure the popularity of a particular show by monitoring what a sample population watches on television. The TRPs are critical for determining advertiser sponsorships, which makes them the key determiner of whether a show stays on air.
Unfortunately, the comparatively progressive shows like Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi tend to have consistently lower TRP levels compared to saas-bahu dramas, resulting in them either being taken off air more quickly or being morphed into a more stereotypical saas-bahu drama to appease viewers.
Perhaps the best example of TRP affecting a show’s plot is the tale of Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum (KHKT). KHKT initially focused on the relationship between famous television actress Sonakshi Rastogi (played by Dipika Kakkar) and renowned cardiologist Rohit Sippy (Karan V. Grover) and their struggle to understand each other’s different worlds and make time for each other in their busy lives.
The show opened to rave reviews from critics, who praised the show’s refreshingly modern and relatable plot points, the chemistry between the leads, and the portrayal of strong female characters like Sonakshi. But as the show’s producer Sandiip Sikcand noted in an interview with The Quint, there was a constant struggle to determine a storyline that would increase TRP while also appeasing critics.
During the more realistic episodes, such as those focusing on Sonakshi and Rohit’s respective careers or their developing relationship, critics showered the show with praise for a realistic storyline; however, the TRPs always dwindled at lower levels. Meanwhile, TRPs rose sharply the minute an over-dramatic typical masaledaar storyline was introduced, such as when Rohit Sippy’s aunt was abruptly revealed to be evil and tried to murder her brother for the sake of inheritance.
Caught in a battle between good storytelling and TRP maintenance, KHKT was forced to revert to a standard TV serial format, where a modern outspoken female character became a villain, and Sonakshi decided to quit her TV career for her family.
The whole show became filled with absurd bouts of family drama. What could have been a revolutionary show, turned into yet another daily soap, with sloppy writing, plot holes, and unnecessarily dramatic music, eventually going off air just nine months after its premiere.
Unfortunately, the outdated TRP system (which does not consider online, delayed, or overseas views) is a hindrance to quality television content within the industry. Show producers are afraid to try anything even remotely progressive for fear of rejection by the masses and sponsors.
However, there is a silver lining to all of this. Shows that have been running for years, such as Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, are taking steps to develop more progressive storylines, covering topics including sexual assault, domestic violence, and even COVID-19 precautions.
Given their longtime standing with channels like Star Plus, they can afford to take more risk and develop more innovative content. So with drastic changes to the existing TRP system, there may be hope yet for more feminist content to rise to the surface.
Until then though, the new promo of Saath Nibhaana Saathiya 2 was released and it seems like the cooker is the star of the show again. So, until better television entertainment comes around, at least we will have more cooker memes to keep us entertained.
Akanksha is a recent graduate from the University of California San Diego with a B.S. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. She is currently preparing to apply to medical school and enjoys writing about social issues, especially about mental health. She is also a Bollywood fan and loves watching movies and Indian TV shows in her spare time. She can be found on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: India News Time