Tuesday, 21 March, 2023
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Indian women on TV get a raw deal—from Ankita in news to Anupamaa in TV shows

While TV news repeatedly telecast 19-year-old Jharkhand woman giving her dying statement, Netflix came out with Delhi Crime Season 2 showing women committing brutal crimes.

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A 19-year-old woman’s grief-stricken face is shown in full view as she records her last statement. We see a seer who has been accused of rape, still free despite an FIR against him. Television news has photographs of a woman politician, reportedly, forced to swallow a spiked drink before she dies of a cardiac arrest.

Meanwhile, TV serials depict women fighting women and domestic violence. In Netflix’s Delhi Crime: Season 2, women both fight and commit brutal crimes. Continents away in the US of A, NRI women — and men — are looking to Indian Matchmaking: Season 2 (Netflix) for suitable husbands and wives with shared family and cultural values.

These are just a few examples of how women are depicted on television — from TV news to TV serials to streaming channels, Indian women are getting a raw deal. It’s not a pretty sight, generally. Even more disturbing are the latest data from the NCRB, which, according to a report in The Indian Express, indicate a 15 per cent rise in crime against women in the last year.

We know of this grim reality only too well, and yet, each time there’s a particularly horrifying incident, such as the one in Jharkhand where the 19-year-old was set ablaze, alive, by her stalker and subsequently died of her injuries, we can’t believe our eyes.

Just as we couldn’t believe that news channels, repeatedly, telecast the girl giving her last statement. An ABP News reporter stood outside the woman’s room describing in detail how Shahrukh had stood there and attacked her. Really? Are you helping to prevent crime or giving people copycat ideas?

The mosaic, supposed to disguise her face, was transparent — channels like Republic TV didn’t even bother with it when they showed her face. How they obtained this recording is a question for her family and the authorities, but why would TV news broadcast a woman on her deathbed? Would we want our daughters, or sons, to be seen on national television in a similar situation or condition?

Whenever such crimes take place, they immediately become political. A crime in a BJP-ruled state and the Opposition yells ‘laparvahi’ at the state government. If it’s an Opposition-ruled state, the BJP does the same. And television news, happily, plays along.

India TV and others such as ABP News said there were claims the woman didn’t receive proper treatment on time, or else she could have survived—thereby pointing a finger at the Jharkhand administration led by CM Hemant Soren.

Zee News raised the old, so-called ‘love jihad’ narrative; ‘Justice for…’ rang out across channels. Union minister Giriraj Singh said on TV that the Soren government was responsible, adding that the ‘tukde tukde gang’, led by Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, was silent on this death.

Was that the crucial point in the case?

If politicians are negligent or at fault, by all means call them out. As channels did in the case of Karnataka’s prominent seer, Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, who is accused of sexually molesting minor girls at his mutt. News channels went for all the political parties — is there an `immunity shield for seer?’ asked Times Now, upbraiding the BJP government and the Opposition for visiting the seer and protecting him from arrest.

Also read: Liquor-gate, Sharab Raj, Operation Lootus—TV news has all the fun in the current raid raj

TV shows’ depiction is equally shoddy

Let’s move on to the world of fiction, where women are not faring any better either. Just scan the Hindi entertainment channels and you will discover women at each other’s throats, literally, as in Naagin (Color) and in ‘saas-bahu’ fashion which extends to sisters-in-law, etc. In Anupamaa (Star Plus), her sister-in-law Barkha, is doing everything to malign her — she is also vile to the nurse tending to Anuj, Anupama’s husband. Just saw Rajjo (Star Plus) fling herself off the balcony — whatever the provocation, that was really crazy scary.

Will these portrayals help women and men to respect women, the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suggested?

Of course, shows are trying to be more realistic and pertinent, too: Savdhaan India (Star Bharat) and Crime Patrol (Sony) frequently depict crimes against women that don’t pay — the perpetrator is caught. The reality shows don’t gender discriminate: Khatron Ke Khiladi (Colors) sees women and men set the same challenges — but why can’t we have a Kaun Banega Crorepati with a female actor/anchor — say, Sharmila Tagore or Aparna Sen? Just asking.

The TV serial Ghum Hai Kisikey Pyaar Mein (Star Plus) covers domestic violence, a protagonist who leaves her marital home and starts a school for housewives. In Na Umra Ki Seema Ho (Star Bharat), the romance develops between a much older male tycoon and a young middle class woman.

The exact opposite happens in Indian Matchmaking 2 (Netflix). Here, Nadia falls for the younger Vishal, instead of the older Shekhar who has the blessings of matchmaker, ‘Sima from Mumbai’. Alas, Vishal doesn’t feel the `spark’ with her — but at least, there was the possibility of an older woman-younger man relationship.

This is decidedly a plus for the series. Another is that Nadia and a few other participants like Pradhyuman find their own matches, without Sima ji and that the thread on Aparna is as much about her finding her feet in New York as finding a guy.

Otherwise, Indian Matchmaking seems fairly pointless for an Indian audience — who doesn’t know about arranged match-making — and hardly flattering to the women, who, by the way, all reside in the US. Many are professional (good) but shown to be quite conservative in relationships —they want to settle down into happily married life with men of Indian origin with similar backgrounds — Gujarati wants Gujarati, who speaks Gujarati too. This goes to the extent of two hopefuls sharing the same name: Viral, meet Viral. Not much cultural or social integration happening in the US, right?

Also, Sima is quite dismissive of the women and the ‘list’ of things they wish for in a man while her male clientele receive more consideration. With Nadia she has an ‘I-told-you-so’ attitude after the break with Vishal and she is ‘shocked’ by Viral’s demands.

Also read: TV news spent 15 August with jawans on LOC. And then ignored ITBP soldiers’ tragic deaths

What about men?

Moving on to Delhi Crime 2, it has a strong female cast led by Shefali Shah and Rasika Dugal with Tillotama Shome. Here, Shah and Dugal do well as police officers matching their male counterparts.

The crimes committed against older people, men and women, is so graphic that it makes you shudder. There’s a Danish series called The Investigation (Prime Video) which investigates the gruesome killing of a female journalist. It is a procedural show based on a true story, rather like Delhi Crime 2 but there is no reconstruction of the crime — we don’t even meet the accused.

Delhi Crime 2 is highly watchable, nevertheless. The show could have benefitted from more complexity to the characters, Dugal’s  marital problems and Shome’s motives for the violent crimes. The ‘revenge’ is never explored.

You may argue that the depiction of men on TV is no better, in fact, it could be worse and you may well be correct.

Now, that could be the subject of another column.

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