Small embarrassments and mega serials

One of the more embarrassing things I did recently was to share these pictures on Facebook:

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In my defence, I was about to send them to my cousin for some laughs. Technology got the better of me. Soon enough, people wanted to know if this is what I was doing at home. Uhhmm, not really. (Though this could be one of the things I do at home. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?)

I think I grew up on a diet of serials. Marmadesam, Alaigal, Metti Oli, Kolangal. I did learn something different from each. For instance, horses and Chetan Hansraj make a frightening combination. Or that Venu Aravind is the second most scary person in the Tamil entertainment industry (Raghuvaran is number one, but you knew that, right?). About ten years ago, my parents started watching Hindi serials almost exclusively. Yes, back when Smriti Irani’s claim to fame was standing outside her palatial house and welcoming us; and K serials were all the rage. The reasons for this transition still elude me, but I’m beginning to think they harbour some nostalgia for Hindi serials from Doordarshan days. Or maybe they just like better production values.

I may be mistaken in thinking this, for I haven’t followed any Tamil serial in the recent past, but I do believe Hindi serials have become more regressive as time goes by. Every serial invariably incorporates many cringe-worthy tropes: Bad women try to seek employment for their own fulfillment. Good women (i.e., daughters in law) do not attempt to do so. If they wish to be employed, they can try their hand at overseeing their husband’s business (not enough clarity regarding the nature of this supervisory role). It is not of any great importance for women to complete college (sometimes they can, if their husband’s family allows them to). Women who wear pants or skirts to work are evil by nature (they would be wearing sarees or salwars if they weren’t evil). There are some other concepts which make an appearance every now and then: rebirth, facial reconstruction, patriarchs who are shown to be (always) right, advantages of joint family system (koodi vaazhanthaal kodi nanmai?), “middle class” families with 4000 sq.ft. houses etc. This might even be funny, if only they didn’t take themselves so seriously.

You may be silently judging me for being aware of these serials (I don’t blame you), but I really want to know if Tamil serials are as bad, or if they have some redeeming qualities after all.

For more laughs: The Making of “A Decade Long Daily Soap” by TVF

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7 thoughts on “Small embarrassments and mega serials

  1. I used to watch Tamil serials. I do not understand Hindi very well. Something like Vicky Donor with a healthy dose of English, I can manage. But all these shudh Hindi ones, go above my head and my parents do not understand even that much. So, Hindi serials was not something we watched in my home. The Tamil serials that I did watch were – the mystery/fantasy/thriller ones which used to be interesting (like Marma desam, Rudra veenai, Vidadhu Karuppu, Chidambara Ragasiyam). The ‘family’ serials were also watched until around the time of Chithi. After Chithi, we quit on serials as a family. We couldn’t take it anymore. Till date the only ones we continued till very recently are the ones about epics/myths. But, after the Tamil dubbed version of Mahabharatham in Vijay TV, we just decided that serials are not for us. I mean, the action-reaction shots and the nothing-happens-in-today’s-episode kind of things in a well-known story was a little too much for us, I guess.

    Mega serials in general have come to be known for their regressive attitude. I have a feeling that they compete with each other to show the most regressive human traits. I do not watch serials, but from what I could garner from a couple of friends, Tamil serials are as much shitty as Hindi ones. There are quite a number of dubbed ones (from Hindi) which are telecasted too. And I remember reading from a weekly (Kumudham or Anada Vikatan, not sure which) that these dubbed serials are getting a much better TRP because viewers like the joint-family-system and the elders-are-gods feeling which are widely circulated in such serials.

    As for peple judging you, let them. It doesn’t matter. One’s views of a subject and one’s tastes do not always coincide. My mother is the kind who thinks falling in love or a ‘love marriage’ is a crime. It is a matter of personal pride to her that I had an arranged marriage (we will have a separate talk on what I feel about that another day) and she has extremely old-fashioned ideals when it comes to family system. But, for the life of her she cannot watch mega serials. She is considered a mis-fit by her friends. She used to joke that if she so much as breathed to them that she loves to watch NGC, Discovery and Animal Planet more than anything else, people would probably stop talking to her. Me, on the other hand cannot stomach any snakes eating snakes documentaries that she would so happily be watching with her lunch in hand to boot. Being old fashioned doesn’t necessarily mean one is regressive, similarly watching regressive serials doesn’t make someone a regressive person.

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  2. Your mother’s taste in TV shows is interesting, I would never be able to watch shows on animals!
    I genuinely enjoy watching shows on movies, like top 10 movies and the award shows and all that, no shame in admitting that as well. 😀 And I like all travel and food shows.
    But these serials..my participation is usually along the lines of passing snarky comments and irritating my mother, or expressing incredulity over the proceedings. “How are you still watching it ma??!” I dislike everything they show, yet I’m still part of the audience wouldn’t you say? Hmm. (Not that I’m actively catching up on episodes I missed. Oh God, no.)
    As for the dubbed versions featuring on Tamil channels now, I understand that several people are fascinated by the clothes and jewellery and this seems to be a very popular reason!

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  3. Ah mega-serials. Where do I begin. My thoughts, in no particular order. I was of course planning a post of my own, but this space is as good as any.

    1) Hindi serials do have seen to hit a certain rock-bottom that even Tamil has not. I am not very sure why. Their joint-families and the pecking order seems even more alarmingly old fashioned in these serials.

    2) Tamil serials do experiment to a certain extent with working women in real-estate business etc. Not being a homemaker is not strictly frowned upon. Certainly not always. I have also seen a serial about a woman being particular about finishing her graduation. I would not say they pulled it off. She faces too many antogonist women and regressive stuff still do make their way into these serials.

    3) An actual jeans-wearing-mordern-girl being the protogonist etc is not something I have come across.

    4) I have seen about 5-6 episodes of a a particular malayalam serial in a row. The advantage of seeing in a language that is only about 5% familiar to you is that you learn their grammar slowly but surely. Unlike movies, you don’t really need subtitles. You would be able to make the story out in your brain and can concentrate in actual spoken-malayalam.

    5) Mostly people write witty sarcastic things about these things in blogs. I have searched the WWW for some properly analysed study on these stuff. But I cannnot find any. Sometimes I wish I did sit through atleast one of those serials in order to analyse this treasure trove of prejudices but what with having only one life and all that, sanity prevailed.

    6) The dialouge writing is pathetic. It is not that I expect the serial world to be full of great lines, but the blandness is horrible. At least they can be sarcastic in their jibes. But no sir. They are mean in the most boring way possible. They seem to revel in it.

    7) Mostly a lot of people seem to admire the antogonist female character a lot more than they usually let on. Very often, these women are out to get our heroine.

    8) The men in these serials may not be actual eye-candy and are usually nothing to write home about. But nonetheless, they are mere props. They are almost never given anything worthwhile to do. They seem extremely gullible and stupid.

    9) Nothing-happens-in-today’s-episode kind of things in a well-known story – Ha ha ha.

    10) She used to joke that if she so much as breathed to them that she loves to watch NGC, Discovery and Animal Planet more than anything else, people would probably stop talking to her. I watch soo much of these stuff that I know more about hyena behaviour than human behaviour. It goes beyond watching Animal Planet. I actually buy DVDs and listen to every – single – word. I also buy books on the topics and read them from start to finish. Will tell you all about it later. For now, let me close this by saying the people who write about hyena behaviour write better lines than their serial counterparts.

    TTYL.

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    1. Your comment deserves to be its own blog post!

      My mother has been watching this one Hindi serial for the past 7-8(?) years, which means I watch it often enough to know what is the current problem the (joint) family faces. My mother says she started watching this serial because it doesn’t have one “vamp” wreaking havoc. I agree. Family members are good/not-so-good depending on the situation, and the female lead overcomes all the issues with her smart thinking and such (while keeping elders happy at all times). I do think this is several times better than your average Hindi serial, but in spite of that qualification, I’d like to add that:
      -The female lead was asked to get married before she completed college, and nobody thought anything of it. In fact, she herself was ecstatic.
      -Her friend was one of the “lucky ones” because the friend’s in-laws decided that she should complete her studies (she got married in her second year).
      -Then there was a time leap and stuff, the current generation is probably 20 something. One of the girls is shown going to work, but it is established that she will do so only until her marriage is fixed.
      Some other Hindi serials I’ve caught snatches of over the years:
      -There was one in which a man used to beat his wife regularly, but there was not a single character in the entire serial who stood up to that kind of thing. The man’s father tried to support the wife for a little while, but then they stopped showing that character much after a point. So she kept suffering (while his mother egged him on), and later she left him, and she was shown to suffer some more, while he married again and lived on as before.
      -Illiterate women marrying into rich households (i.e., business magnates): These illiterate women usually do things like washing their husband’s laptop with dishwashing soap (because the evil mother-in-law/ sister-in-law said something like, “Your husband’s laptop is dirty, it’s your duty to wash it). I am not sure if this is meant to be comic relief (without the laugh track going on at the back, it is hard to say what they tried to show; everyone keeps giving shocked reactions for all incidents).
      -I remember another serial in which the women of the household had to wash their husbands’ feet for some festival (similar to Karvachauth), and then drink that water. The heroine refuses to do so and then there’s a big drama following her refusal.

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  4. 1) Is the serial the serial in the newspaper pictures you have posted? Even by the lamest standard, the stuff is too lame. Spoon falls down? I mean, is this for real?

    2) I was not able to wrap my head around most of the education/marriage/obedience/wisdom stuff that you wrote about in the above comment. But then again, it is fine I guess.

    3) The laptop being washed and hung out to dry is something I came across recently too. Nope, It did not seem to be meant for comic relief. But this is something I saw in a unidentified tamil serial. You’d think he’d have some disaster managment plan or some such thing, but NOOOOOOOO. But then again, as I already told you, the men in these serials are silly asses.

    4) The lack of funny lines in the comic relief section is alarming. I saw two seperate tracks that went something like this (in Thendral if I am not mistaken).

    a) Heroine and Hero have a love marriage, and the girl who was engaged to the Hero wants him back. So she makes herself pleasing and nice and flirts like there is no tomorrow. She is bad, she should be frowned upon. Comic Relief status – 0% (It is our heroine’s sweet gullible hubby we are talking about here)

    b) There is this comic relief girl. Her husband and the morai ponnu flirt to the “Go get a room” stage. Other people say things like “Why did you marry some one other than your super special morai ponnu” and the comic relief girl cries. Comic Relief Status – 100% (We know this because of the funny soundtrack and the fact that she cries with a “AAAAAEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAA” rather than having dignified silent tears like our heroine)

    I have seen this in another serial (or may be another scenario of the same serial, who knows?) that a police man being afraid to confront his prospective father-in-law is played for laughs. I do believe that “Meet the parents” scenarios can be hilarious, but there was no funny line. I mean none at all. He looks uncomfortable when the father in law says perfectly innocuous stuff like “Utkaarunga Maapilai”. Badly made melodrama can make up laugh, and badly made comedy can make us cry and it is not to their credit that they invoke certain reactions from us, for the reactions are completely unintentional.

    5) The feet-wash soup incident. Are we supposed to sympathy for the girl or the others who wanted her to partake the delicacy?

    6) I am not too much of Steve Irwin sort of programmes. I believe that crocodiles should be left alone. I prefer those who don’t meddle with them and shoot their natural behaviour.

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    1. I don’t watch Sasural Simar Ka (the pictures). The scenes I described are all from other serials (I think the one about domestic abuse came to an end).
      As for the feet-washing incident, the scene mostly played out like “OMG how can this new entrant be so insubordinate?!?!?!?!”

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