I want my saas-bahu

Vicky Donor is a wonderfully well-written film. It tackles the whole issue of infertility and sperm donors with a light touch that never degenerates into slapstick. The funny part is that families are watching it together. Mums are exhorting their children to watch it and children are telling their parents to do the same.

It simply tells you, once again, that when it comes to pushing the envelope further on social norms, breaking stereotypes or tackling contentious issues nothing works quite like popular entertainment. Why then do we choose to be sneery about it? Why is it always looked down upon if you like a Dabangg instead of a Well Done Abba? Take TV serials for example. They have for long been derided as regressive. But really watch them for a few months and you will see that they do push things forward, at a snail-like pace acceptable to the largest mass possible. Whether it is about a middle aged couple falling in love, a widow wanting to remarry or simply a daughter-in-law wanting to stand up to her mother-in-law, Indian soaps bring ‘pathbreaking’ ideas to millions of homes less fortunate than ours. They give hundreds of people the courage to break out of their situations. Many of these things may seem like non-issues or regressive to portray, but the fact is they exist. The fact is that women are repressed and family is a very critical part of our existence. And by showing people breaking out of bad situations, slowly, painfully, you push the envelope forward.

Broadcast power: Vicky Donor simply proves, for the zillionth time, how effective popular entertainment is in pushing the social envelope further

As luck would have research bears this out. A study of 2,700 households in 180 villages in Bihar, Goa, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Delhi from 2001 to 2003, by Robert Jensen of Brown University and Emily Oster of the University of Chicago shows that TV soaps are helping rural Indian women to express themselves. In one example, the study released in 2007, (http://papers.nber.org/papers/w13305) shows women’s preference for male children fell by 12 percentage points after a village got cable.

You could argue about the way the stories are told. They are loud, not-so-subtle, garish and what not. But that is a matter of evolution. Lately they are becoming more subtle, real and losing their glam element. Even in the non-fiction part a sense of balance is creeping in. The dance shows and laughter challenges are giving way to programming that would have pleased most art film makers in the eighties. Satyamev Jayate for instance is forcing Indians to acknowledge their shameful deeds — as adults, professionals or as people in power. Every Sunday morning Aamir Khan takes you through an issue we all have read about or heard about. From child abuse to dowry and medical fraud, Satyamev takes a well-researched look at the ills of Indian society. Aap Ki Kacheri did that with more direct results.

Films have already made that journey long back. The earlier, large theatres demanded large one-size-fits-all spectacle films. But as multiplexes have taken off so have small films. The small film brings out the risk-taking instincts of film makers and storytellers much more since they have less to lose. So a Peepli Live and Paan Singh Tomar push the envelope harder. The big films can’t do it as drastically. 3Idiots, Taare Zameen Par or Apharan use entertainment to say something critical about education, parenting and the state of Bihar.

This is beginning to happen with TV as digitisation takes off. A Come Dine with Me and Hustle is on offer along with a Balika Vadhu and Bade Ache Lagte Hain. Do doff your cap then to this much maligned part of our lives — popular entertainment.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik 

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