LIFESTYLE

Some Of Ekta Kapoor's 'Progressive' ALTBalaji Shows Are Worse Than The 'Saas Bahu' Serials

Barf.

17/05/2017 10:57 AM IST | Updated 17/05/2017 7:23 PM IST
Screenshot from ALT Balaji

One fine day, the doyennes of saas-bahu sagas climbed atop the carcasses of tea-cups and sanity and surveyed the destruction they had wrought. The sight was as mortifying as the thought of a woman going to sleep without 13 layers of eye shadow. Or women not shrieking, 'Nahiiiiin, keh do ki yeh jhooth hai' to burnt toast and cheating husbands alike. Where were the closet Roadies youth, man? Why was no one saying, #KahaniRightSwipeKi? Or #KyunkiBaeBhiKabhiGayTha? Or at least #KasautiFriendzoneKay? I mean not even a #KisBasePeHaiMeraDil?

And therefore, ALTBalaji was born. Well, at least, that's how I have concluded it came to exist.

ALTBalaji's line-up of original fiction has the restraint of a teenager who's finally managed to move out of home and into a different city. Or a person of any age at a pub during happy hours. You probably want to smash patriarchy, have sex on the kitchen table and get a tongue piercing -- but all you end up doing is hugging the bucket, puking and passing out. That's exactly what happens with ALTBalaji. Well, in most parts, so far.

The show is basically a spin-off on the Pyaar Ke Punchnama style 'bromance' where adult Indian men are applauded for having the conscience of a spoon and the intelligence of a safety pin.

First in their bouquet of #HumSaasBahuNahinHai is a series called Boygiri. It's tagline says 'Men Never Grow Up' and the series takes it way too seriously. So seriously, that you're often left wondering why men, who are the size and shape of adults, are behaving like 13-year-olds who've just acquired their first stash of porn. 'Bro' is to the conversations of these men what 'sapiosexual' is to Tinder bios. The show is basically a spin-off on the Pyaar Ke Punchnama style 'bromance' where adult Indian men are applauded for having the conscience of a spoon and the intelligence of a safety pin. The series revolves around six male genitals which survive on sex, bro-ing and high-fives. I looked hard for the existence of other body parts --especially the brain -- but they mostly didn't surface.

As a result, token gay man in the group is shown to be at a gay party populated by straight-acting gay men and lesbian women right out of a straight man's fantasy. In walks gay man's straight buddy and the former isn't out to him. Guess how the gay man keeps up his straight charade? He grabs his female friend and starts kissing gnawing her mouth like it's an Oreo cookie. Does that sound like sexual assault to you?

Everything's fine in the world of Boygiri, where a gay man forcibly kissing a woman isn't assault and molesting a friend is a mark of a true heterosexual male.

But while girl walks away sulking, everything's fine in the world of Boygiri, where a gay man forcibly kissing a woman isn't assault and molesting a friend is a mark of a true heterosexual male, one that is replicated by a gay man. And what about the violated woman? She makes a sad face and walks away to another friend and then they both make sulky faces. This is never brought up in the series again. Normalising sexual assault, what?

Most women in the show are asked to play human emojis -- happy, horny, bored, angry, meh. And oh, the show also manages to mock anxiety disorder and physical handicaps in the name of humour in the first few episodes.

Since the folks at ALTBalaji believe deeply in gender equality -- i.e. all genders' right to be infuriatingly stupid -- they came up with Dev DD. At the centre of it is a girl called Devika whose comfort English word is 'fuck'. 'Fuck' is her 'bro'. She is what ALTBalaji must have thought feminists are like and what feminists will find to be caricatures of women. Or humans in general. Since she was born out of a listicle that surfaced when the folks at ALTBalaji Googled '10 Ways To Spot A Feminist', don't expect her to behave like actual humans.

Screenshot from ALT Balaji
A still from Boygiri.

Like don't try to figure why she screams at a pharmacy uncle who put a packet of sanitary pads inside a black bag. I mean, an easier way would be to ask him to hand over the pack of pads as they were, but hey, who said you should spare any opportunity to be a clown? Also, guess how women buy condoms? According to Daft DD, by making it sound like weekend veggie shopping. "Bhaiyaa, poora fruit basket de do. Aur chocolate for dessert," she screeches, probably hoping all the waves of feminism will crash at Versova beach to pay their respects to this Andheri ki Adichie. In the 'progressive' world as well, women buying condoms can't be a regular affair, it has to be a overblown performance such as this.

In the 'progressive' world as well, women buying condoms can't be a regular affair, it has to be a overblown performance such as this.

The girl makes an insinuation about a partner's parent's sex life and then flies into rage when the man doesn't seem amused by the joke. When the guy asks her if she is being a 'sati savitri', she quips, 'No, I am a slutty savitri'. Then she says things like how 'smart women' must save situations messed up by 'horny men'. Then she shrieks, "Main kitna horny hoon yaaaaa' in the same tone in which we wail to lost Uber drivers -- 'Bhaiyyaaa, aap ho kahaan?' With an intriguing brand of subtlety -- previously displayed by Rakhi in Karan Arjun -- Devika is almost as real as a door knob with the words 'Main Feminist Ban Na Chahti Hoon' scribbled on it. The series hints that if you claim to be a 'strong, independent, every-cliche-in-the-world woman', you must also shame men on their penis sizes, be surrounded by pathetic, comical women who'll make you look smart and be pointlessly aggressive.

Since the folks at ALTBalaji believe deeply in gender equality -- i.e. all genders' right to be infuriatingly stupid -- they came up with Dev DD.

Carrying on this theme of sexually-active-women-are-pathetic-caricatures is Romil and Jugal, a take on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with a gay couple as the lead. It opens with a woman -- probably inspired by the go-getters-in-white pants from sanitary napkin commercials -- loudly chastising some boy for cheating on her and being bad in bed. She is at a airport. And it doesn't occur to her that her fellow passengers may be reading, listening to music and may have no interest in her ex's fingering skills. But, hello, she is an #AajKalKiLadki.

Screenshot from ALT Balaji
A still from Romil and Jugal.

In course of the show, she is revealed to be Romil's sister -- one half of the gay couple in the lead. Her common sense comes to a drooling halt at the sight of male biceps and she crafts meticulous sentences like, "What is the way to washboard abs?" on running into topless men. Flip the genders around and that could be borderline harassment. Turns out, almost all the women who show any sign of sexual activity are clones of this girl. Another asks a boy, "Guys who have great moves in salsa, have great moves in bed, hai na?" And then violently pushes same guy into a pool because he refused to make out with her. Third girl, who has a cameo, whines about being dumped and immediately hits on a guy who is trying to calm her down. And on being turned down, she screams at everyone in a cafe saying, 'All men are losers'. Two girls get into a 'dance fight' pulling and clawing at a boy during a family function over the attention of the same boy. The only woman who shows some semblance of sanity is Romil's best friend, one who isn't attributed any sexual engagement. ALTBalaji is out to prove that women's interest in sex is inversely proportional to their common sense.

Since my understanding of a homosexual romance between two men may not be accurate I asked my gay friends what they thought of Romil and Jugal. Most of them had watched the series with the eagerness of any Indian television viewer tired of cardboard, 'sanskaari' propaganda on TV. But alas. While one felt ALTBalaji was 'commodifying gay men the way they commodified bahus', another said the men playing the lead are ''vain, silly, tiresome and, of course, toned". Again, the inspiration, like my journalist friend pointed out, must have been the Dostana/Dharma school of Indian gay men with washboard abs. Another friend, who works in the development sector, said while he supports endeavours like this, Romil and Jugal was 'extremely cringeworthy in most parts' as it hardly revealed any real conflict or emotional duress that people feel.

If ALTBalaji is meant to be Balaji's redemption for burying women in chiffons and turning them into tear-dispensing machines, it's doing it all wrong. Between being crying chandeliers and cursing bots, women are truly short of choices in the Balaji universe.

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