Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The so-Uncomical Nights of Bittu Sharma

While on the subject of TV, my rejection of all things "Saas-Bahu" was known to many. Some implored me to watch "Comedy Nights with Kapil" for "clean wholesome family entertainment". And I committed the sin of believing them. Life came back a full circle. Bittu Sharma and his inanity failed to impress me : the purist in me, as well as the feminist in me. It made me wince, it made me cringe and it made me feel grateful that I had retained some common sense in not asking my kids to watch it in the name of "clean, wholesome, family entertainment".

Kapil Sharma and his comedy nights thrive on misogyny. It is unbearable to watch the way he makes fun of his wife and in-laws. Is that why he is so popular? Because making fun of their wives and their in-laws is considered the favourite past-time of most Indian men? It seems most likely. Fifty percent of the jokes circulated on social media are about wives. Most of this fifty percent is also about in-laws. And the phenomenon is not uncommon in the West either. Jokes about men fearing their mother-in-law visiting them are quite common but funny too. Why men in the West get away with mother-in-law jokes is because of their social and family structure, and hence the jokes are, well, actually just jokes. 

However. in India, where women and their parents are always looked down by the husband and his parents, such a situation is given social sanction by such widely watched shows. In real life Indian society, the groom's parents consider it their divine right to demand and get the right dowry (read price) for their son. Brides are burnt for not fulfilling the never-ending demands of their in-laws. Bittu Sharma repeats ad nauseum the theme of his wife being bad-looking and not bringing any dowry. This is socially irresponsible to say the least. That it leads to further degradation of the social status of women is the greater harm such shows bring.What is disgusting about Bittu Sharma's treatment of his wife and in-laws is his male arrogance which is reflected in his absolutely condescending behaviour towards them. He doesn't dislike his wife because she is better looking or better read than him. He dislikes her because he thinks she is too bad to look at and didn't bring anything as dowry. He looks down on her as if she were something the cat-brought-in. The same goes for the in-laws too. And that's not all. His wife puts up with it. She may protest but she stays on the show. So, the message being sent out is even if the husband ill-treats the wife and her family, they may protest, but they must put up with it, because they don't matter. Their feelings don't matter. They better be used to it.

Many may defend him saying it is just a comedy show. Oh really? Crack a joke at someone's religion and see how riots spring up. Here you are demeaning an entire gender, which comprises about 45 % of the population, when ideally it should be 50 %. This skewed population ratio has a direct relationship with kind of ideology Bittu Sharma represents: women are to be made fun of, women are second class citizens. They are supposed to look good and bring sufficient dowry with them. Good looks and dowry. Nothing else matters. Not their education. Not their personality. Not their emotions and feelings. Not their economic or social productivity.

Hence, it is difficult and humiliating being parents of a woman, or girl child. And riots don't happen because such shows reinforce the social mores which say that women are inferior to men and it doesn't matter how they are treated. Most women's parents too believe the same, and hence keep quiet though their hearts may be bleeding within. Just like the wife and her family on the show.

As for "clean, wholesome family entertainment", even "some" is not clean, what to say of the "whole". And as for "family", well, have a look at Bittu's family.The married but flirtatious Bittu, the horny Dadi with her corny dialogues, cross-dressed men with crassly-dressed double entendres, the embarrased guests, the beautiful "temptations" visiting Bittu............they make one sit up and say, "Kya hai yeh?!"

So much for "clean, wholesome entertainment". Those who love it may continue to do so, but beware of the harm you are bringing to society, and especially your children, by giving them a crass, skewed view of society in general, and women in particular. And tomorrow when your daughter is treated like Bittu's wife.......don't say you weren't warned.

Saas, Bahu and other Dramas

A still from Zindagi Gulzar Hai
Picture source: Google, YouTube.
I have stopped watching soap operas. In other words, the never-ending "Saas-Bahu" sagas. In fact, I stopped watching them a decade ago. And I think that's the greatest service I may have done to my intellect in the last decade. The slow unending stories, the unbelievable and extremely tortuous intrigues, the ghastly make up, the garish costumes, the artificially artificial sets, the three times action re-re-replay of scenes, the three times close-ups of expressionless faces - faces so made up that even the actors may not recognise themselves when they look in a mirror. Remember Rohini Hattangadi being made-up by Sridevi in the famous scene in "Chaalbaaz"? Well, now you get the drift.

And so it was quite refreshing to see some contemporary Pakistani "TV Dramas", as they are called. Most of them have first been telecast on Hum TV, and are now being beamed in India by Zindagi channel. The dramas are actually, well, dramas. Most of them are based on novels or stories, and actually have something called a "story", a "Kahaani" which is not unending like "Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki". They typically wind-up in 25-26 episodes. Even Saas-Bahu intrigues end, and the vamps and villains are visualised just like ordinary people, and not demi-demons, if such an expression exists, as on Indian TV. Remember Urvashi Dholakia or Sudha Chandran? Or so many others of their ilk, who would put even Radhey Ma to shame. And despite their various short-comings, these Pakistani dramas manage to capture one's imagination.

Of course, Indian television did not always belong to the "Kyunki Chhaas Bhi Kabhi Dahi Thi" variety of nonsense. I remember seeing some wonderful stories in the '80s and early '90s. If there was a "Humlog", or a "Buniyaad", or a "Nukkad" in the '80s, there was a "Phir Wahi Talaash" in the early '90s. The list is endless. Even upto the late '90s, we had beautiful adaptations of stories like the one of Wuthering Heights called "Samay", starring Pooja Bhatt and Aly Khan. The 2000s sounded the death-knell of meaningful dramas on TV. The novel gave way to the banal. The sensible to the inane. The realistic to the garishly artificial. And drove way art from TV forever.

Pakistani dramas and their popularity in India are not a new phenomenon. One still remembers pirated video cassettes and the beeline people made to watch them. Tanhaiyaan, Ankahi, Dhoop Kinarey, and the Indo-Pak drama on Star Plus called Tanha. Of course, all scripted by the great writer, Haseena Moin. Marina Khan was a household name, and people loved her Meg Ryan-ish import as well as her impish on-screen characters. Even the stand-up comedy "Bakra Kishton Par" was funny - actually funny.

Now, in 2010s, the old has given way to the new. Now, it's Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Humsafar and Daastaan, which rule the airwaves and the hearts. And now there is Fawad Khan, and Mahira Khan, and Sanam Saeed who are the current heartthrobs. And Haseena Moin has been replaced by Umera Ahmed as the czarina of scripts.

Of course, people say, they get repetitive after a while. Yes, formulas do tend to get stale. But as of now, one gets to see faces one can recognise. Like on Indian television in the '80s and '90s. People with acting skills. People who could emote. Not lipsticked men and kohl smudged women, who all look the same. All painted with the same foundation. Maybe Indian TV has managed to fight and win one battle that all anti-race and anti-colour activists have not been able to - the battle of colour. Or shall we say, all is fair, and lovely, on contemporary Indian TV?!