Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Childhood and Relationship With Parents and Family,where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences that we all have experienced in some form or the other in our birth or chosen families and have been negotiating with them everyday. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twenties is when you feel the oldest; later on, you stop bothering about your age and getting older. One of the first signs of becoming old is remembering your past and feeling nostalgic about what you used to do, your likes and dislikes and that is when you realise—“Nostalgia is truly one of the greatest human weaknesses, second only to the neck,” as Dwight Schrute stated in The Office.
I recently made the nostalgic nosedive when I decided upon a tv show to watch during the lockdown period, and began my 192-episode long journey of Shararat, an Indian sitcom about a family of fairies that aired from 2003-2006.
Shararat is a sitcom that ran on Star Plus—each episode averagely spanning about 30 minutes, that was a staple to every 90s kid’s entertainment diet! Loosely based on Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, the story revolves around a family in which the eldest female member is blessed with magical powers on her 18th birthday, due to the good deeds of Rani Devi, a great great great great great grandmother of theirs.
Nani, her daughter Radha and her granddaughter Jiya can manage magical feats with just a flick of their fingers and rhyming couplets after chanting the mantra: Shring-Bring-Sarvaling, Bhoot Bhavishya Vartaman Badling. You would think that this is a story of empowered women, who use their powers to change the flawed societal constructs; but you realise that being a woman in the 2000s and maybe even now meant performing stereotypical gender roles in a patriarchal family structure, whether you are a fairy or not.
Let me state the most obvious example of Radha Malhotra, mother of Jiya (Shruti Seth) and daughter of Nani (Farida Jalal). Radha can do any household work in a jiffy with some magical chants but you see her rarely using her powers! The reason? Her husband doesn’t like it. Suraj Malhotra, though a lovable husband with funny antics and an interesting comic presence, rebukes his Jaanu (as per how Radha and Suraj call each other) for using her magic to cook food or do household chores. In fact, Radha’s persistent catchphrase whenever Nani coaxes her to use her powers in the show is, “Unko mera jaadu karna pasand nahi hai.” (He doesn’t like it if I do magic.)
I thought it was only Radha, but in a particular episode, Nani’s husband visits the family and Nani hesitates in performing magic because Nanaji aka Khushi doesn’t like Nani doing things with the help of the magic too. While Nani condemns Suraj for not allowing her daughter to do household chores with some fairy tinkering, she inhibits herself from doing the same because of her husband’s preferences! This reminded me of our families where we often treat our daughters-in-law(s) suspiciously and want them to take responsibility for the whole house every minute, but really complain and criticise our own daughter’s relatives when they subject her to the same treatment and expectations of slogging the whole day.
That whole episode turned into a battle of sexes, where the men literally say that, “Women should always be beneath the men and should respect the superiority of male.” The women of the house decided to show men their place by not cooperating too! I thought it was great! Finally, some dissent against the patriarchal rules. But the episode further accentuated the stereotypical gender roles, where men understood the role of women only when required to cook food themselves and the women who knew magic, were shown to be technically disabled to fix an electrical fuse, because it is supposedly a man’s job.
I really thought, what is the big deal of using your magical powers?
Then I equated it to the real-life counterpart, your personal ability or talents! In a way Suraj and Nanaji were actually afraid of the women’s powers and were prohibiting them from using their fullest potential. If the ladies could have finished the household chores with just a flick, imagine how much free time they would have to invest on their growth and other talents! And I cannot recall Radha’s talents apart from cooking, cleaning the house and being a good parent. This is what happens in our families too, we restrict women to the household, ignoring their labour and pressurise the men to be the sole breadwinner and the expectations of stereotypical masculinity limits them too.
Suraj thinks that the food brought through magic is not delicious and that is fair since the food teleports from some other place and is not made through magic. But in a particular episode, when he invites his senior on dinner to impress him with his wife’s culinary skills, he still doesn’t allow Radha to use her magic, even when the senior brings his entire family of about 8-10 people and the food prepared by Radha is only sufficient for his immediate family.
In such emergencies too, magic was unimaginable.
In quite normal situations like Jiya’s interest in modelling, participating in a music contest and going out with friends, Suraj is extremely patriarchal with his bouts of “humare ghar ki ladkiyan aisa nahi karti!” (Girls of our family don’t do things like these). Re-watching these moments was extremely problematic after understanding the socio-political context and its subconscious impact on the audience.
It may seem entertaining, but it affects how we view our family and accept these gender roles which furthers sexism and inhibits growth, nothing else! Since it is a reflection of families, it could be called realism, but here was an opportunity to show 3 women breaking the mold of sexism and creating an example for young girls and women to stand for their talents and potential.
I do associate fond memories with Shararat, but I can’t stop realising what impact it had on us, the 90s kids, when we laughed on jokes with blatant body shaming (calling a broader and curvaceous women ‘buffalo’ as an insult) and when females were pitted against females (Jiya vs. Pam, the vamp in short clothes, and Radha vs. Shanti, the nosy neighbour who flirts with Suraj).
Our family spaces can change, if the popular culture can experiment with progressive families, being there for each other!
Utkrishti is a Masters students pursuing Clinical Psychology from Manipal Academy of Higher Education. She is an intersectional feminist and amateur songwriter who questions her consumption choices every single day. At her best she tries to save paper and water vehemently, she believes that human kindness will solve the societal problems one day! You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.