Randeep Wadehra on how intriguing in-laws and spouses add spice to soap operas
Joint families are fast vanishing in our society. Even the so-called bastion of orthodoxy — our rural hinterland – is no more a safe haven for this once vital social unit. Yet joint families have been proliferating on our television — Hindi soap operas to be precise.
Come to think of it, one can’t recall any major serial based on nuclear or single-parent families.
Joint families are ideal for providing the necessary backdrop, characters and plot for a spicy-weepy-funny-gripping-boring saga. Some may find similarities with our epics while others may point out Godfather as inspiration for various productions. Whatever the case, these provide enough dumbed down entertainment to our couch potatoes.
What makes joint families tick on the telly? Why the absence of clamour for small family sagas. There is obviously a magnetic attraction in the wiles of intriguing in-laws, snarling spouses and skirmishing siblings. The drama that the feuds offer is impossible to ignore.
Take the popular Saat Phere. If Kaveri has succeeded in making her in-laws’ lives miserable, then Urvashi has managed the impossible by tearing apart the seemingly unbreakable fraternal bonds between Brijesh and Nahar. She has reduced them to sighing-crying ninnies and Bhabho to a helpless bystander as the joint family’s edifice begins to crumble. The eyeballs remain glued to the telly in anticipation of a riveting fight back by the forces of the good against the ascendant evil.
Similarly, the war of attrition between the Kharbandas and the Lambas in Viraasat is interesting too. The sniggering Rishabh Lamba’s machinations keep us transfixed. The manner in which he tries to oust his younger brother Rahul and his wife Priyanka from the joint family is both revolting and hypnotising.
The intra-family feud is more compelling than the inter family one. Since these dark deeds only underscore the negatives of the joint family system why should it bewitch the viewers? Does the success of such serials indicate the manifestation of latent sadistic voyeurism in us? Or are there other factors that make soaps subtly attractive? It could not be our perennial vicarious base instincts that goad us to watch all this on television forever and again, there must be something more substantial.
Let us have a look again at the above two serials. One factor is common to both, viz., emphasis on sanskaar, a concept more profound than what is generally understood as value system. Sanskaars comprise values imbibed since birth enabling one to deal skillfully and wisely with an array of relationships and situations that one comes across in life. These are a combination of value system, social skills and inherent traits that help develop one’s character.
Sanskaar is a much-mouthed word in these two serials. In Viraasat, the arch enemies Raman Lamba and Kailash Kharbanda swear by it. In the same serial Prof. Vardhan admonishes Juhi Lamba for lack of sanskaar. When she indulges in character assassination, Priyanka shows her the right path. Priyanka is the epitome of this typical Indian value system which helps keep the family together.
Ditto for Saloni in Saat Phere, who wouldn’t utter one strong word against her elders no matter what the provocation. In every testing situation she does the right thing by eschewing the temptation for revenge or self-gratification. Thus, it goes against her sanskaar to take on Dhir Singh, Urvashi and Kaveri etc.
But not all joint families on the television make a song and dance about values, yet they have a sound and practical sense of the right and the wrong. Take the Thakkar family in Baa Bahu aur Baby. Despite their differences and foibles the members stay together. They share joys and sorrows and look after the most vulnerable in the family. Godavari, the matriarch, commands respect and obedience from one and all, including her daughters-in-law without resorting to ma-in-law type strong arm tactics. The pivots of the narrative remain the weakest in the family, be it the physically challenged Baby, the mentally challenged Gattu or the terminally ill Saumil. The family invariably rallies round whenever one of them needs help. Things do get mawkish at times, but who wouldn’t like to live in such a joint family where tears and giggles mingle so naturally? In real life this institution has become an anachronism. Thus its invocation invites ridicule among today’s viewers.
Yet a farce like Instant Khichdi enforces its viability on the idiot box at least. The bluff patriarch of the Parekh parivaar, the silly but lovable Hansa-Prafull couple and the busybee Jayshree Bhabhi keep us amused even as they stick together through thick and thin.
Why has such a joint family become utopian in real life? The refusal of successive generations to care and share is becoming louder. As a child reaches adulthood he wants to strike out on his own. The family values of yore have become a burden and a drag on one’s quest for self-fulfillment. Our desire for personal space and need for growth have thrown us into a vortex of high ambition, insecurity and angst. So what is the solution? We have yet to see serials resolving such dilemmas. Or do the above serials offer one such? Can’t say, given the interplay of the adult ego. All one can do is slap one’s forehead and exclaim with Jackie and Chucky, the two Parekh kids, "Bade log, Bade log."