New Delhi: We live in an era of web series and OTT platforms that provide fresh content, with intelligent plot lines and modern characters, almost every day. When Netflix’s Indian-origin film Bulbbul premiered in June, many raved about the lead character, played by Tripti Dimri, of a female vigilante who is bold, flawed yet progressive.
But bold female characters are not new, especially on Indian television. One of the most iconic characters had emerged in 1994, in the super-hit TV series called Shanti – Ek Aurat Ki Kahani that was aired on Doordarshan.
The Mandira Bedi starrer is remembered as one of the first daily TV soaps in an era when cable television had just entered India, giving Doordarshan stiff competition from channels such as Zee and Star Plus that also brought in contemporary, urban dramas centred around strong female characters.
Tara (1993) on Zee was another popular series that was broadcast in the afternoons, another novelty at the time.
Bold female protagonist
Shanti, played by Bedi, centered around an aspiring investigative journalist who worked hard to succeed in a man’s world. Over the course of the series, the lead character develops into a complex, multi-layered and flawed protagonist.
The story revolves around Shanti’s revenge on two men who had raped her mother. She uses her profession as a tool to unravel the crime committed on her mother ‘Tulsi’, played by Mohini Sharma, and seeks amends for the injustices done to them.
She enters the lavish ‘Shanti’ mansion where the male antagonists — Kamesh Mahadevan, played by Yatin Karyekar, and Raj ‘G.J.’ Singh, played by Amar Talwar — live with their respective families, on the pretext of writing a biography about the two men.
The story reveals how her mother was raped by the men while she worked as a labourer during the construction of the Shanti mansion.
Directed by Adi Pocha and produced by UTV Software Communications, the series had around 780 episodes.
Bedi, who after the success of Shanti became famous for her stint in cricket anchoring, became a household name in the 1990s.
In an interview to the Hindustan Times in 2016, Bedi said that her role as ‘Shanti’ made her a stronger person. “Shanti was a strong woman who stood for many things. I would find myself standing up for the rest of the unit when the food served was bad. Shanti made me a stronger person,” she had said.
Reeta Das, a Mumbai-based film student told ThePrint, “Bedi did a fantastic job playing the lead. It was so melodramatic and suspenseful that, as a child, I would keep wondering how it would end and if Shanti would get justice.”
“At a time when all female characters were only portrayed as being extremely submissive, Shanti waged a war against a family far more influential than she was. She was like a rebel who wouldn’t follow the rules. This kept us, as audiences, waiting to see how the plot would turn in each episode. The best part was how things were revealed through the lead character,” Das added.
A family show
The series that remained popular through the early and mid-1990s is still remembered across generations. Not surprisingly then, the Star Plus channel had aired it again 15 years later, in 2009.
“It’s been over 25 years since Shanti was aired on Doordarshan. Growing up in a middle class family, we didn’t have cable TV or colour television at that time. But that didn’t take away the urge to watch Shanti. Every day after school, my sister, mother and I would watch it while eating lunch, since it was aired in the afternoons. It was a complete family show full of emotions — revenge, love, sadness etc,” Delhi-based entrepreneur Arpita Singh told ThePrint.
Talking about the popularity of the show and her role in it, Bedi had also said how in Sri Lanka she is still remembered by the name ‘Shanti’.