The cruel, manipulative mother-in-law out to exploit the devoted daughter-in-law was not too long ago the staple of films as well as TV soaps. Well, movies have moved on and so it seems has the small screen that is keeping pace with the changing times.
Show makers and actors say the small screen monster-in-law is giving way to the empathetic, understanding mother-in-law for a more realistic portrayal of the age-old, often tricky equation. Love your 'bahu' is now the mantra as the long held image of small screen mothers-in-law undergoes a makeover.
Ravindra Gautam, who has directed serials like "Kasautii Zindagi Kay", "Uttaran" and "Bade Achhe Lagte Hain", says the change has come because the audience is also evolving.
"People are getting more and more mature. They are open to new ideas and stories. Also, they are a little bored of the regressive storyline where the quintessential bad saas is shown," Gautam told IANS.
The trend caught on with Colors' "Balika Vadhu" where the young child bride finds a loving, protective mother in her marital home and over time forges a bond with the stern grandmother-in-law as well.
Supriya Pilgaonkar's role in Star Plus' "Sasural Genda Phool" was another example of an understanding and friendly mother-in-law. "In new stories, mothers-in-law are friends," said Gautam, adding that those who are not lucky enough to have that could at least watch television.
For Prashant Bhatt, weekday programming head of Colors, the changing face of mothers-in law and daughters-in-law is "mostly the result of how the relation is changing in real world".
Quite true, said Smita Bansal, the caring saas of "Balika Vadhu". "When I decided to get back to work after my pregnancy, my real mother-in-law was the first one to extend her support. It was a very emotional moment for me when she made me believe that she will take charge of the family and look after my kids in my absence," said Smita, who is married to Ankhush Mohla, and has two children.
Change is always slow in coming. And there are, of course, shows that still play on the saas-bahu tussle to some success. "Pavitra Rishta", "Kairi...Rishta Khatta Meetha", and "Diyaa aur Baati Hum" are cases in point.
But that shouldn't dissuade people from trying out different concepts and presenting fresh stories, say show makers. "Any newness and freshness in the story can help in a show's TRP. But then again you cannot cash in on any subject for long. You have to keep on adding things," said Gautam.
Bhatt agrees that whenever human relationships are presented in a new way it has worked wonders. The characters in any story are a writer's imagination and authors often take inspiration from his or her surroundings.
Said Sonali Verma, seen as Gayatriji in "Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai": "As society has evolved and as the younger generation of girls get more and more educated and independent, it is only natural that the older generation also evolves and changes."
"I do see changes around, I do see that mothers-in-law are learning themselves to be secure and not worry about 'mere bete ke saath kya hoga'," she added.
She feels that daughters-in law are "becoming independent" but at the same time don't shy away from "appreciating the hard work and thought processes of their mothers-in law". "I do believe that things are getting a lot better in educated sectors of our society," Sonali told IANS.
The abuses, taunts, sarcasm and the evil gleam of the small screen mother-in-law are fading away. Slowly perhaps, but it is happening.