It is a frightening scene. Lights pop on and a boxing ring appears on screen. Two women prowl inside it. One is in a salwar kameez and sports a bright red sindoor on her forehead.
The other is in a more modern attire with her hair in a pony tail.
They glare menacingly at each other. Nostrils flare, eyebrows arch and fists clench. Who will win the best “bahu” title?
Watching this promo to a Hindi soap, I was taken aback by the vicious look in these women’s eyes. I couldn’t tell who the heroine was. Mariamma, my domestic help, chipped in. “She is the bad woman,” she said pointing at the ponytail lady. “She should be chucked out of the house!” I was shocked at Mariamma’s reaction. She is usually a serene being who speaks lovingly about her grand children and brings extra pazham poris for me. But, the two women on screen, in that one minute, had transformed her into this vengeful person.
I realised soon that almost all the Indian serials are anchored in violence and hatred.
The women might not be physically violent, but they spew venom. In Malayalam serials, there is inevitably a real and fake daughter, who vie for maternal love. The real one is banished from her house and grows up on the streets while the fake one enjoys the luxuries of home and family. Endless suffering makes the Malayalam soap heroine virtuous. She must starve, live among kidnappers and transform them into noble beings, along the way. On the other hand the evil daughter just gets more evil. She is materialistic, and definitely lacks a halo.
“I feel like beating her up,” says Lakshmi, a 60-year-old viewer.
“We know that she is not the real daughter. Then, why is every one buying her story and torturing the good molu?” She switches on the T.V each day in the hope that the evil one will get punished for her sins, that day. “More than our love for the main heroine, it is our anger at the negative character that urges us to watch these serials,” she tells me.
So the bad egg actress always gets more attention. Because, she stokes up the anger in the viewer, and brings about catharsis. She exhibits individuality, unlike the ideal daughter.
But, as being individualistic and having courage has never been considered a female virtue, she is destined to remain a villain.
Violence is the catalyst for a serial’s popularity. And without its generous share of hate, violence and venom, it does not work its magic . As I am writing this, my seventy year old grandmother is muttering darkly. She tells me that the evil daughter has just switched some important DNA reports…