Stereotypical Evil Mothers-in-Law and Serial Culture

The late 90s and early 2000s saw the beginnings of Hindi soap operas such as Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahoo Thee. A friend of mine used to be crazy about these serials and some of that craziness rubbed off on me for a while…luckily only for a while. Soon enough I realized that I couldn’t stand the melodrama one bit. There was a serial called Kahin Kisi Roz (Sudha Chandran’s evil looks may still be haunting me occasionally), which used to air at 8.30 or 9.00 PM. I was addicted to it (can’t think of a sane reason now) and since it used to come on during our dinner time, the TV would mostly be blaring away much to my mother’s annoyance. Luckily enough, they changed the timing to 10 PM and eventually I stopped watching it! Phew!!!

It was these serials that introduced me to the so called ‘evil’ mothers-in-law (MIL). Until then I had only seen the MILs in my family and there were anything but evil. I did not understand, then, why they were always portrayed as villainous characters in television series and movies…I still don’t have an answer even after having a mother-in-law of my own.

My MIL is very sweet but, unfortunately, her existence revolves around such characters from the numerous serials that she watches. When I first got to know her, I had no idea about her addiction to TV serials, but over the years I have realized that her go to pass time is watching and sometimes listening to these serials as she finishes up cooking and other chores around the house. Not one serial is void of melodrama: there’s always something evil brewing (mostly between women), accompanied by fighting and crying, but not one scene where the audience can actually relax and laugh. Another thing I have realized about these serials is that it doesn’t really matter if you miss a few episodes here and there. The stories move at a snail’s pace and if you can easily catch up after a few weeks or even a month.

And it is not like these serials end in a a few months, some of them keep going on and on for 5 years or more, no wonder they are called MEGA serials. I am not exaggerating. Whenever my MIL visits, I get acquainted or re-acquainted to the serials, because they keep running all day. She goes back to India after a 4-5 month stay, returns the next year, and what do I see? Many of the serials from the previous year(s) would still be running. The hero or heroine would have gone into a long coma, a twin would have appeared, or the main character would have had a sudden attack of amnesia and forgotten everything. And they all work together to challenge my sanity, poor me, who unfortunately can’t feign amnesia.

What amazes me is the talent of the writers who create these serials. How do they guys do it? And here, I struggle to come up with interesting topics to write about once a week. While talking about long-running serials, I would like to give an extra special mention to Days of Our Lives (turned 55 this month) and The Bold and the Beautiful (turned 34). I guess I should not be complaining about our Indian serials that run only for 5 years :-).

It is mighty ironic, but I’d like to end this week’s episode with this scene from a hilarious Malayalam serial called Akkara Kazchakal. The series very realistically portrays the lives of some Malayalees settled in the US. In this particular episode, the father (George) gets a connection to view Indian channels, particularly to introduce his naadu (land) and his culture to his American Born Confused Desi (ABCD) kids. Pretty soon, his wife gets addicted to all serials (like this old lady), to a point where she forgets to cook and sheds tears for dead characters, as though had she lost a loved one. The episode closes with this:
Daughter: Daddy, daddykkyu vere wife undo? (Do you have another wife)
George: “Randu moonnennum venamennu undayirinnoo, onnu kondenne madhiaayirikya. Kuttanendha angane chodhikkyan karanam? (I wanted to have two or three, but am fed up with just one. Why do you ask?)
Daughter: Serialil elaarkum two, three wives unde. Adhupole aviru eppozhum fightingum, karachila. Adhano daddy namalde culture? (In the serials, everyone has two, three wives and they are always fighting and crying. Is that our culture?)
George: Adhalla nammade culture, adhinde peru serial culturennu parayum… (That is not our culture, that is called serial culture).

15 thoughts on “Stereotypical Evil Mothers-in-Law and Serial Culture

      1. Excellent Aparna.It’s terribly annoying the way women dress up and have one haunting look with such heavy eye make-up.Uttercwaste of time.I still remember some of the Balachandar serials with excellent story value ,and Hindi serials like Nukkad and Hum log in DD those days.

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  1. πŸ˜„ I think they add too many wives so that they can elaborate the story with a good number of twists and turns, else I wonder how do they stretch it for years.
    I remember one serial that I got to watch during a vacation at our ancestral home because it was a ritual for the elders living there. I used to laugh hilariously at those completely illogical dramatic events. The best part was the pregnant protagonist was still carrying even after I completed one more year in my college and reached back for another vacation.
    I think this is a way for the elders to unwind or it may be psychologically consoling to watch a lot more problems in the serials than they face in their own lives. Sigh! Who knows I may also start the habit at my sixties.

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  2. If you look at another angle about TV Soap, it is the cheapest means of entertainment (if viewing fights and melodrama is categorised so), for the whole family. One doesn’t need to leave home, snacks and beverages are available inhouse (tongue in cheek), No time wasted in dressing up, No travel time, minimum expenses – probably about Rs 15 per channel per month, for whole family, In India.
    Quality of such programmes are quite bad, pan India, all languages. Violence with malice is more pronounced than the fun violence in Tom and Jerry cartoons. Stories are predictable and quality of acting, direction, technical, sound; everything average or below average.
    There are viewers who get fully involved in the serials and start considering the screen happenings as the reality.

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  3. I want to add. Some of the older mega serials such as Mahabharat, Ramayan, Krishna etc had wonderful fan following. People used to schedule their errands, chores, going out of home etc so as not miss an episode. Of these Mahabharat was okay, Ramayan was very poor and Krishna was satisfactory. There were a few others, not so long such as Malgudi days, Mungeri Lal ka hasseen sapne, Vyomkesh Bakshi etc were good and shown at prime time.
    The other stereo type that has caught on are the so called reality shows, which hardly points to any reality. This also has a great fan following and involvement.

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