Saturday, September 23, 2000

And The Screen Imitates Life

Social history shows that the one person who determines the comfort level of a bride in her new family is the MIL. Is this true today or has the media tarnished the picture of the MIL irreparably through a ceaseless, cruel and often unfair campaign, asks Vimla Patil


IF you are a super-addicted couch potato and watch the umpteen soaps which battle for a hold over your leisure hours, you must have noticed a certain trend in the recent television programmes. The ogre-like Indian mother-in-law, personified by the gruesome characters played by Lalita Pawar, Shashikala and others of their ignominious ilk, has come back to the small screen in a wholly new avatar. She is no longer dressed in widow’s weeds or white saris as per Indian tradition. She is not a stark, cruel character who is out to destroy every shred of happiness which young people want. She wears fancy jewellery and upmarket clothes, sets fashion trends in the ethnic garments’ market, is educated and has excellent communications skills. What’s more, when her eyes sparkle, there is a distinct glint of self-recognition in them. However, her manipulative instincts still rate very high.


The screen portrays the stereotype roles

Many TV serials bring back this time-worn, boring, yet never-ending debate back into social prominence. The archetypal one among them is, of course, Tu Tu Main Main, which as reflected by its title, describes the sas-bahu relationship. Whether friends or foes, they cannot do without verbal battles and confrontations. In this now-dragging comedy, the MIL-DIL relationship is caricatured to a point of disbelief simply because it is perceived as a battle of wills. Friendly, proud of each other, well-wishers, yet plotting and scheming all the time to pull each other down, Rima Lagoo and Supriya Sabms have created a MIL-DIL drama which is totally foolish and meaningless. Yet, because of the abiding interest of Indian women in this ‘trunk’ relationship, the comedy is now telecast almost every day. The sas-bahu team in Tu Tu... makes their men into caricatures, too. The serial gives male viewers an opportunity to say, "I have always said women can’t get along with each other", in a half-comic, half-serious manner. Women, on the other hand, get a much-awaited chance to identify the MILas the comic but, nonetheless, eternal villain.

Add to this the story of another soap, Saher, a story of four women where the pregnant daughter is jostled by a frustrated, hurt mother and a vicious mother-in-law and you have yet another picture of how women can be portrayed as their ‘worst enemies’!

Now, in Ekta and Shobha Kapur’s more recent effort, Kyunki Sas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, we are presented with four MILs of varying ages and different ideas. All of them are well-dressed, bejewelled and well-meaning, yet, each one has the dormant desire to "be a power centre".

It is interesting that Indian television constantly portrays women — good or bad — as an active element of the society. They manipulate relationship, plan to hurt others, take shrewd decisions, break homes and families, play seductresses and so on. The men provide the money, watch the drama from ringside seats, sometimes cajole or persuade their mothers or wives, but almost always seem weak and spineless. Strong, brooding, generous types who are prepared to stand up and be counted are nowhere on the horizon!

Whatever the ‘truth’ portrayed on the small screen, the reality, it appears, is quite different. More and more men and women are victims of circumstances and pressures created by society. Every urban house is a cesspool of back-breaking hard work for both men and women, along with frustration with a crumbling social structure and traumatic relationships. Men are really not as helpless or comic as they are made out to be on television. They wield power, manipulate people around them, and at least in some cases, set off conflicts between women with their actions, by default if not on purpose. They are either too busy with their careers to be ‘equal and fair’ to their mothers, sisters and wives or, worse still, take that side which seems beneficial in the short term, often creating entirely avoidable rifts because of their erratic behaviour. Innumerable men use women in their family to settle scores. For instance, in serious dowry cases, men choose to be silent spectators of the sas’ cruelty or even goad her to evil deeds, giving MILs the eternal villain’s role. Men stay out of conflicts which originate because of their non-committal attitudes and then say that women cannot live together peacefully in a family. They almost always exert their authority as heads of families when it suits them but refuse to do anything to correct the course of familial relationships at the right time.

If men stood by and watched their mothers maul their wivesin the days gone by, today’s young, upmarket men too stand by and watch their hip-cat wives in shorts and T-shirts dishonour and ill-treat the elders. The sad stories of many pensioners, the suicides of parents and the pathetic poverty of mothers and fathers who have given their best to their progeny are legion today. Let alone the not-well-to-do women, even the successful, self-supporting MILs and FILs suffer indescribable trauma and severe rejection because of sibling enmity and ill-will, property disputes or greed and selfishness on the part of sons and their wives towards them. Indeed, many elder marriages suffer and break in the twilight years because their offspring force them to take sides in the battle for power and money.

This reality, or even a glimpse of it, is not seen in any TV programme — barring, of course, occasional news reports which show the plight of elders harassed by young DILs and their spineless husbands. The day the Neena Guptas, Ekta Kapurs and Nirja Guleris of the entertainment world bring out the other side of the truth in their TV soaps, will be the day of reckoning!