While web series and shows on OTT platforms continue to give us intelligent storylines and fleshed out characters, what passes for content on Indian TV has been a huge let-down for a significant period now. And the trend does not appear to be changing anytime soon.
Till it does, here’s a look at old TV shows that showcased progressive, feminist icons – the kind we hope to once again see on Indian TV:
Written and directed by Neena Gupta, Saans was the story of a woman who has to deal with her husband’s extra-marital affair. It starred Neena Gupta and Kanwaljit Singh in lead roles and focused on how Priya (Neena) works towards building her own identity – one not necessarily tied to her role as a wife and mother.
Today’s shows often use a profession as nothing more than a ‘characteristic’ when developing female characters. But Shanti, which starred Mandira Bedi in the lead role, used her profession as a journalist as an actual tool to take the story forward. Though by the end, the show did veer towards melodrama, there is no denying that when it started airing, it was a rare show with a female lead that was a complex, well-developed, multi-layered character.
Even today cinema does not deal with a crime as heinous as rape with the kind of sensitivity it deserves. And yet, in 1998, we had a show like Alpviram that dealt with multiple topics, including rape, in a sensitive and progressive manner. The story revolved around a woman who is raped, while she is in a coma, and focused on how she and her family come to terms with it. It starred Pallavi Joshi in the lead role.
At a time when most of us were not aware of what feminism stands for, came a show that actually dealt with the problems that urban Indian women faced. More importantly, the female leads were progressive with habits and demeanors that were realistic – something severely lacking in most female characters of today. The show starred Navneet Nishan in the lead role, along with Ratna Pathak Shah, Neha Sharad, and Amita Nangia. Despite running for 5 years, the show never became overly melodramatic or catered to flawed moral ideologies.
Based on the Marathi novel Adhantari, the show was a novel take on extra-marital affairs because it tried to understand the reason for the same, and not just showcase it in an evil light. It also focused on the imperfections that can crop in a marriage. The show initially starred Seema Kapoor in the lead role, and later Shefali Shah.
6. Astitva… Ek Prem Kahani
Starring Niki Aneja Walia and Varun Badola in the lead roles, Astitva was a refreshing story that dealt with the struggles of a doctor who marries a man ten years her junior. The story highlighted society’s narrow outlook towards relationships that don’t fit a set pattern. It showcased both, impressive performances and brilliant writing.
Written and produced by Pallavi Joshi, who also starred as the lead in the show, the show focused on the story of three female naval cadets. The show was only 13 episodes long, and far ahead of its time, considering that when it released in 1996, women were not even allowed to join combat forces in the Indian Navy.
8. Ek Packet Umeed
Right around the time, we started losing faith in Indian TV shows, came the 2008 weekly drama Ek Packet Umeed. The show starred Neena Kulkarni in the lead role and focused on various women, of different age groups, who come together to start afresh and focus on building their own happiness and leading a self-sufficient life.
Written and directed by Kavita Chaudhary, Udaan was one of the first shows to focus on women empowerment. Inspired by the story of IPS Kanchan Choudhary Bhattacharya, it showcased the story of a woman aspiring to be an IPS officer. The show not only focused on the struggles that the protagonist faces because she is a woman, but also laid the guidelines of how an IPS officer should behave, irrespective of the gender. It also starred Kavita in the lead role.
Doordarshan can be credited for coming up with some truly brilliant, groundbreaking shows. And one such show was Rajani, starring Priya Tendulkar in the lead role. Directed by Basu Chatterjee, the show focused on how a housewife deals with the everyday problems that most people encounter, such as school admissions, the attitude of taxi drivers, etc. In a way, it was the female counterpart to the famous Office Office, especially with its focus on lax government officials.
11. Mahi Way
Even today, there are hardly any shows that deal with issues such as body image, society’s narrow standards of beauty, etc. But Mahi Way was a comedy-drama that talked about body positivity without sermonizing the issue and gave us a lead character whose antics were, in equal parts, comical and relatable.
Know of any other shows that fit the bill? Let us know in the comments section below.