There is no doubt that the TV serials Ramayan and Mahabharat in the late 1980s altered the nation's consciousness quite radically. For thousands of years these were oral texts but in electronic form on TV, unlike perhaps how their creators imagined, the Ramayan at least served as an excellent vehicle for right wing propaganda.
What shifted in the public reception of the epics is that from a spoken, imaginary form the epics became visual, tangible, physical. Many scholars attribute the popularity of the Ramayan TV serial as one of the chief reasons for the rise of BJP and the events of Babri Masjid.
But at the same time there were two other family saga serials - Hum Log and Buniyaad. To me they are important because in India politics is still an out of home phenomena. It shows up in votes, it shows up in how families position themselves in societies - often voting as a monolith. Vote trends in Inda too are mostly based on opinion of the male lead (so called head of family) and caste/class/religion permutations. But these two serials gave a sense of internal dynamics of the great Indian family. Though I must admit - with a large north Indian skew. Nevertheless, they were the people's story of India.
That is why perhaps it hurts that an icon of the people's story of India - Alok Nath - has now been revealed as a rapist. The crime itself is large but I see it as him having betrayed the sense of trust and respect the nation had for the character he was playing - Master Haveliram. A teacher, a freedom fighter, his name means a mansion, and then has Ram - the God - as part of it. I understand no actor should be fixed into a character he or she played but it is a human tendency to attribute qualities, especially when the actor himself has taken on only such avuncular roles in his career to become the epitome of sanskaari by now.
Even many others from media being revealed through #MeTooIndia are those who stood for public morality but turned out to be private hypocrites. I wonder if artists too have a responsibility to the art they participate in, help create, message they send out? Do they realise the importance of being a voice - of representation, of articulation, of identification? I also wonder for how long have we been gaslit? Not only here, but in all arts, in all socities.
As an adolescent, watching TV, I enjoyed the fireworks of the epics and the deep emotional tug of the family saga but the serial that appealed to me most was the ordinary housewife, anti-corruption crusader Rajani.
Why did Rajani not become our role model? Was it because she was urban, middle-class? Or did she? Through India Against Corruption and its fruit the AAP? Again a long winding story where we finally feel conflicted and gaslit.
How hard is honesty? Really ...
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