For Decades Hindi TV shows cashed in on the bechari factor and gave us roles like Ridhima from Dill Mill Gayye and Anandi in Balika Vadhu. However, now the industry decided to ride the wave of the latest trend: feminism. But somehow they couldn't manage to get it right and went down the 'token feminism' rabbit hole.
What is token feminism? The concept of tokenism is including someone in a group for the sake of sounding or appearing diverse. In the same way, Indian television decided to add 'feminists' to their list of leading ladies but soon after the pilot episode, it began to lose track of the plot.
The biggest example? Ekta Kapoor calling characters in the Kasautii Zindagii Kay remake, feminist. And yet, the lead characters in the show - Prerna and Komolika constantly judge each other on their sexual choices, looks and family backgrounds. Not to mention the 'fake rape' accusations that form a huge part of this show. So how was this feminist exactly? Because handing your leading lady a career does not make her a feminist.
On the other hand, in a show like Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum where Dipika Kakar plays an actress and her boyfriend-turned-husband, a cardiologist, the promo shows a drama that focuses on the difficulties of a career-oriented couple.
But instead, 7 months after its release, the show has become a saas bahu saga where the 'goals' of the woman are causing difficulties in her married life. And her mother-in-law has resorted to slapping her in front of the family instead. How progressive!
And now the woman has to give up her career because her in-laws have a problem with her TV shows. Can I just say, I told you so. P.S. did anyone ask the cardiologist to leave his career to make time for her?
Surprisingly the most feminist show on mainstream television has been Beyhadh and that portrayed the lead as manipulative serial killer! Even though Maya is a crazy stalker and a bat-shit crazy person, at least she has a strong personality and is the lead of a show. That's more than the hours men who write Kasautii Zindagii Kay spent on Prerna's character sketch.
The female leads always start off promising, with a nice career, strong opinions and a voice that wants to change the world. But soon, things take priority. In most cases it is the boss they end up falling in love with (read Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? and Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi). Why can't women multi-task? Why do they shift focus as soon as a man starts paying attention to them?
While TV still has a long way to go, web platforms like Alt Balaji have some good female oriented shows - Code M and The Test Case that do justice to its leads. Television on the other hand, continues supplying us with the same old tropes and decade old storylines.
Why don't we deserve a show like Fleabag? Which doesn't just equate feminism with a career woman and actually looks at other aspects of her life, the way a man's life would be covered. Her sex life, adultery, her family, her friends, she has more layers to her. We need a story that talks about the woman, without immediately linking her to a man. Which gives her dimension and shows us relatable content, like her getting her first period.
In 1989, we had Udaan on Doordarshan which was the first TV show on women empowerment and focused on the struggle of a woman aspiring to be an IPS officer. 30 years later, we are still looking for one that will capture the life of a woman, honestly.