It is 8pm. Rakesh is back from work. The kids are back from playing. Sunita has just finished preparing dinner. But it’s too early to eat. The Sawant family will not eat for another half hour. That’s because Balika Vadhu (Child Bride) airs on TV between 8 and 8:30pm. And no one wants to miss that.
It’s a show that revolves around child marriages in India. It’s set in a traditional joint family, where a little girl Anandi gets married to the young grandson of the house- Jagdish, himself a young boy.
We were all intrigued with the concept. We knew it still happened in rural India, but this was going to be beamed into the TV sets of urban India. Child marriage, seriously?!
What is it then that clicked with us boot strapped, mall frenzied, cosmo drinking city dwellers such that the show recorded the maximum 10 points on the television rating scale on many occasions since its first season last year? And with every episode being a tearjerker, is this really a reflection of our taste in entertainment?
It seems that seeing another person (real or fictional) in a worse predicament than yourself (aka, married off young) has a soothing effect on people who aren’t too happy with their lives themselves. Recession and loss of jobs haven’t helped either.
‘Atleast she’s worse off than me!’ – Quite the balm.
And then the crying. There is so much crying on the show that it almost seems rude not to cry along. And rather rapidly, you will lose track of why you were crying. Was it because little Anandi was locked up in a room or her friend couldn’t marry her lover …or because you had a shitty day- you fought with your boss, you missed your loan payment, you’re just lonely?
True, the show highlights the plight of girl brides. If it wasn’t for flamboyant sets and heart wrenching soundtracks, this subject wouldn’t have garnered the attention it does today. Other shows have taken their cues from this golden hen and have adopted girl-centric themes as well- like Na Aana Is Des Lado which focuses on female foeticide and Aapki Antara- a story of an autistic girl.
Unfortunately, breaking up serious issues like these into episodes has also trivialized them…how best to stretch the death of a relative over two episodes, or extend a wedding into four. Shows that I like to believe started with a public message in mind have now become morbid entertainment and it looks like we are happy to be entertained five days a week.