The sad state of Indian soap operas

September 10, 2008

Prime-time television in India is not really known for sensible content. Especially the soap operas. I have never been a fan but one tedious evening, I switched on the telly and sat through one “saas-bahu” serial after another.

What was it about family dramas that kept millions of Indian women glued to their TV sets each evening? I intended to find out.

In one such episode, a mother-in-law laments the loss of an unborn grandchild.

indiatv.jpg“We have lost our grandson and our daughter-in-law cannot bear a child after this. Now we will never have a grandson to take the family name forward.”

I wondered how the mother-in-law could be so sure the unborn child was male. Did she get a sex-determination test done? Or was it some divine revelation.

As the story of one serial after the other unfolded on screen, I realized that to be the “perfect” woman on Indian television, one needed to be a docile housewife and sacrifice everything for the family’s happiness.

Even if that meant putting up with philandering husbands.

Women who wear western clothes or work for a living invariably have loose morals, or so these soap operas would have you believe.

I am all for escapist TV and can forgive the sight of glamorous women going to bed in flashy saris and make-up.

But I find it hard to accept that millions of eyeballs are being exposed to such regressive programmes day after day.

Can the television industry shrug off its responsibility so easily in a country where killing of female foetuses is common and preference for sons runs deep?

In a report last year, the United Nations estimated that 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India.

Experts warn that fewer women will spark a demographic crisis in India which could lead to more crimes against women — as there would be fewer left to marry.

I am not asking television producers, many of whom are women and lead very different lives than that of their characters on the telly, to broadcast sermons on female foeticide.

But it will take them just a few changes in their scripts to conjure up a healthy dose of daily entertainment — without sending their audiences the wrong message.


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The way women are portrayed in TV serials here is very regressive. Look at the West – where they have gone. We can’t even compare with them. Sadly, I doubt if anything can be doen for women in India.

Posted by Natasha | Report as abusive

You nailed it. Regressive is the key word here.

Posted by Ottayan | Report as abusive

Regressive, maybe… but people are voting with their remotes, right? India is going backwards socially in any case – what with the increasing communalism, corrupt morality of hypocrites who decry a public kiss and then condone “honor killings” of their own daughters… all the while living vicariously wanting to have the lives of people who don’t exist and live in a world that is made-up (pun intended!). I would have said “at least they’re not doing anything violent,” but considering the impact of Ramayan on the violent extremism of the VHP and RSS, I can’t even say that “it’s just TV”!

Posted by SSR | Report as abusive

The amount of trash churned out everyday on Indian television is incredible and leading the pack is Balaji Telefilms. It is a pity inspite of the economic boom and growth overall, socially so much more needs to be done. Unfortunately the production houses are only part to blame as they create stuff what people want to see.
Not to mention our news channels (especially Hindi) or should I say infotainment channels. It is hard to imagine how can they be so pathetic and I wonder if there is going to be a backlash. There has to be an end to it, just don’t kow how. Any bright ideas?

Posted by Govind | Report as abusive

While there’s no contesting the views put forth in this article, I feel there’s no need for panic among the educated masses. The audience of such soaps is distinctly either downmarket, or rural; and the TV serials only reflect the mentality of the audience to which they cater.

What is intriguing, however, is that the entire production units of such serials are full of urbanised, educated men and women who themselves would never subscribe to the views presented in the soaps….

Posted by Sameer | Report as abusive

If you had attempted to find out why so many Indian Women are glued to the television to watch these soaps..believe me i did the samething once, with a lot of curiosity as it happened all around me. And my conclusive comment is that most of the soaps show the problems faced by women in their day to day life and when they nail it very close to reality women relate to the fact that the television medium can shoe positive outcomes for these problems and guide women the right way, if absolutely right. But not many of them do it..they intend only to drag the serial as long as they can but not really give a positive message out of it. Considering that so many women actually sit down and watch these soaps…attempting to deliver positive messages out of it, is a fabulous thought to bring a change to society in their own way. Its a very valid topic you have instigated..hope the concerned people start thinking about it.

Posted by Amritha | Report as abusive

The need of the hour is a comprehensive legislation to curb such shameless and senseless potrayal of “Indian” woman. I wonder whether Ekta Kapoor has got the stomach of watching her own serials!

Posted by Danish | Report as abusive

Very well written blog. I cannot stand Indian soaps…

Posted by Neha | Report as abusive

Absolutely right !! I just don’t understand how we Indians waste so much of our time & effort in these worthless ‘serials’. I hope your blog ‘opens’ up the minds of these ‘serial-struck’ masses & makes them more liberal in their thinking & outlook towards womenkind.
May God bless India & make us more sensible…

Posted by Karan | Report as abusive

Ya’ know Natasha,

The issue is with what’s happening in India, and somehow you make twist the topic to a comment about your culture.

First that’s narcissistic, second women in the west aren’t portrayed as;
domestic = good
career oriented = bad

“look at the west, where have they gone?”

What? Do you even own a television?

Posted by Eyes_On_The_Road | Report as abusive

I am not a fan of soap operas and rarely watch any. But at the same time, I did not like the way people who love to criticise them without any responsibility. This kind of criticism, to me, stems from the blind following of whatever come with the West tag and little understanding of Indian social and cultural mores.
Most of these soap operas may not be of very high cinematic or thematic standards, but certainly not all of them could be trashed. Even in the west, one can find thousands of TV softwares not of any standards and full of trash — in terms of social, cultural, political and economical norms.
Not long ago, there were lobbies of critics — many may still be around— who trashed anything and everything that came out of the Indian film industry and preached apeing of the Hollywood movies. Do they know that there have been several studies, of course by European and American institutions, on the Indian films and film industry. Many of these studies wonder, and now many Hollywood filmmekers are trying to understand, how a film can be packed with so many thigns that can hold audience for three long hours.
So please stop behaving in a mindless, west-blindfolded individuals and use a bit of mind, spare a second of thought before taking high moral positions.

Posted by prakash jha | Report as abusive

Mr Prakash Jha

Did you read the blog/comments before posting your ‘insightful’ comments? Where did it say that western television was great and only Indian was trash. I did not see any comparison, just a plain fact that most of the stuff on our television is trash. I don’t see it as a ‘mindless, west-blindfolded’ way of looking things.
Even talking about Indian culture, if something is not right (like the killing of unborn girl child), why shouldn’t we condemn it. In a country of a billion people, it is absolutely unfair to generalise things as the situation is not the same for everyone. But still, what’s the harm in admitting if something about us is not right.
Talking about responsibility, discussing the matter is not being irresponsible.
Having said that, most comments have been from people who don’t watch the soap operas. Would be interesting to hear out the for argument as well.

Posted by Govind | Report as abusive

Indian soaps– most are a waste of time and money and off course, wants to prove “good” women would be the ones sacrificing everything for the sake of others and “bad” women who think about themselves, logically and want to change a few things around them. We dont need to compare east or west, its about the literate people making serial for millions of viewers where a lot of them are not educated enough and never stepped out to greater world. They would tend to believe anything and everything that they watch on tele. FOR THESE SORT or women, sending wrong, incorrect message through any channel is a SIN to the society. Soaps should be used to educate rather than pull the country backwards from where we started our journey to improvement. Prakash Jha made comment without understanding the content of this article and jumped to conclusion. Another typical maniac who would comment just for the sake of commenting.

Posted by Sagar | Report as abusive

These serials are like drugs for families who can’t miss a single episode….in my cousinds house they r seen regularly along with dinner and want i can i said abt my mother……..she can’t miss even a single minute………what i want to say thatthese daily sops are having looot of impact on our minds and these directors shld keep this in mind

Posted by Piyush Monga | Report as abusive

And most of the Soaps are made by one Individual who looks like she needs to take a anti frustrated pill either she has had a failed marriage or has experienced her mother getting the wrong end of her mother in law

Posted by Raj | Report as abusive

To the author of this blog:
I wonder what you want to say in this blog. You start with commenting about the Indian tele-serial but admit yourself that you have only watched one serial. Is that the basis of forming an opinion. This look less of a blog and more of a page three gossip. Later down in your blog, the complexion is changed totally and you are on to much serious topic of girl-child and quoting that 2000 unborn girl child are aborted everyday. So this line keeps the reader guessing what is that you actually want to convey. About the serials or un-born girl child. Each paragraph seems to be like a biscuit which has been left over after one bite.
The comments also seem to be doctored or as a favour to you. A serious blog reader would have pointed out such a glaring disjoint between paragraphs. Hope you take this as a constructive criticism and come out with a more wonderful and informative blog next time.

Posted by avinash | Report as abusive

I can’t believe that I am reading something like this on Reuters. What ever is your point, you definitely have to do some research and give hard facts and more importantly have a fixed agenda about what to write.

the appropriate thing to say now ” Sad state of Reuters Blogs ” .

Girl get some clear perspective

Posted by naveen | Report as abusive

at the same time. I do not want to see indian soaps to degenerate to the standards of “Sex and the city” and “Desperate housewifes”.

Which primarily feast on shock value of which kind of guy a particular character will sleep today. Or which perverse social behaviour will be discussed in today’s episode

Posted by sa | Report as abusive

Well point worth duscussing
Intresting fact is that earlier it was persumed that only housewives are more intrested in these soap operas, now the audience includes woking women, school, college university students and even men. These soap operas curb the creativity in the young minds. And if you tell this fact to anyone he/she will say that they watch it only for entertainment. Perhaps this is the modern definition of entertainment but its surely not helping in creativity

Posted by gagan | Report as abusive

The enlightened men and women in India are progressing. Many are culturally confused whether and how much to embrace of the flashy western style into their own lives. Many are also striking a sensible balance. The core of which is fidelity and sanctity of marriage. But the glamor of glitz will throw teens off balance if we don’t establish the right values. What a bright future India holds by integrating material wealth to create comfort and time tested traditions of respect and family values. Most such sensible people watch programs like antakshri, or other contests that demonstrate skill and discipline and turn off the TV when smut invades.

Posted by Rajeev | Report as abusive

wow – there seems to be some controversy over this article but it does catch my eye as someone who also has seen snippets of soaps here and there and been hooked on series like the 1st season of the OC!

I would be curious to read a follow up article should you decide to contrast soap operas of different Asian cultures – esp Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

my mom is clearly hooked on the latter!

Posted by udance4ever | Report as abusive

Please watch IPL thats the only remidy

Posted by Sumanta | Report as abusive

there is something seriously wrong with mental health state of all involved in making these soaps- from the script writers right through the special effects technicians to the producers and directors- what a bunch of sickos

Posted by anemone | Report as abusive

The I&B department should keep new conditions on the content on these soaps.

Posted by Sasi KC | Report as abusive

Its really very well written.We must not forget that now a days also where we say that girls are much more career oriented than boys ,there are so many girls who want to go very high but the impact of society put major and major obstacles for them.

Let us take the case of getting married.A boy asks directly from a girl that can she leave her job or not? I m still not able to understand that why it is the only girl who is responsible to leave the job.

These types of differences can still be seen in various cases.These are the reasons which are forcing the existing girls to come back from the height.

and by seeing this feeling people now a days think that only man can take their family as forward.

Posted by Nidhi | Report as abusive

The Indian nation must start seeking more meaning to their lives.

I suggest they search and inquire from the God of creation how they can draw closer to Him. Their perspectives of life will definitely change for the better.

This applies to all human beings as well.

Posted by dinesh | Report as abusive

It is unfair to criticize the TV producers and companies for the content of these shows. Before we do this we must take in mind that they only produce shows that will be watch. They’re not producing these shows because they feel like it, but because we want to watch them.

As an occasional viewer of soaps, I can say that they are not of the highest standard and look amateur in comparison to Hollywood productions. However they are what people choose to watch in India.

These shows are popular because they portray the real life of Indian women (especially in rural communities)and these women can subsequently relate to these.

The TV producers have no moral obligations in the production of these soaps. Their aim is to make money and the way they make money is by us watching these soaps.

If you don’t like the content of these shows vote with your remote and change the channel. Or better yet watch something that you believe expression ‘proper’ social values and improve its ratings.

Posted by Deepak | Report as abusive

I agree with your statement that Indian soap are boring. But let me ask, is nt the same case with Western shows. What about reality shows like ‘Big….’ a weird thing of showing live of group of people living in house…. but its a big hit n ppl watch. How about anchoring of American Idol, I surprised at time when judges comment participants so rudely. All these shows do business based on viewers emotions. So it is same with Indian soap shows, they are projected to touch Indian house wife’s heart. do you think they will survive if they cast a story of a modern NY girl who can live without any marriage and repeatedly change partners and drug-parties. It will be a flop. Well, do try to make a logical reasoning in Bollywood-stylish things, you are not a reviewer, just enjoy it for the evening and forget. I agree with you that they should carry some social responsibilty. Hope they do. But i a country of a billion polpulation, with hundereds of languages and thousands of castes n multiple cultures, feminism comes somewhere at the bottom of priorities. As long as house wives are enjoying them, let them prevail. None of our biy, lets watch EPL, F1, IPL etc.

Posted by Anil Kumar Bommareddy | Report as abusive

I completely agree with the author. These soap operas are no use in helping our nation grow. The broadcasters must forget money making from such soap operas and start focusing on supporting women development.

Posted by Nanda Kumar | Report as abusive

Pathetic is the only word you can use for the indian soaps and news channels. Balaji soaps should be banned for they instil wrong values and corrupt the nation. Ban these greedy pdoducers for they are the cause of Indian ills. Indians,as a whole,are truely blind they need to face up to realities of life and live as opposed to dwelling in a fantassy world. Enmass switch off is the answer. Get Balaji rubbish of the airwaves and we are all better off.

Posted by Pravin | Report as abusive

I’ve always hated soap operas…I like to see stories which end and are not stretched beyond eternity!! Indiansoap operas these days, are all about saree-sindur-mangalsutra-clad decent bahus and their equally over-dressed mother-in-laws! Can someone give “K” serials a pause??

Posted by Ami | Report as abusive

I do not turn the z tv on in weekdays due to these nonsence dramas,even we dont want to adop the nagetive acts in our life but still they leave some effects on you,may be thats why no one marring Ekta kappor……..?

Posted by P.Singh | Report as abusive

Indian Serials suck like nothing else. Can’t say more.

Posted by TheGreatKane | Report as abusive

Yep, all the soaps suck, they constantly show all the negatives…

Posted by Martha | Report as abusive

[…] airwaves during this period were nothing short of regressive (in my opinion anyway!). I found this blog post on Reuters that I agreed with on the state of television serials in […]

Posted by Soaps of our Indian lives « Devina Divecha, Journalist. | Report as abusive

I’ve watched out of curiosity one of two of those soaps and was left with the impression that Indian women were the most backward, ridiculously submissive and weakest of all women on this earth. The men too are very weak and love to let their mothers rule them and to break down in tears at the slightest difficulty. Why is it that every Indian’s ambition just seems to be how they can take over the family house by tricking the owner into signing some fraudulent deed. Is that really how absurd life in India really is? And to think you export these sort of shows to America and other developed countries where the citizenry of those countries will only be laughing at Indians as if they’re the greatest fools.

Posted by bongorum | Report as abusive

Well, I don’t understand the hue and cry about portrayal of so called regressive woman in the serials even though I complete detest them and have absolutely no regards for them. But what I feel is that people watch them just for entertainment. Nobody is learning anything from it and its definitely not creating any positive or negative effect in the society.People following western culture will continue be the same and will never try to be some heavy duty saree clad idealistic daughter in law. If such serials are creating regression then why don’t mythological serials create idealism?

Posted by suhi | Report as abusive

I. Those serials are not regressive.
2. They are promoting progressive values.
3. Indian TV soaps increase enrollment of little girls in schools.
4. They lead to more women considering domestic violence as unacceptable.
5. Rural and semi-urban women who watch TV soaps are more likelier to make their own decisions than be subservient.
6. You must read Prof. Emily Oster’s research here 09/3.aspx

Posted by NPHule | Report as abusive

Daily soaps serials are not well organized and produced in a hurry but that doesn’t mean they give out bad message to the community if you take an example of balika vadu that aired on colors gives are complete message that they are against any child marriage and this show points out the problems created due to child marriage.

Posted by vikash007 | Report as abusive