Indian daily soaps have been infamous for peddling patriarchal narratives of “pure woman”, male dominance and villain vamp women. Yes, daily soaps have played a pivotal role in encouraging the representation and expression of women. It has not only increased the presence and opportunities for women on the screen but has also represented the everyday woman in Indian households who were always silenced by male-dominated space of film and representation. But it only falls short of its responsibility by making stories about and hence legitimising women’s oppression, gender stereotypes and gender roles.
However, thanks to some daily soap makers who gave voice to a new wave of feminism and empowerment by creating defiant women characters and stories. They have not only portrayed in empowering light the stories women who are usually shamed and excluded by society. But have also broken the stereotypes of saas-bahu skirmishes and bechari woman narrative. Though some of these path-breaking soaps went down the slippery slope of some problematic representation and statements, the new storyline that tackled social issues are a progressive change that makes us as feminist viewers hopeful for even more feminist and inclusive representation on TV. So here is a list of few such feminist Indian daily soaps, made across time
1. Kya Kusoor Hai Amla Ka?
Aired in the year 2017, Kya Kusoor Hai Amla Ka? is a story of a young girl Amla, living in Dharmashala, who is gangraped by rich men. The daily soap traced the struggles of Amla as she decides to get her perpetrators punished. As the title itself suggests, the show aimed at shattering the stereotypes of victim-blaming, normalised rape culture and the restrictions imposed on women rather than men to deal with women’s oppression. Amla, portrayed by Pankhuri Awasthy, came out as a strong role model that encouraged women to raise voice against injustice and to not be submissive to the patriarchal norms and oppression.
2. Beyhadd (Season 1 and 2)
Jenifer Winget starrer Beyhadd (season 1 and 2) managed to shatter many stereotypes about the representation of women on TV screens. Commonly, the female lead roles of Indian daily soaps were the embodiment of the “good, moral and sacrificial women” in opposition to the manipulative and immoral vamp women. But Maya’s character in Beyhadd refused to fit into these simple categories.
Originally a thriller love story, Beyhadd gave to the Indian audience a flawed female lead who was manipulative and revengeful while simultaneously empowered and loving. Unlike the usual saas-bahu drama, Beyhadd portrayed a woman who is brave, in control of her life and who will never suffer in silence even if that means being a threat to others’ life.
In the first season, Maya is a businesswoman whose stern and rude personality has a backstory of a child traumatised by physical abuse at the hands of her father. As a child, she has also witnessed the domestic violence and adultery of her father who ultimately leaves his wife and daughter for another woman. This generates a fear of being cheated on or left alone by her loved ones and turns Maya into an obsessive woman who controls the lives of her husband and mother and everyone related to them. She becomes like her father, the only person she hated and was afraid of.
While in the second season, Maya is a published and popular writer who wants to avenge the man who cheated on her, abused her and killed her family members. She manipulates and tricks the man’s sons to kill them but in the meanwhile falls in love with and marries the elder son. The game of revenge then is played at her perpetrator’s house.
Both the seasons raised important questions about the consequences of wrong and traumatised upbringing, the pervasive male-dominance and how it oppresses and destroys the lives of women. Maya, in a way, embodies every woman in our society who has been oppressed and encourages such women to rise like a phoenix and pull down the perpetrator by hook or by crook.
3. Mere Dad ki Dulhan
Set in Ghaziabad, the basic idea of the show is that an empowered daughter wants her father to find a partner and alleviate his loneliness after her mother’s death. The father is reluctant as he thinks that finding a new partner will mean deceiving his deceased wife whom he loves dearly, the daughter herself sets him up with different women. Mere Dad ki Dhulan in many ways is a standout in the daily soap genre by breaking stereotypes in age, portraying women who take their own decisions, a tale of feminist father-daughter relationship and sisterhood. The show that went off-air recently had Varun Badola, Anjali Tatrari and Shweta Tiwari in lead roles. Unlike many daily soaps, Mere Dad Ki Dulhan went off air with a feminist ending rather than unnecessarily stretching it for years. Read more about it here.
4. Story 9 months ki
Story 9 months ki was aired in December 2020 and continues to gain appreciation and viewership for its fresh and empowering content. Starring Shruti Kandpal and Aashay Mishra, the soap is a story of a successful businesswoman, Aaaliya Shroff, who recently sought a divorce from her husband who cheated on her and decided to be a single mom through in-vitro fertilisation. In her search for the potential donor, she meets an aspiring writer Sarangdhar who works under Aaaliya and donates his sperm for her pregnancy (although unknowingly).
While we still need to wait to see how this story of Aaliya’s 9 months pregnancy unfolds, it is no denying that the show gives a fresh start to the narrative of women empowerment. It tries to normalise the idea of a single, divorced mother and in-vitro fertilisation, breaks the stereotypes that a woman will always need a man to be a parent and shatters the myth of feminism that empowered and feminist women do not like motherhood.
5. Kyu Utthe Dil Chhod Aaye?
A new daily soap that started in January is already winning hearts for its empowering discourse on the rise of feminism in India. Set in the era of partition in Lahore, Kyu Utthe Dil Chhod Aaye? is a story of three women, two of which are Hindu women of the same family while the third one is a Muslim daughter of a family friend, who raise questions on the gender inequality within home and society with the impending havoc that the partition will bring in their lives. Questions like where is the woman’s right to desire? Is domestic violence a part of patni dharma? resonate with us even today.
My personal favourite is the storyline of Amrit Kaur, a published writer who writes love stories with defiant and modern women characters which are in complete contrast to the submissive women around her in reality. Her writing has been portrayed as the beginning of feminist discourse in the literature of that time.
Dramas at 9 pm : Indian Daily Soaps That Initiated New Discourse and must be applauded for it
However, Amrit is forced to write under a pen name to hide her identity of a writer from her father who disapproves of people who advocate equality and women’s rights. So how will the life and stories of these women take a turn, we don’t know. But we can be assured of the fact that new and progressive women-centric narratives like these are here to stay.
The views expressed are the author’s own.