(What men want; and other thoughts on daily soaps)
Looking for ideas for my weekly Metro Now column on the foibles of mankind, I saw a feature story about how increasing numbers of Indian men want their brides to be like the women they see on TV soaps. Apparently, in matrimonial ads around the country, eager young bachelors are putting in specifications that read: “She should be like Tulsi in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi or Saloni in Saat Phere” (this is of course in addition to the usual “traditional yet modern, fair but homely, virgin yet whore” litany).
Given that India has one-sixth of the world's population, this new trend carries huge implications for the future of the family unit. Based on what little I've seen of the Ekta Kapoor variety of daily soaps, these are the qualities I imagine the average Indian male now looks for in his life-partner:
– Her range of facial expressions must include Pursed-Lip Discontentment (when the saas-ji is praising another daughter-in-law), Simpering Complicity (the innocent girl being bullied around by more dominant family members), Evil-Vixen Smirk (when a nasty plot has succeeded) and Frantic Eye-Roll (when a plot is being unmasked).
– She must wear twice her own weight in jewellery at all times, even in the kitchen and the bedroom. Laden with family heirlooms passed down over 20 generations (most of whom are still living characters on the show), arms covered with gleaming bangles, she should resemble the robot in Metropolis, or at least an extra from a 1950s cult sci-fi movie. This means that in addition to carrying cups of tea hither and thither on trays, she can double up as a security guard: if a burglar enters the house, all she has to do is stun him senseless with the reflective glare from her 7,000-carat necklace.
– She should be able to walk in slow-motion, like the heroines (and all other characters, for that matter) of these shows.
There are two reasons why everyone on a daily soap must walk in slow motion. First, because it creates a Dramatic Effect (though people with IQs above 8 might disagree with this idea), and second, because when a new episode has to be produced every day, you need to stretch things out. It would be too much to expect the poor writers to actually work on a 25-minute script daily (what are they, bloggers?), so other dramatic devices must be used. Thus, whenever a character says anything spectacular on a soap (and of course, these people only ever say spectacular things; you'll never hear an uncomplicated "saaso-ji, pass the garlic prawns please"), it will be said in a room containing 20 others, and we will be shown elaborate reaction shots of each of these people (Evil-Vixen Smirk, Frantic Eye-Roll, etc). Or a reaction shot of a single person replayed five times, with the camera twirling drunkenly around the room, and thunder-claps on the soundtrack. This is an efficient way of prolonging a five-minute scene for a week and thus cutting down on extraneous costs (because all the money must go on the really important things – the clothes, hairstyles and bangles).
Come to think of it, maybe the new lot of bride-seekers have the right idea. If we all modeled our family lives on daily soaps, world problems would end immediately – everyone would be too busy simpering at each other in slow motion to worry about the big issues.
P.S. This business of slow-motion brings me to some general observations about the Indian daily soap, which differs markedly from its western equivalent. In the US too, daytime soap operas are generally regarded as the nadir of human achievement, but if you go beyond knee-jerk snobbery it’s possible to appreciate the professionalism with which they are made. For instance, key roles are usually played by actors with some experience in theatre (even if it isn’t Grade-A theatre), each scene is rehearsed as a scene in a play would be, and then shot in a continuous take, with the action simultaneously captured from different angles so that the footage can later be edited for maximum dramatic effect.
In Indian soaps on the other hand, I doubt that actors have to ever memorise more than a couple of sentences at any one point (which is just as well, because in most cases their previous acting experience has been restricted to saying “After using Fair & Lovely, I found a wealthy and loving husband who will only beat me twice a week”). Scenes appear to be filmed not in lengthy takes but in five-second installments and the emphasis is on reaction shots, which are probably put together separately. (I imagine that when the actors come in to work each day, they are clothed, made up and then asked to stand in front of a stationary camera and twist their faces and roll their eyes in as many different ways as possible. This stock footage can later be interspersed with the freshly filmed material whenever required.)
P.P.S. One of the many things you don’t know about me is that I’m something of an expert on the history of American daytime television, so expect more posts of this sort.
I resent your dragging Metropolis into this. That robot is alive! (not to mention totally hot). Which is more than I can say for all these other women.ReplyDelete
how you wrong the tv industry! when a good half of every episode is made up of recaps of the previous three episodes, where's the time to walk in slow motion?!ReplyDelete
When these young men do find these Tulsi and whomever else, do they come complete with a kit for making sound effects, with the face of the same person appearing thrice or more times, when he/ she (well, usually she) is responding to something with anger, shock, horror or shock-horror?ReplyDelete
Well, I've believed for a long time that most of the minor roles in these soaps are created only so they can have enough faces to show in reaction shots. Just the heroine and the scheming evil woman and the hapless mother-in-law would get a bit boring no. Come to think of it, just imagine how many actors are earning a more than decent living out of raising their eyebrows and looking shocked!ReplyDelete
By the way, yeh-desh-ke-ujjwal-bhavishya, hamare naujawan itna daytime TV kyon dekh rahe hain? Aur woh bhi saas-bhi-kabhi-bahu-thi? Do they not have jobs to go to, or do they all work in call centres in night shifts?ReplyDelete
*rolling around laughing* How I wish my grandmother were more like you...ReplyDelete
Has anyone seen mallu soaps? They are interesting. Not because they aren't maudlin and often silly in the same ways, but they do weird stuff with the camera.ReplyDelete
You forgot one more thing:ReplyDelete
The aforementioned prospective bride MUST apply globs of makeup and at least 20 pounds of saris before the husband and wife retire to bed.
They also can't go to the bathroom. EVER.
So the robot should be perfect.
Robots ARE perfect! They also do not need to eat, so they never need the bathroom. But they sure know better than to appear in KSBKBT...ReplyDelete
You missed the broad foreheads that are 'fore'-heads in the true sense! Depending on one's status in the soap, you carry a sticker up there (the vamps usually get to sport the exquisite ones!) that further adds e-motion to the up and down, brisk movement of the brows. They put Kathakali dancers to shame :)ReplyDelete
And then there are those startling reaction shots done in negatives or X-rays or something.. do they use that when they exhaust the repository?ReplyDelete
Or to save on makeup costs? Heh.
Well, if we're so smart and they're so stupid, how come they're the rich ones?ReplyDelete
Hi-larious. How about the lipliner-as-moral-plimsol-lines angle? you didn't cover that.. the ferociousness with which a protagonist's lipliner is applied increases in direct proportion with their villainousness. ;)ReplyDelete
Got your blog link from Desipundit. Loved the article... Your profile says you're a journalist, which publication/media house do you write for, would like to read your other work...ReplyDelete
How much more anti-social and unpatriotic can you get!!!! I mean, look at EK's soaps, aint it providing a living to so many of its artists (if i can dare to call them that without offending the real ones!!!). Why do you want so many people to become jobless and add to our unemployment rate. And this job is atleast better than the money exchanger one!!ReplyDelete
I wonder if everyone hates these serials so much, how do they manage such high TRPs???
"Or a reaction shot of a single person replayed five times, with the camera twirling drunkenly around the room, and thunder-claps on the soundtrack."ReplyDelete
and hey, you forgot about the extra-marital affairs. The bride-to-be must be open to her husband having an extra-marital affair and probably have a kid or two from the relationship. Well, she should be ready to have one too!!
That robot is alive! (not to mention totally hot).ReplyDelete
Falstaff: I agree. This is probably why we spend so much of our time in water tanks.
Space Bar: Are you trying to say the recaps are played in normal time?
Neeti: freelancer. Write in quite a few places, but most of the stuff I'm satisfied with is on the blog.
Shefaly: I want that kit!
So this is how the stories work. At the beginning of the week a schedule is made which actor is available and which is one is leaving. According to that the writers are directed to write the story. In case somebody is leaving the serial, he has to be dead(until EK hunts for a replacement). And then a plastic surgery is conducted to get the person back.ReplyDelete
You also forget to mention the contact lens angle. Cattier the lens vampier the charecter. Do they have a place in the Indian man's fantasy? Maybe in the kinkier types.ReplyDelete
Ekta Kapoor is the culprit. Lets draw hang and whatever her for the trash she perpetuates. To Arthur Quiller Couch's ques - who says we are smart. We(the audience) lap up all that EK dishes out.Shes the smart one.
There's a popular theory that the script writers (such as they are) go from episode to episode, plotting possible plot lines against complexity. At each decision node, the most complex plot possible is chosen, and so on, ad infinitum (which, as we all know, is how long a single day can last on an EK soap).ReplyDelete
hahaha oh man this great! i couldnt agree more about the angles and thunder claps, my grandma has these shows on 24/7 and i get dizzy just watching one scene!ReplyDelete
Just as Bollywood provides inspiration for marriage and it also provides rationale for divorceReplyDelete
That's funny, until you read this:ReplyDelete
So basically the soaps are working as some sort of Great Indian Equalizer....(em, is that what it means?)
hi, i was reading your old blogs some of which r really good, i live in Canada and watch all the saas bahu soaps ..it makes mefeel good to hear hindi and get a glipse of family lifeReplyDelete
Yeah I have always admired the patience of my folks to be able to endure seeing these slow-motion walks. I usually lock myself away in a far-off room when they watch such programs! :)ReplyDelete
"I’m something of an expert on the history of American daytime television, so expect more posts of this sort."
Waiting for these posts badly, Jai!