I’M NOT sure what I’m more addicted to — caffeine or Balika Vadhu. The question, ‘what’s that?’ is not even valid. It is the most watched serial on Colors — discussed by politically- conscious reporters in newsrooms, including ours, and in beauty parlours by women getting their talons painted a bright red.
And just why would women — hair streaked deep purple and burnt gold; feet daintily tucked in stilettos — be watching a soap set in a village in Rajasthan where its cast even sleeps in bridal jewelry and heavy-dutylehengas, that for most would resemble oversized tents? Why, indeed, would they be hooked on a show about child marriage? Yes, that done-to-death subject that we in metros make polite, socially correct noises about; that done-to-death subject that seldom makes non-tweezed eyebrows shoot up simply because it is so part of the ‘parampara’ they’ve grown up in.
What is it about this serial that sometimes keeps me awake well past my nocturnal hour? If Balika Vadhu has the highest television ratings and if it has, in so many ways, effectively sealed the fate of all the K-serials that shot Ekta Kapoor to fame and pots of money, there is obviously meat and matter.
Child marriages may be a hackneyed subject but the serial transports you into a very real world. It takes you into the deep recesses of a Rajasthani home and makes you feel like a participant, like a member of the joint family in which the grandmother is the head of the parivar. Kalyani, the rigid old lady, sets the rules and expects to be obeyed. She terrorises everybody — her two sons, their wives and two grandchildren, a girl and a boy.
Initially, you start hating her but realise soon enough — through the many nuances and layers that the serial takes you through — that Kalyani is steeped in tradition. She knows no other way of life. She shocks you in almost every episode. In one, she pays money to procure a child bride for her older son after his wife dies in childbirth, because she has grown up watching village midwives and thinks allopaths are bad news. She also finds girls from poverty-stricken families and brings them home as brides and thinks nothing of humiliating their parents.
The serial revolves around the eight-year-old child bride Anandi, married to an equally young Jagdish, Kalyani’s grandson. Kalyani delivers shocker after shocker but the serial simultaneously also delivers hope, through Jagdish’s parents who encourage their children to break traditions. They encourage Anandi to go to school even though her grandmother wants her to master the art of Rajasthani delicacies. She helps her husband with his homework and when she takes the exam at school, her report card shines brighter than his.
Child marriage may be a hackneyed topic but the show transports you to a very real world
Balika Vadhu is more than just a serial on child marriage. It portrays a slice of life women in metros can still identify with. It is not black and white about its exploration of good and evil, right and wrong. With its onion-like layers, it shames you about the way widows are treated. When Sugna, Kalyani’s granddaughter is widowed on her wedding day, a broken and grieving Kalyani insists that she spend a year in the outhouse. When her older son forces himself on his child wife, the camera focuses directly on the marks he has left on her body.
Currently, Kalyani’s sister has walked into the family fold and is doing a delightful job of opening the windows of her sister’s mind, and the rigid old lady is slowly shedding her superstitious beliefs.
Why would you opt for other serials where the saas and the bahu are still bitching and scheming each other out. Balika Vadhu is socially relevant but doesn’t preach. It’s a fine depiction of life and its setting in Rajasthan is now merely incidental for a hardcore Delhiite like me. A modern me, if I may say so. And yes, I’ve been through burnt gold streaks myself.