In the summer of 2000, a new kind of soap opera invaded our television screens. Indian audiences, who were used to intense stories from the partition or funny sitcoms starring Satish Shah, Shafi Inamdar, Rakesh Bedi and Swaroop Sampat, encountered a new dragon. It was called Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. A new villain was created. She was the mother-in-law. Raised eyebrows, suspicious glances, and the mandatory three-time lightening strike shots where the heroine dressed in glitzy sarees turned her head to say ‘kya!’ thrice made an entry into our lives. The audiences were hooked to the happenings in the Virani household. Suddenly the mother-in-law became a national affliction. Every woman started finding fault with her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. The truth is that when I look at my mother-in-law I cannot find a single cliché that was portrayed by the serial.
Cut to 2006, when Indian audiences were subjected to another type of addiction: the reality show. An unknown voice gave commands and the participants obeyed blindly. With time, their antics turned from weird to uncouth to downright vulgar. They spoke in swear words, they plotted and ganged up against people who were once friends, they left no chance to show the others in bad light. The focus was on winning, without a care about how life would be once they left the Bigg Boss house. Whether the rifts in their relationships were permanent, was something that was meaningless to them, in light of the big prize that was being offered at the end of the trip.
This summer Indian audiences are lapping up another kind of soap opera. And like the Ekta Kapoor soaps the script is not prebound. It is being written as it is being telecast. Villains are being created. Caricatured and maligned. You never know who will be killed for questioning something. The voices turn more shrill. The language knows no boundaries. The dramatics turn more intense. The melodrama is predictable. Decency has been thrown out of the window.
All that matters is the big prize at the end of this race. We are now the participants in this reality show where some Bigg Boss is dictating what we should see, what we should eat, what we should read and what we should think. We are enjoying the game of passing the forward without using our brains. They are funny, they are harmless, of course, they are only memes. And Bigg Brother has made us captive in his Big Game. There is a task outlined for each week. One week we are playing deshbhakt versus deshdrohi. Another we are playing patriot versus urban-Naxal. It is all pre-planned and being silently dictated.
And we think that when this game ends, we will win. What we do not acknowledge is that, when all this dust settles down, the rifts that have we created will be permanent scars. Nothing you say or do then will heal those wounds. Enjoy being string puppets in this magnificently choregraphed soap opera.
Welcome to elections in the world’s largest democracy.