About Us Contact Us Help




Youth Column - Women's Representation In Indian Television Serials

Visakha Dharba

Women wearing expensive saris, decked from head to toe in gold, holding a thaali containing fruits and flowers and praying sincerely for the welfare of their husbands and his family. This is the typical portrait of a woman in Indian Television (TV) serials; a perfect wife, perfect mother and perfect daughter-in-law who showers love on all her loved ones and is an icon of purity and devotion for the audience.

Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Bhabhi, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Saat Phere and countless other serials are created to reinforce the stereotypical image of an Indian housewife. Each serial portrays how an ‘ideal’ woman should behave when myriad responsibilities are foisted upon her, be it in maintaining the happiness of her household, taking care of the children or running the family business. Our much loved ‘bahu’ is expected to deal with everything thrown at her with a smile, while handling herself with the aplomb of a professional. If the woman is allowed to work, her character is that of a vamp, who tries to steal the leading lady’s husband or children. She is shown as a modern, stylish woman who is always scheming and plotting the downfall of her protagonist. Be it the submissive daughter-in-law or the malicious husband-stealer, these women are represented as the epitome of strength and determination. It seems like the producer is trying to reinforce the gender stereotype present in our society, ostracizing those woman who choose to be recalcitrant and chalk out an independent path for themselves.

Even in regional TV serials, the highly feminine aspects of a woman’s personality are extolled. The Malayalam serial ‘Stree’ has acquired cult status in Kerala, watched by an audience ranging from 8-year-old girls to 80-year-old grandmothers. When the serial portrayed the protagonist, Indu, as a feminist who was bold, stubborn and independent, it caused an uproar and led to the director of ‘Stree’ having to change the personality of his character to that of a more quiet, submissive and sacrificing woman. Tamil TV serials portray half of their women characters as sufferers who often break under pressure, thus enforcing the age-old stereotypical view that women are generally weak and need to depend on a man for everything. They even perpetuate the view that it is good for women to accept any mistreatment that she may be subjected to, by her husband, his family and maybe even by the society. The remaining women are typecast as evil and abusive characters who hire bullies to settle scores.

The issue that arises here is: What kind of images do these serials portray to the next generation? Are women the only ones who have the strength to keep a family together? Do men have no role to play at home? Is the docile nature of a woman her only acceptable trait? What about the larger reality that we face today, a world in which a woman is given an equal status in society?

Despite several debates and discussions taking place, new serials are cropping up every month, generally based on the same topic, as it seems like the viewers enjoy the suspense of a juicy family drama based on betrayal, deceit and an ultimate reconciliation.

The target audience of Indian serials is assumed to be housewives and elderly women who spend their afternoons in front of the television, thus most of these melodramatic serials focus on the lives and personalities of these stereotypical women and showcase them in a positive or negative light. Marriage, being an issue of utmost importance and seen as a necessity in the traditional Indian household, is usually the focal point of most of these shows.

The marriage usually focuses on the family, instead of the two individuals involved. However, new serials such as ‘Astitva’ are being praised for focusing on the love aspect involved in a relationship along with family affairs, indicating a rise in the awareness of the changing face of Indian urban traditions.

The concept of fair and dark complexion has also been a hot topic for discussion. The attractiveness of a woman is usually measured by the colour of her skin. Some serials even go to the extent of casting darker women as the villains and fairer women as the fragile victim. These issues not only throw light on the plight of women in the Indian society, but also retard the improvement in the portrait of the fairer sex in India.

However, certain shows are questioning this stereotype and showcasing it in a darker light, such as ‘Saath Phere-Saloni or Nahar Ka Safar’ which talks about Saloni, a young girl who is highly talented. Her only ‘drawback’ is her dark complexion, which leads to her being mistreated and looked down on. Slightly different eye-opening serials like these are gradually seeping into the arena of Indian soap operas, raising many questions on the correct interpretation of Women in today’s age and society.

Reality shows are gaining immense popularity in India, with TRP ratings shooting up every time a new show is launched. These Shows, such as ‘Indian Idol’, ‘Bigg Boss’, ‘Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao’, ‘Roadies’, etc., have two conflicting sides to them. On the one hand, women are emerging as citizens with a great array of talents, be it singing, dancing, or challenging themselves to face the adversities handed down by nature. They are more assertive, aggressive and competent, with all the qualities an orthodox woman couldn’t and shouldn’t dream of possessing. On the flip side, most of these shows also showcase the exposure of a women’s body just to draw the attention of a larger, more male-oriented audience. Most of these shows are also based on a voting system, where people end up supporting the boy. According to a survey conducted on reality shows, girls are exploited to increase the popularity rather than supported for their talents. This survey discovered that women abuse in Indian reality shows is not just the fault of male domination; women themselves are also responsible for it. The surveyed revealed that the public does not wish to watch a decent and conservative girl on reality shows, due to which the girls are willingly exposing themselves so as not to lose out to more daring competitors.

However, there seems to be a change in this image of an Indian woman. Recently, serials are being made to depict the younger generations, such as ‘Remix’, ‘Happy go lucky’ and a few others, which represent the more realistic view of ladies in society, right from college girls to sometimes single, working and independent mothers. Social issues, such as child marriage [in a serial called ‘Balika Vadhu’] and a sensitive approach to disorders such as autism [‘Aapki Antara’] has begun to draw TRPs and are gaining popularity amongst the viewers. Though highly dramatized, Balika Vadhu deals with issues like child marriage and the treatment of the girl child, which are new concepts for Indian serial addicts. Another serial called ‘Kalyani’ has been chosen by the Asian Media Information Communication Centre (AMIC), Singapore, as the best Programme on HIV/AIDS. Serials like these are reaching out to the new, more aware audience who are receptive to various topics not previously experimented with. Channels such as DD Metro are now capturing the altered image of India through serials such as Udaan, Rajni and a few others. These serials have presented women in a different light, having more strengths and talents than previously shown on TV.

According to me, Serials should be more realistic and not advocate a false image of womanhood. There are many sides to a woman’s personality, which need to be highlighted. These stereotypical serials adversely affect the mental picture of the next generation, leading them to believe in the distorted picture portrayed on television. Biased treatment in certain reality shows portrays a dismal side of our country’s attitude towards women and this need to be corrected. Inspirational programmes, such as ‘Lead India’, which was a show based on the search of a charismatic, motivational leader for the country, should be launched to empower young women.

No matter whether we agree or disagree with the debates, discussions and arguments that take place, these shows are here to stay and undoubtedly form an integral part of millions of serial watchers across India. From the first TV sitcom ‘Hum Log’ launched in 1984, to the countless number of serials appearing every day on television channels, TV serials have created screen icons, blossomed a sense of romance in the hearts of many and provided a fine source of entertainment for those who enjoy watching them as well as for those of us who mock them. So the next time you’re flipping channels, do take a moment to stop at Sony, Zee, Doordarshan, Star One or Star Plus to experience what this ever expanding cult of  women [and men] enjoy,  devoting their afternoons and evenings to watch a colourful drama unfurl, tuning out the real world for a dash of  family tadka.


Visakha Dharba is a 1st year student at Lady Sriram College in Delhi, India. Her hobbies include writing, music and reading.

Bookmark and Share |
1.well-written! September 24, 2013SR smith 
2. June 30, 2013arvind 

You may also access this article through our web-site http://www.lokvani.com/

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Copyrights Help