There's no denying the fact that some of the shows we grew up watching in the 90s and early 2000s were far more progressive, relatable, and woke than the saas-bahu sagas that pass for drama on TV these days. However, not just shows, there were also certain characters that were refreshingly honest, and who, in hindsight, are also woke icons we can look up to: 

1. Kajal from Hum Paanch

Kajal from Hum Paanch was quite possibly the first example of a gender non-conformist in Hindi TV. Her preference for 'masculine' clothes wasn't a phase, and she chose to identify with pronouns other than the ones assigned to her at birth. An icon of the LGBTQ+ community we failed to recognize before. 

Hum Paanch
Source: Aaj Tak

2. Mike from F.R.I.E.N.D.S

We love the show and the leads, but let's accept it, Joey was a playboy, Ross was chauvinistic and clingy, and Chandler was an emotionally immature man-child. And then there was Mike - the one guy who learned from his mistakes, didn't judge his girlfriend's past but rather supported her, and didn't always put the burden on his partner to be the more mature one. 

Mike proposes to Phoebe
Source: YouTube

3. Nani from Shararat

Nani wasn't just one of the most fun people to watch on the show, she was also a reminder that there is no set, defined way of being an older woman. From living with her married daughter, flawed social conventions be damned, to not judging Jia but rather, becoming her confidante, Nani was unlike most on-screen grandmothers. And she was also not one to take anything lying down, be it a meddling neighbor or a clever quip by her son-in-law. Definitely not your usual 'adarsh nari'

4. Sarla Diwan from Dekh Bhai Dekh

Sarla Diwan was a woman who defined her life according to her own rules. There was more to her than being just 'Mrs. Diwan', and thanks to clever writing and brilliant acting, we were not treated to the overused socialite trope that demonizes independent women, but rather, given a character who was relatable yet aspirational. 

Sushma Seth
Source: YouTube

5. Vincent Sir from Hip Hip Hurray

Vincent sir went above and beyond his position to help out his students. He was the one who taught his students the right way to help a drug addict student, and who talked to Kiran's parents, and later, took her to a psychiatrist, to help her with anorexia. He was neither too strict, to cross the line into bullying or so lenient, so as to be considered inappropriate.   

Vinay Pathak in Hip Hip Hurray
Source: Mid Day

6. Mahi from Mahi Way

Mahi was the polar opposite of most female leads on Indian shows. But, what set her apart wasn't just the fact that she didn't fit the ideal body type that shows and films pander, but also that she didn't fit the ideal personality type! A complex character whose journey of growth and self-love wasn't defined by how or when she shed the kilos, Mahi reminded women that it's okay to put themselves first. 

Mahi Way
Source: Indian Express

7. Deepak and Shalini from Family no. 1

Deepak and Shalini are not characters who'd fit into today's TV shows. Because two single parents, those too divorcees, co-habiting a house, looking after their kids, and it's not a sob story but a comedy? The very premise seems unimaginable in today's age of soap operas and regressive comedy-dramas. 

Family No 1
Source: Jio Cinema

8. Svetlana in Swabhimaan

Even today, men who indulge in extra-marital affairs are not persecuted by society, especially in our TV shows, as much as the women they have the affair with. And then we had Swabhimaan, that gave us Svetlana, a mistress fighting for her legal rights and self-respect, as the protagonist. Progressive and how! 

Swabhimaan
Source: awesome india

Any other character you'd like to add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below.