ALTBalaji, whose mostly campy web content seems like a rebellion against the sexless, sanitised aesthetic of matriarch Balaji Telefilms, apparently reaches 3.5 million viewers. And in one of the shows — marked as 'trending' and labelled as 'erotic drama' on the website — the makers have made a dangerous hotchpotch of gender justice and sexual violence. In one of the episodes in the series titled Gandii Baat, a man is shown raping another man, apparently as a lesson to the latter for threatening to violate women.
The series comprises four episodes, each centred around a woman — actually more a caricature of a woman — who's faced with some challenge that has to do with her sex life. With the nuance of an adolescent who'll choke on his morning cereal at the sound of the word 'dildo', the series tries to explore women's sexuality. The result, like choking on cereal, is quite painful.
In the first episode titled Threesome, a woman whose husband can't satisfy her sexually is stalked and harassed by a loafer. One day, said loafer hides in her bathroom while she is bathing and suddenly springs on her, eventually forcing himself on her. While women off the screen who are watching the show may struggle with the urge to smash their laptops at this blatant normalisation of sexual violence, the woman inside the screen seems as pleased as a Bengali with prawn malai curry with her violator, whom she was fighting off moments ago.
When you thought the story cannot get even more bizarre, the woman's husband walks in on the duo post coitus and then forces himself on the man, even as the latter weeps and shouts and begs to be let off. And in an even bizarre conclusion — pardon the repeated use of bizarre, but that's what it is — one of our favourite artistes Piyush Mishra says in a voice over that the three people get used to each other over the course of time. The makers don't even leave the audience enough space for some benefit of doubt as to their intentions about normalising sexual violence. Mishra's voice says, "This is love or madness, family or debauchery, who will decide that?"
When you thought the story cannot get even more bizarre, the woman's husband walks in on the duo post coitus and then forces himself on the man, even as the latter weeps and shouts and begs to be let off.
Another episode called Vasu Nag is about women in a village who started a rumour about having had sex with a snake so that they could leave their abusive husbands for their lovers. (No, your coffee is not spiked and you don't need to get your eyes checked.)
In the same episode, the lover of one of the women conspires with her and abducts her harasser to eventually tie him up and rape him through the night. Don't be mistaken, this is the 'good guy' of the narrative. That episode also ends with some sermonising from Mishra, warning patriarchy of what happens when women stand up for themselves. The voiceover adds, "As long as women keep quiet, they are right. The moment they speak up, they are wrong. But these women decided they will rise above the taunts of society to live their own lives. It's nothing strange, but society called it a dirty thing."
Not just that, the woman jokes after the rape that now that they've both has had sexual relations with the same man, her harasser and she must be 'sisters'.
At that moment, you'd wish you were a refrigerator or a crow or Salman Khan's SUV — anything that doesn't make you resemble even the physical traits of the things the show acknowledges as humans and women.
Rape, down the ages, has been used to oppress women, queer people and the marginalised, to dehumanise them and deny them social autonomy. No woman who is frustrated with the sexual violence their gender faces ever wishes it upon men as 'revenge'. Trying to pass rape off as some sort of tool for women's empowerment is frankly infuriating and insulting for survivors of assault.
No woman who is frustrated with the sexual violence their gender faces ever wishes it upon men as 'revenge'.
The show's gaze is that of teenagers who have just discovered Pornhub but can't pay for a subscription. So naturally, the women are a sum total of heaving bosoms and butts. The tastelessly shot sex scenes never end, with the women moaning and grinding on male actors whose brief seems to have been 'nobody cares about you'. The characters of the women are lifted straight out of heterosexual male fantasies illustrated in pornographic texts like Savita Bhabhi. There's the bhabhi, who's relentlessly lusted after by men in the neighbourhood, the newly-wed who is spied upon by her father-in-law and the local matriarch who gets elaborate 'massages' from the neighbourhood's young men. The women characters are not allowed to develop any more dimensions than that of a pin-up because they simply exist to serve the male gaze.
The men, are equally atrocious cardboard characters, meant to further the dehumanisation of women in the show.
That apart, the tagline of the series — 'Urban Stories From Rural India' — is an indication of city writers exoticising and dehumanising small town and rural India beyond recognition. From badly-delivered dialects to hypersexualised wardrobes for women, this series is simply Kahani Ghar Ghar Kii, the violent misogyny edition.