by Dr. Madhav Prabhu
I often think about revolutionary ideas that have radically changed our lives, have caused so much change in our life style and influenced so many people in real time. There are quiet a list of them including the mobile phone, the nuclear weapons, the discover of penicillin and the invention of computers. All these are however dwarfed when I think of the most important thing that is shaping the world today and is leaving an impression on generations and so is today the topic of this passage.
No need to play Sherlock Holmes, I am talking about daily soaps or serials as they are called in layman terms. Soaps are the greatest entertainment industry today, nothing influences the society and nothing is more captivating than the daily soaps. For a rough estimate, today we have 600 million viewers with 146 million TV sets with 623 channels and business amounting to a whopping 329 billion rupees, it is an economy in itself, but I am not going to indulge in these details because I have other things to touch.
Belagavi is like any other city hooked on to soaps, but there is always something unique here, in this city we have channels of all languages and so as a corollary soaps in all languages. Since people in Belagavi are great appreciators of art and understand multiple languages, they see soaps in every possible language. So it’s entirely possible and this is unique in Belagavi that a lady(I am not being sexist) sees Agnisakshi(Kannada) in the afternoon, Ghatge chi Suun (Marathi) in the evening and Piya Rangrez (Hindi) in the night. Herein there is no dispute and language is no barrier, actually, there is no much story too.
I sometimes feel soaps are like substances of abuse, initially you see a little, but soon you get involved in the characters and then you can’t live without them. I have seen my wife searching for vernacular channels even when abroad so she does not miss her daily soap, what if the lead couple runs away on the same day, how can you miss that. Soon you become dependent and then an addict couch potato.
Soaps are a part of life and you rarely get a completely alien person, a dumb wit in this world like me who is not watching them regularly, I guess this is because I have too much ego, otherwise after seeing my patients all day and working in the hospital and doing some teaching, there is no reason why I cannot spare two hours for such an important activity. I feel so left out when everyone in the group discusses their favorite on-screen romance, marriages, murders, and accidents. My cross, however, is to be borne by me.
Let us first describe the profile of the soap audience, the person who watches soap should have dedication, perseverance, and devotion, it is a highly demanding task you know, with all the emotions that the person goes through while watching them. Patience is a virtue here because the script does not change for weeks, its only the camera angle that does. Usually, it is our homemakers who possess these special skills and the time to back their virtues so they are naturally the elite target audience.
Such people are socially very active, they can start a conversation on the affair of the actresses in the serial and can keep gossiping about how good or bad the sasumaa or bahurani is, you see, its not merely seeing soap that’s important, analyzing, forming opinion and gossiping are virtues that are a must for soap watchers, or else please stay away.
When we were kids, growing up in Belagavi there was barely any television sets, my dad went to Goa to watch a cricket match on television and I went to my uncle’s home five kilometers from mine to watch the funeral of Indira Gandhi. Times have changed and today we have televisions in every home, sometimes in every room, some homes may not have toilets but television is a must and so the intellectuals who watch soaps transgress economic barrier.
My mom and our maid have a ritual, discussing the previous night’s episode, this is before they perform less important functions mandated to them, I love this bonding.
The soap addicts have so much devotion that they take out time for watching serials come what may, sometimes parties, funerals, studies, and visits to doctors are all rescheduled to ensure that a serial is not missed. Missing an episode puts you at a tremendous social disadvantage, you can miss a cardiac pill but not an episode. What if the lead star takes his punarjanma while your doctor is doing your ECG, it’s unimaginable.
In most middle-class household, who don’t employ cooks, cooking has taken the biggest hit I guess, my mom has lot many times burnt the biryani so that no action is lost in Mai Tulasi Tere Angan Ki, I believe that the mushrooming hotel industry in Belagavi is partly due to victims of soaps like me preferring hotel cuisine over the delicious home burnt food.
Now let’s look at the soaps, the subject of this blog, it’s just like any other entertainment but only staggered in space and time. I don’t know why they are called soaps, someone told me that it could be because initially all such serials were sponsored by soap manufacturers, but I believe it’s so because they keep producing more and more episodes every time you see them, just like soaps produce more and more foam every time you rub.
Surprisingly if you time a serial the time of actual action in just fifteen minutes, the rest is covered by advertisements, in the fifteen minutes there are few dialogues and after the dialogue, there is a display of the response of every other actor to that dialogue covered with multiple cameras at different camera angle. So if one actor says mai tera khoon pejaonga, the next five minutes will be spent on showing the faces of all other actors from all the angles and this is accompanied by either a drum beat or loud music. This seems so logical, television is two dimensional, well almost and we are used to seeing real life in three dimensions, so if you have to overcome this limitation we have to move the camera in every angle so that every emotion is caught properly. Eekta Kapoor never lets any emotion go waste. Unlike what most people think this is not to stretch the episode time. The Supreme Court was wrong in forcing the soaps too close I guess.
There is actually no problem with the script and the plot is fixed, it’s very easy and you can write one too, there are two or three standard plots, one is around mother in laws and daughter-in-laws where one of the two is very good and the other is very bad, the good is the humane, stoic and a magnanimous character who never complains and does only good all the time, the bad one is manipulative, abusive and never does anything good, so you start from here and every day put some heavy dialogues and that’s it. The second plot is the classic love triangle where the husband of one women has an affair with another or the wife has one with other and how one part of the triangle is a holy cow and in the end gets the spouse with his or her charm and the left out person suddenly changes into a good girl or boy. The story can be made interesting by killing one angle of the triangle and giving punarjanma to that person so now the holy cow does not know who she belongs to. The good wives forgive their husband come what may and even pray for them to stay in their lives forever and do whatever needed to win him back. God knows where such wives are manufactured mine does not forgive me if I forget to get vegetables in the evening.
Almost every serial is based on the same theme and only the character keep changing, you can add in a few suffering children with cute dialogues, some late entry policemen who get emotional, some on-screen intelligent lawyers, some seriously demented doctors and so on to make it more emotional and appealing.
The character usually come from the rich class and this is one more reason why we middle-class watch serials more keenly, the costumes, the ornaments, the interiors of homes or sets as we call them is something we dream to own, but with our mediocre salaries we can’t, so we are satisfied watching them on the television screen. You can have Marwadi families, Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujarati and so on and all of them will have the same scandals to create. There is a recent trend in scripts where village girls or poor girls get married to the super-rich and then go on to win the hearts of the people in the new house with all their virtues, only after a hundred episodes of doing only good and sticking to the family despite the abuse. Is this the right example to be set for a girl, get abused yet stay back dreaming that acche din ayenge. Humm food for thought.
So now that we know the soapoholics and the soaps, we need to know the effect they have on our lives. For starters people start living in this make-believe world, a hero dying is more important than a real-life neighbor, you know there is nothing to watch in the neighbors funeral when there is an interesting mystery death in the serial. The pain of the bahus in the serial becomes so torturous that real-time saasuma and bahus become irrelevant and alien. Culturally we have changed so much, karwachouth was something we had never heard in our childhood and yes even without that fast husbands in Belagavi somehow miraculously survived despite every torture from the wife and the society. Today we see most houses following such rituals and husband are important atleast that one day. Sangeet in marriages, if you ask your grandma, she will say the only music she heard was shehanai or if you could afford a band to accompany the barat, but today every marriage has a Sangeet and everyone has to dance. The saree is been replaced by gowns and lehengas and thanks to cheap local imitations, now affordable to all.
Marriages today are about display rather than coming together in a heavenly bond. I still remember traditional Belagavi marriages, you get up at five, have a cold water bath, listen to the chanting of the priest, run seven times around the fire, smile for photographs despite the torture and eat last, well on the day of the marriage we middle-class men never knew that we will be doing all these things every day from that day on, getting up early, listening to the wife’s chant, running the day around the job and despite everything put up a smile, come home late from work and eat last.
But I don’t want to rub salt in the wounds of the honest husbands who find relief reading blogs on AAB. The priests and photographers were the only ones who enjoyed marriages today everyone does with days are rehearsals thanks to soaps.
Mothers nowadays are so engrossed in serials that they fail to notice their own children feeling lonely or becoming an addict, was it not our mothers who sat with us, took us close and told us that however, we are she always loves us, today mothers are missing and we can readily see addiction and depression in the kids while the affairs of Mihir or Tulsi become so important. I am not being partial putting the blame on mother’s but I think they are more relevant when we speak of soaps, we can pinch the fathers if we are speaking of news and Arnab Goswami. News is like soaps to men, they also follow scripts nowadays.
I sometimes wonder why we are moving closer to television characters and distancing ourselves from living ones, our children, our parents, our neighbors are all good people, talk with them once a week, ask your spouses how his or her day was, share their joys and apprehensions sometimes, there is a lot of emotions, despair and jubilant times in real life, but instead of savoring them, we are resorting to virtual reality.
In the end, most serials will have happy endings but what about the times we have spent watching, anticipating and waiting for them, can’t we have a happy ending every day, living amongst our own, and handling our own day to day problems, well I don’t want to play a spoiler but as a doctor, I know of all the problems soaps cause to our health, and one question always haunts me, is it necessary to live emotions in the couch when we can spend them out in the Angan of every home.