Till about year ago it was difficult to think of a prime-time daily without the usual saas-bahu drama, but today the focus has shifted from bahu to beti. What makes beti tick on the tube?
Shows like Babul Ka Angan Chhootey Na, Sapna Babul Ka Bidaai, Betiyaan, Amber Dhara, Radha Ki Betiyaan Kuch Kar Dikhayegi, Kis Desh Mein Hai Mera Dil and Maayka have daughters playing main protagonists. What has triggered off this change of guard and why has the daughter-in-law lost her place to daughter?
"It's a result of overkill of saas-bahu issues," feels Babul Ka Angan producer Ratna Sinha. She says the saas-bahu subject was done to death by covering every aspect of their conflict. "Viewers needed a break from the white and black characters," she adds. However, Shailja Kejriwal, senior creative director, NDTV Imagine, feels the change is part of the natural evolving process. "There is no conscious or deliberate attempt to move away from the trials and tribulations of bahu. It's just that when certain kind of shows got eyeballs that everyone started following the trend. After all, the industry works on the principle of swimming with the current," she says.
Indeed, when you have 10 saas-bahu shows delivering good ratings who would like to tinker with the winning formula? As a result, saturation had to set in and new protagonist was needed to drive the story. While some of the old shows took the story forward by giving a natural extension to the protagonist's personality and made her into mother-in-law, the new shows opted for the daughter as protagonist. "Be it bahu or daughter, when only one facet of personality is explored for years, saturation is the end result," says Sony's creative head Sanjay Upadhyay. "It is why in old shows the bahu became saas and new shows had to look beyond bahu."
Historically, according to Sanjay, the protagonist's journey was always broken into phases but never a single phase was given so much importance as was the case in the last eight years. "In shows like Amanat, Aashirwad and few others, daughters played important roles. A daughter's story stars from her maayka which determines her belief, value system and principles and which she carries forth in her next journey. Thus a daughter's story is always bigger and far more interesting than that of only bahu," he explains. It is probably why all kinds of strange and unfathomable things happened to bahus. Producer-director Rajan Shahi who set up several shows like Betiyaan, Jassi, Millie, Viraasat and Kareena Kareena before becoming a producer with Sapna Babul Ka Bidaai feels that the saas-bahu shows were unreal and one-sided dramas.
"The characters were caricatures and there was no reality in the story. There was so much of manipulation and negativity that the whole thing looked one-dimensional and shallow," says Rajan. Interestingly, his show Bidaai is rocking on TRP charts and has been giving Kyunki... and Kahaani... a run for their money. Rajan feels too much of anything gets boring after a point and it takes just one show to trigger a change. Well-known story and scriptwriter Rajesh Joshi who has written several serials like Kyunki, Kasauti, Kumkum and Saarthi and is currently writing Teen Bahuraniyan and Solhah Singaar is of the view that Betiyaan Ghar Ki Lakshmi and Betiyaan - Apna Ya Paraya Dhan set the change in motion. "Television can't do without a female protagonist. Once a daughter was accepted as main protagonist, it was not difficult to change the focus from bahu to beti because essentially every channel follows the trend," says Rajesh.
Betiyaan producer Dheeraj Kumar feels the focus had to change from bahu to beti because of the change in viewership profile. In his view there is a huge segment of youth that is watching television today. "Hence the focus had to change to make identification easy with the protagonist's trials and tribulations," he says, adding further, "When the eyeballs are coming from youth, it doesn't make sense to have 40-plus characters as protagonists." According to Rajan, having daughter as protagonist gives a lot of scope to explore her relationship with her parents as well as in-laws. "Earlier in every show the daughter would get married in the first four episodes and the show would immediately become a saas-bahu drama," he adds.
Today, according to Rajan, the daughter gets married after 100 episodes. "Also, after marriage her old relationships are not snapped, which from story point of view offer lot of scope to explore different nuances of relationships," he says. But Rajesh disagrees, "You have to follow the protagonist's journey. After marriage, the focus changes from maayka to sasural and gradually maayka goes out of focus. It has happened in Solhah Singaar where the Bhardwaj family is completely out of picture."
Shailja however, disagrees with the contention that television can't do without a female protagonist. "Certain kind of shows can't do without a female protagonist. But creatively speaking, it's not only a daughter or daughter-in-law who alone can drive a story. Programming is not about saas, bahu or beti but how good the story is. If the story can hold and sustain interest even a horse can work as a protagonist. Our shows Dharam Veer and Rajkumar Aaryan have male protagonists. Who could have thought that fantasy and period dramas will work at 8 pm when the slot is considered ideal for soaps? Jasuben Jayantilal Joshi Ki Joint Family doesn't have a protagonist. It is a multi-character story set in a joint family of 50 people. Isn't it working? You need to put in efforts and energy to break the trend and swim against the current," elaborates Shailja.
Vijay Kashyap who plays the protagonist's father in Babul Ka Angan feels that the change is a result of competition between channels. "One show worked on a channel and others are following the trend. But it's good that at least some change has happened," he adds. Rajesh doesn't disagree, "From writing point of view there is really nothing left in the daily format. Everything has been tried out. Only the protagonist has changed but the substance is same." At least, prime time programming is at least coming out of the bahu's spell.