Thursday, August 28, 2008

Social relevance & soap operas

First of all, Colors TV must be pleased to know so many of you watch Ballika Vadhu. And jumped up to defend it.

I believe it is one of the channel's highest rated shows.

I watched another episode and I stand by what I wrote. It may well be a true story and end on an inspirational note. It may be sponsored by the Ministry of Women & Child Welfare. It may carry some kind of disclaimer.

As a casual viewer none of this came across.

The trademark Balaji sound effects and multiple camera angles are missing. But it seems like a bahu pe atyachaar kind of story, the novel part being the fact that she is a kid. And that sasuma is on her side, while dadi is the villain.

Can soaps entertain as well as educate at the same time? Sure! The most famous examples of this genre in India are Hum Log (aired in the '80s) and Humraahi (early '90s).

An edutainment soap is conceived and presented in a special way. The team which produced Humraahi actually went to Mexico and received training from Miguel Sabido, a pioneer in the use of producing serialised drama on radio and TV while imparting social values.

An important element of such show is the use of an epilogue to reiterate the main messages of the program and link these to viewer's lives. Ashok Kumar delivered these epilogues on Hum Log with great style (and they were as popular as the show itself!).

Tanuja did the honours for Humraahi and this time the show even set up a system to respond to all the mail it received from viewers, referring them to agencies in their localities that offered relevant services.

If Ballika Vadhu is really serious about 'educating' viewers on the evils of child marriage, they should set up a helpline. Or the Ministry supporting the show can take up the mantle.

A 10 second disclaimer at the beginning or end of the show is not enough. Except to absolve the makers from all responsibility for propogating something completely unacceptable in the India of 2008.

And I am no fan of the other soaps on air. Or the ideas they propogate. But while extra marital affairs may be 'illegal', they take place in the world of consenting adults. In the case of child marriage, it's adults committing a crime against someone who is helpless and has no say in the matter.

And that is why the subject needs to be handled with a LOT more care.


  1. I think your suggestion is really good, and I hope the show producers paid attention to it.

  2. Thanks for watching it again for us all but would have been better if you had watched it with an unbiased mindset..

    Agreed that it has some character of saas- bahu in type of dadi - bahu rivalry but the receiver here is the little kid and doesnt ur inner self revolt when you see such things being done to a helpless kid..

    Fine, to adrress casual users - they should be handling it with more care.. but what harm is it when u are trying to awaken the masses against evils of society. and after watching the serial, I do hope parents wont want their 8 or 10 or 14 yr old daughters to suffer like that..

    And thanks, I do commend you for coming out with suggestions to improve the show.

  3. I agree with you Rashmi. Humraahi was a very well written serial. It also starred Himani Shivpuri in a role which made her quite famous.


  4. Even if extramarital affairs happen because of "consenting" adults, and Child marriages happen because of adults forcing them on children, well, that makes it all the more necessary to talk about them in serials, a medium which reaches a huge number of junta.

    What we need to understand is that though Child Marriages "are totally unacceptable" in today's world, they still happen. Have a look here:

    The first is a report by UNICEF which mentions that 46% of marriages in India are child marriages. Isn't that a HUGE number? Being in a city one might have seen only a few such marriages (as evident from your remarks and the UNICEF report which states that only 26% are in urban areas while 55% are in rural areas) but such things exist, in far more concentration than one can imagine. Talking about such topics/bringing them to light using such serials is a step which needs to be taken. I think our Ministry has understood it, but not a lot of people. We still tend to believe that life is good, that there are no such marriages. Well, it's time that we opened our eyes and looked around!

  5. Hey Rashmi,
    The Ministry involving themselves more closely with socially relevant shows (if they are) is a really good idea. My concern here is about the levels of insight and enlightenment of those in the ministry to realize what message is going across and deal with it sensitively enough - a skill even tv producers need to learn.

    I belong to a generation that did not see Humlog and Humrahi...but the fact that even today people relate to characters and we know abt them too is proof enough of the positive impact it had.

    Not the same as watching a trio of sasu mas plotting and coniving against each other, their own mother in law and their daughter in laws!

  6. The logic seems somewhat not too clear. By analogy, any movie that depicts rape or for that matter any such "illegal act" should, in addition to having a disclaimer, should also set up "help lines" for rape victims or such?
    The irony is, in the same breath you said "in India of 2008" :)

    If I nitpick, by similar logic, Ramayana should be banned as it shows Dashratha is happily polygamous - an illegal thing in India.

    Imho, creative freedom should be left untouched. But that's another discussion altogether.

  7. My boss was shocked when I told him child marriage is illegal in India (he got married very young and after two decades is very happy with the decision)
    Later I found, child marriage is perfectly acceptable in most states in America and a lot of other countries provided the children consent, and have one or more consenting guardians. And in Georgia, if the bride is pregnant, then even that consent isn't necessary.

    Child marriage is not an evil. Only if it's forced, and if it hampers the regular development of the child, it becomes sinful.

    I haven't seen the show but I like the fact the issue is being brought out in the open - and it's becoming a topic of discussion.

  8. I agree with homer's opinion above that if you had watched the show with an unbiased mindset, perhaps it would've been better.

    In a country like India where there is a need to educate people about what is legal and what is illegal and what better way of reaching them through a soap opera. The popularity of such shows is huge in smaller towns/ villages than perhaps in a metro.

    I think its a brilliant idea to educate people about the agonies a child can go through through an evil like child marriage.

    The producers have responsibly placed disclaimers before/ after the show. What else can we expect from them? For the producer to actually come on screen and give out a speech on how relevant this soap is?? Oh C'mon!

    And a helpline u say?? Seriously??

  9. Check the first link in your post, Rashmi, it links to the wrong post :)

  10. Rashmi,

    Yeh sab serious baaton ko chhod. 'Rock On!!' ka review daal yaara!! ;)

  11. Agree with you all the way. If this person is some sort of inspirational figure, they should make a one-shot movie about her, not a soap series. And the child-marriage thing is SICK... there's no other word for it.

  12. I saw Ballika Vadhu and most of the objectives behind it didn't come across

  13. I liked the content on this site. Would like to visit again.

  14. It seems based on your opinion of the show, that you definitely belong to the Govinda category of movies, i.e. everything must as subtle as a sledgehammer for you to see it.

    Balika Vadhu is not just about Child Marriage, but about many aspects of our culture.

    Sometimes, the consequences of people's actions are right out there to see, they don't need an additonal 'narrator' to blatantly state the obvious. That basically assumes that your audience is full of idiots. And I think that is the same camp you belong to. It's fine, nobody is forcing you to watch the show. Don't watch it. If enough people agree with you, the ratings will drop. Yet somehow, it is highly rated, I wonder why. My maid eschews all the K-crap, but religiously wants to watch this one, and I am not surprised why. Nobody is a one-sided character in this show. The old hag is a hag, but she is not the kind of blatant-evil vamp you see in other shows. In fact, in many ways she reminds me of my own grandmother. Unable to handle the modern world, and yet full of pride and ego because our culture has told us through the ages that the eldest among us are to be respected and revered and the wisest, even though they may be propagating pure drivel. When the child bride asks naively why only women fast on Karva Chauth - is it just that, or is it the writer of the show actually questioning an aspect of our culture, and using the naive child as vehicle for getting these messages across? This show is one of the better produced, written & acted shows out there, but again, I guess some people don't like subtlety. Ah well. Not everything has to be a sermon.

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