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We get what we deserve

The passive, serial-watching public has not realised that it has the power to change things. RATNA RAJAIAH analyses the state of TV soaps and viewers' apathy.



"Kasauti Zindagi Ki" on Star Plus (above), "Kkusum" on Sony and (below) and "Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki" (bottom)... these soaps have complicated storylines, dialogue that is an insult to intelligence, gaudy sets and unreal characters who wear garish outfits and odd make-up.

``I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can t stop eating peanuts....'' — Orson Welles.

``Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new programme comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was'' — Art Buchwald.

``When will I learn? The answer to life's problems aren't at the bottom of a bottle, they're on TV!'' — Homer Simpson.

THE GHAR-ghar-ki-sabun-ki-kahani on national television touched breathtakingly new lows recently. In truth, I can't say which was more horrible so I'll present both.

In "Kkusum" (Sony, 9.00 pm), Kusum's Akhanda Sowbhagyawatiness was reinstated by her remarrying Abhay. For the disbelievers amongst us who have not kept abreast with matters of such import, Abhay is Kusum's first husband — a rich, spoilt boy with eyelashes more luscious than Miss Piggy's — who marries Kusum only because his horoscope ordains that he will die young and horribly and can only be saved if he is wedded to an Akhanda Sowbhagyawati.

If you don't know what an Akhanda Sowbhagyawati is, you deserve to be drummed out of the Akhil Bharatiya Couch Potatoes Parivar. And to think how everybody hooted down poor Murli Manohar Joshi when he wanted to include astrology in the syllabus.

Of course astrology should be taught to our children, how else will they grow up to be television producers and make lots of money-making serials like "Kkusum"?

Now Kusum is your average middle (mid-dull) class, pavitra-as-driven-paneer Miss Goody Two Shoes whose Rin-Ki-Safedi character and cloying saccharine sweetness is only less excruciating than her clothes.

Naturally, she is also Miss Akhanda Sowbhagyawati. To cut a 432-episode story short, Abhay treats Kusum worse than a doormat and she retaliates by marrying the man who was engaged to Abhay's niece. The man, many weary episodes later dies, but not before smearing her mang lavishly with his khoon!

How can an Akhanda Sowbhagyawati (AS) become a widow? A question that has raged like a forest fire in millions of drawing rooms across the land. Of course she can't.

So to sort that out, Abhay — who has meanwhile married Kusum's second husband's `bad bitchy' chachi — now gets an incurable tumour in his brain which is great for everyone around because Kusum can now remarry, ostensibly only to save Abhay's life but actually to preserve her Akhanda Sowbhagyawatiness.

For sometime now, I'm told that the K-brigade has redefined how Middle Class India aspires to decorate its bahus and interiors. A passing glance at a typical K-bahu's sartorial habit makes this prospect ghastly.



"Kkusum" on Sony

But, in "Kasauti Zindagi Ki" (Star Plus, 8.30 pm) we touched new heights (or is it new lows?) of gaudy-chic.

("Kasauti Zindagi Ki" is a serial in which the heroine Prerna has a complicated marital life — two husbands — so that the writer of "Kkusum" had a nervous breakdown watching it and was pacified only after someone came up with the Abhay-brain-tumour-remarry-Kusum kahani mein twist.)

A few weeks ago, in a "Kasauti Zindagi Ki" (KZK) scene the elaborately carved bedroom furniture was a virulent shade of purply-pink.

All through the scene, the purply pink wall thingie quarrelled loudly and raucously with Anuraag's (Prerna's husband ) neon peachy-orange tie and shirt and lipstick that it almost drowned out the dialogue.

(In case of shortage of purply pink and brain tumour twists, death is a good substitute for sagging TRPs and writer's block. Recently in "Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki", somebody died and they managed to stretch the event over so many episodes, that they finally ran out of glycerine and white designer matching bindis. Speaking of which, remember the days when the sign of a `bad woman' was a cigarette, a glass of liquor and minimalist Western clothes? No longer. It's bindis that are baddy-bitchy-ness barometers. The more garish the bindi the more wicked the woman.)

I gripe with a purpose and that is to ask this question. Why is there so much trash on television? There are two possibilities as an answer.

One is, that one man's trash is another man's Emmy-winning show. In other words, the vast majority like women who wear shiny, lizard underbelly coloured lipstick and story lines and dialogue that are an insult to the intelligence.

(Is this the same television watching public that once made shows like "Buniyad" and "Hum Log" and "Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi" into whopping hits? That must have been our doddering, senile grandparents.)

If this is true, then there isn't much else to say, is there, other than what we want, we get? Therefore, if this is how we'd like to spend what the television industry calls the prime time of our day, then so be it.



"Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki"

At least, that's what the television producers and television channels will have us believe. Look at the TRPs, they whine in chorus. This is what the public wants. We want to make interesting, entertaining and progressive serials but can we help it if people want trash.

(An argument the Hindi film industry doled out for years till the poor, long-suffering public decided that enough is enough and stopped going to the theatres and made 99 per cent of those ghastly travesties of cinema into crashing flops. Which is when the industry sat up and started looking for fresh ideas.)

The second possibility is, that this is indeed stuff that makes us retch and gag. And which nobody is watching. And that, as many would have us believe, the TRPs are as cooked up as the Enron account books.

In which case, what are we doing sitting on our posteriors and allowing ourselves to be subjected to this drivel in the name of entertainment every evening. Why can't we singly and collectively switch off the damn thing that is living up enthusiastically to its label of the `idiot box'? No? Can't do it? Terrified at the prospect of evenings that will then stretch endlessly like the desert sands with nothing to do? Has any one thought about how the human race survived for millions of years without having 39 channels of rubbish to surf?

Now irrespective of which of these two possibilities is the answer, it leads to only one conclusion. We get what we deserve. So, we are served tripe because that is what we enjoy and those are the views that we subscribe to, then in any case we deserve whatever is being dished out — a "Kkusum" or a "Kaanta Lage" music video or your average politician. And the minority who have problems with it can jolly well shut up while the rest of us happily zip down the drain.

But even if the truth is that most of us hate the drivel being churned out in the name of television programmes, even if we feel hugely insulted, outraged and violated by it, we still deserve it. Because we are not doing anything about putting an end to it. And we can. By switching off TV sets. By initiating or being part of consumer movements that are powerful enough to take these serials off the air. But the problem with most of us is that we have begun to value less the power of the people.

Resigned silence or griping are the easy ways out, they are the ways of a people who have begun to think more as self-serving individuals and less as being part of a society that has the right and the power to mould itself according to its choice.

So, we have trash on our television. Either because that is the popular, majority taste, or because even though we hate it, we don't have the `we-have-to-do-something-about-it' attitude. Either way, we deserve it. Till such time aswe all decide to do something about it.

( ratna_rajaiah@yahoo.com)

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