Suhel Seth was Outlook‘s cat of the week in its “Beta Male” issue – you know, the one they like to let loose among the right wing pigeons who like to roost on their publication? It’s an entertaining tradition of which I heartily approve. And Seth seems to have delivered in spades with his Ten Ladies to Tremble By column that introduces us to the “[p]urveyors of hypocrisy, self-preservation and godawful stupidity—[the] women who set my teeth on edge”.
Said femmes terribles are Sushma Swaraj, Renuka Chowdhary, Meira Kumar, Jayalalitha, Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Mayawati, Rakhee Swant, Ekta Kapoor and Suneeta Narain – a little sugar for everybody. Of course Outlook‘s commentarati took it up a notch shortly thereafter by taking him to task for A) impugning the honor of the flower of Indian womanhood and B) not impugning the honor of the flowers they wanted (Sonia Gandhi x 10. Because the flower of Italian womanhood is always fair game).
[You know, I’ve thought it over and I’ve decided my all-time favorite internet complaint is: “But why didn’t you write what I wanted you to write? I hate you! Your mother is a leprechaun and your father is a spore!” Or words to that effect.]
Now I’ve just spent a month following different top-rated Hindi soaps for an article (I’ll link when it’s up) so this one about IQ favorite Ekta Mata really leaped off the page:
Ektaa Kapoor: No matter how well she does, I will always detest what she has done to the psyche of the Indian woman and more importantly to Indian family evenings. Each one of her serials is riddled with social taboos but then how would Ektaa ever know? If you are the daughter of India’s legendary white-shoes, grace and style are but an aberration!
Well, that’s his opinion. But can I just say I’d take a month of watching Jeetendra “dancing” on the beach, twinkling his white toesies in the middle of an epileptic fit, over the trash his daughter and her contemporaries put out on television any day? At the most I’d end up mildly annoyed or bored if forced to watch him in Southern remakes for a solid month. After watching multiple Indian soaps for the same period of time, on the other hand, I was violently angry.
For example, have you ever worn something sleeve-less? Do you like to put on make-up? Line your eyes, maybe? Wear high heels? Do you wear something other than a saree?
A proper Indian woman dresses like Pratibha Patil, with her pallu modestly covering not just her head but her entire body like a bed sheet. If she wants to be especially daring or modern, she can keep the pallu off her head, but a saree is the only appropriate dress for an Indian woman. Fine, if she’s a virginal unmarried child, she can wear a salwar kameez.
Even if you’re an evil trollop, you will wear a saree. However, you can signal your trollop-hood by wearing off- the-shoulder blouses, halter necks, backless cholis, etc. This means you have passions. Terrible ones. You probably have – gasp! – sex. With your clothes – shriek! – off.
A good woman on the other hand is one who gets up at four in the morning to shower and dress so she can sing chapters from the Ramayana on an empty stomach to the patriarch of the household before she does pooja and serves breakfast (which she will prepare and maybe serve, not eat. That comes much, much later). This, according to the top-rated show that I was watching, was in the manner of a treat for the new bride who got unjustly yelled at for the god-awful crime of sleeping in on the morning after her wedding. An event that went on for a solid month, with many a twist in the tale, from what I gather.
All the top rated shows, in fact, seem to be ones in which nothing happens. Or maybe one thing happens in a month and then we discover that there are five hundred rituals associated with it that require the entire cast to get together and sing, dance, and pray. Every. Single. Time. To the same bloody songs, with the same bloody expressions and you simply can’t understand why they go to all the bother because it always ends badly. Haven’t they ever seen a soap on Indian TV?
Even worse are the ones in which something does happen. There is the historical Jhansi ki Rani, for example. Its production values make Ekta Mata’s Mahabharat look good in comparison. After a great many questionable Robin Hood-like adventures, its child protagonist is currently getting married to the much older Raja of Jhansi – presented as an arrogant womanizer with a taste for alcohol, dancing girls and satin capes. I kid you not. He also walks around with a giant cardboard plaque sheathed in red plastic around his neck. I didn’t even know there were levels of set design where it was futile to ask “what the fuck” because your mind has already been blown to smithereens and can no longer process thought.
But that’s not even the scummy part of it. The truly creepy part of it is that the little kid is now being counseled on the virtues of a good bride, which apparently involves her not being a child and losing that independence that first got her noticed.
Who is the audience for this show? From what I first saw of it, I presumed it was a children’s show because it was about this little kid giving it back to the (most hilariously bad) British by dressing up as a revolutionary leader and talking back to those who seek to put her down. And then all of a sudden, towards the end of the month, the focus shifted to how best a tweener could partner a man in his thirties (or twenties, my tummy was too queasy to let me find out).
Yes, the real Rani of Jhansi was a child bride. She married her husband at the age of 14. It was definitely the norm back then. But for a country where child marriage is still a serious problem, what is the message being sent out when a primetime show on a major Indian network is asking its family audience to not just witness but celebrate the upcoming nuptials of a child and a grown man as not just a political event of the distant past but a possible love story?
And even if you do want to show it as a love story (and the uncomfortable truth about child marriages is that at some point the children do consummate the marriage), must you really paint it with the same mix of hocus-pocus and intrigue that color all the other dramas on TV?
Anyway, I just wanted to let all you ladies know that if you’re reading this blog instead of cooking yummy, traditional food for the five hundred people in your joint family or praying and fasting for the well-being of those same people, then you’re a whore. A strapless-bra-wearing immoral make-up assassin. And if you’re reading this blog at work or after coming home from work (argh! “work”! quick! gargle and spit!), then there aren’t words enough to describe you. Just tell me one thing: why do you want to destroy your family? WHY?!