FEMINISM AND THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN INDIAN SOAP OPERAS – Its’ Time To Have That Conversation
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Today, Indian Soap Operas are considered an integral part of Indian society with their extensive popularity amongst the contemporary masses. They have found a place for themselves as they have been able to suit the varied tastes of the audience. However, does this mean that the so-called new reality is the Indian culture and values portrayed in such television soaps?
Indian Soap Operas project women characters to be playing different roles. However, most of these television programs tend to showcase the primary place of women to be at home, thereby reinforcing the stereotyped image of women in a delusional reality. The basic theme that runs across all these TV Operas is the traditional male chauvinism where women do not aim for anything more than a caring husband, loving children, and the so-called perfect life. Such characters are dolled up with expensive dresses and jewelry where her physical beauty is of the utmost importance. At the same time, they emphasize the sacrificing and compromising nature of women. This is the form of women that the patriarchy wishes to portray and is very fond of as this is the value they want to reflect upon the audience’s minds.
In the last couple of decades, Indian Soap Operas have witnessed an upsurge in viewer rates, especially amongst the female population, which has brought a wave of change. The TV serials have to have revolutionized our values and have shaped our culture into a new and distinct dimension. The common notion is that these television programs depict the ideal of womanhood and the popular stereotypes that are believed to be the culture practiced in all households. However, one must wonder whether these notions project the reality or just a mere illusion as it does not seem to mirror the actual values of Indian society.
The portrayal of women on television has always been a delicate issue in today’s world. Television soaps most often display scenes that range from physical abuses by mother-in-law to daughter-in-law to representing women as sex objects. The characters of Tanu and Alia in the serial Kumkum Bhagya are known to debase women’s status in Indian society. One can observe the same pattern in all stories that are showcased in most of these TV serials. The character of ‘Satisavtri’ is portrayed as a voiceless woman who is known to bear the grunt of all the evil plans of her ‘Saas‘ or mother-in-law. The mother-in-law is a quintessential angry, jealous woman who treats her ‘Bahu‘ or daughter-in-law in a hostile manner[i]. TV serials have a profound impact on the thought process of society. Hence, depicting female characters in such lousy light will lead to the loss of harmony in our community.
Feminism as a movement has witnessed a great wave of change since the twentieth century. Feminists have constantly criticized the media for actively promoting the patriarchal social system. According to them, it is the very instinct and nature of men to dominate or suppress women. This male domination pattern is frequently depicted in Indian Soap Operas and is accepted as the new normal.
There are primarily three forms of feminist ideology that are usually promoted under the Indian Soap Operas. Women are portrayed to be bold, independent, and authoritative and are said to possess the primary decision-making power concerning family matters which comes under the ambit of radical feminism. Second is socialist feminism; wherein female characters are portrayed as working women satisfied with the salary and opportunities. However, the depiction of female characters in the light of socialist feminism seems to be rare these days. Lastly, liberal feminism, where women are seen fighting for their social and political rights, is not an every day in today’s TV serials[ii]. Hence, it is evident that Indian Soap Operas, despite being women-centric, have failed to capture the very essence of feminist ideology necessary to break upon from this patriarchal society. Depiction of the conventional notion of women sacrificing and compromising in Soap Operas has been widely accepted by the Indian audience. They have limited their role to play a traditional and submissive mother, daughter or wife. Female characters that challenge and compete with men in every sphere of life can be hardily seen in these days content. Keeping in mind the level of influence such soap operas have on the audience, it is important that we as women must ensure that female characters are not projected wrong or weak as this can potentially impact the confidence of the entire female community. TV serials must portray women as positive role models capable of eliminating the deep-rooted stereotype image in Indian society. Therefore, it is high time that Indian Soap Operas give importance to positive transformation and character development to women that could change society’s traditional attitude for good.
[i] Suparna Dhar and Barnali Sharma, Picture of Women as shown in Indian Television Soaps and its Impact on the Society, Vol 5, Issue 7, EPRA Intl. Journal of Multidisciplinary Research (IJMR) (2019).
[ii] Centre for Advocacy and Research, Contemporary Woman in Television Fiction: Deconstructing Role of ‘Commerce’ and ‘Tradition, Vol 38, no.17, Economic and Political Weekly (2003).
[iii] Dr. Anamika Ray, Women Representation in Entertainment World: A study on the Soap Operas in Indian Private TV channels, Vol 2, Issue 10, Intl. Journal of Social Relevance and Concern (2014).
[iv] Suparna Dhar and Barnali Sharma, Picture of Women as shown in Indian Television Soaps and its Impact on the Society, Vol 5, Issue 7, EPRA Intl. Journal of Multidisciplinary Research (IJMR) (2019).
[v] Centre for Advocacy and Research, Contemporary Woman in Television Fiction: Deconstructing Role of ‘Commerce’ and ‘Tradition, Vol 38, no.17, Economic and Political Weekly (2003).