Problematic title aside, Hitler Didi (HD) so far appears to be going strong. Debuting with an average TVR of 2.7, higher than the predicted 1.6, the show is perhaps grabbing eyeballs and winning hearts because it is a bit hatke to what serial-watching regulars are normally used to. The Earnest Heroine Humanising The Angry & Bitter Hero trope has been used engagingly in many serials before. Recent examples include Kitani Mohabbat Hai (2009), Laagi Tujhse Lagan (2009-), Geet Hui Sabse Parayee (2010-) and Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? (2011-). However, rarely have we seen the gender roles being inverted as in the case of HD
Life has not been kind to Indira Sharma (Rati Pandey). With a father who abandoned his wife and family for another woman (Rituraj), an irresponsible older brother who spends his days failing to make an easy buck (Sandeep Baswana), a mother who’s always investing her hopes in aforementioned nikamma son (Sejal Shah), a bhabhi that is lacking in sensibility (Smita Singh) and a sister who’s more interested in doing naina-mataka than studies (Gargi Sharma), Indira has had to take charge of this Chandni Chowk ka chidiyagarh at a very young age. What drives her determination to keep going though is her nephew Ishaan (Rahul Pendkalkar) – she wants him to have a fulfilling childhood, a wealth of opportunities, and none of the struggles that she’s had to face. Being not only the sole breadwinner of her family but also, it seems often, the only mature and sane adult in the house – is it a wonder that somewhere along the way she’s lost her joie de vivre?
From the first episode of HD you are hopeful that this is going to be something different. After all, it begins by foiling the conventional introduction device for serial heroines. Typically the heroine is first shown to the audience as she moves in quick succession from family member to family member, lovingly completing various tasks for them. The first episode of Dharam Patni (2011-) is a case in point. It is an economic device – the audience not only immediately warms up to the good-natured girl but the device also serves as a bullet point-like introduction to the rest of the characters that will be populating the narrative.
Indira Sharma is no carefree, pampered girl though and so her introduction is a study in contrast. She has little time for mollycoddling her nephew into wakefulness, is not going to smile indulgently at her bhabhi sneaking in a quick jhapki as the water boils on the stove, refuses to recharge her sister’s phone till her exams finish, has no patience for her mother living in denial about her philandering husband, and no behan ka pyar is going to stop her from calling it like it is to her kaamchor brother’s face. Lest you think that she is utterly devoid of finer feelings though, she makes but one indulgence to her strict routines – leaving a chocolate under her brother’s pillow because she knows that Ishaan likes to see his father’s magic tricks before he leaves for school and the star act is Munna giving him a chocolate.
“Kamal ki behan hai meri” Munna proudly exclaims to himself after the chocolate act. You wish there were a few more moments like this on the serial – where Indira is recognised by her selfish and incompetent family members as doing the needful, where they fail to. Alas, that would defeat one of the main attractions of the show – a yearning to have the protagonist validated and vindicated. Sound familiar by any chance? Because it should. It may have unconventional trappings but look close enough and you’ll notice that HD is using the same emotional leverage as the current reigning serial champion, Saathiya Saath Nibhana (2010-). It’s the same model the previously popular Pavitra Rishta (2009-) and Uttaran (2008-) started out on too. There is nothing more engaging for the average serial watcher than their protagonist braving on in an unfair system – that system may be her sasural, her maayka, her workplace, or even a corrupt political environment. This is because serials where characters are suffering the slings and arrows of a besharam, beraham zamaana hit quite close to home for many. So, yes, like those (incredibly!) patient Saathiya, Pavitra Rishta and Uttaran viewers, HD’s viewers too will bide their time till Indira Sharma’s ungrateful family recognise what a gem she is. What’s refreshing about HD though is that Indira is no wilting flower. Don’t expect her to be patient and jhelo the taane quietly; as Indira tells us in her own words, she may not laugh but “main rone walon mein se bhi nahin hoon“.
One of the most touching moments of HD so far happens at the end of episode one, during Indira’s monologue. She says, “दिल्ली में कई साल बारिश नहीं हुई, पर जब हुई तो इतनी हुई के जमुना नदी में बाड़ आ गयी – बस यही समझिये, एक दिन मैं भी हँसूंगी, और इतना हँसूंगी के सारी दिल्ली को अपनी हँसी में डुबो दूँगी”. It’s a promise to herself, a defiant challenge to the world, and though she doesn’t realise this yet, the new-found maqsad of our hero, Rishi Kumar. Rishi claims that he cannot resist those souls “जिन्हें प्यास रहती है एक अदद हँसी की”. How convenient then that he’s about to rent a room at Indira’s place. Rishi and Indira’s scenes are wonderful to watch because they get it so wrong so often. That Indira will be displeased by Rishi’s over-familiar behaviour and misread his intentions is expected but Rishi is equally fallible. His various attempts at teasing a smile out of Indira fail, as you know they will, but he also makes a bigger blunder when he goes against one of the decisions Indira’s made for her family, to disastrous consequences.
What you also appreciate about Rishi’s characterisation is that he does get fed up, puzzled and annoyed at Indira’s cold demeanour – after all, it would be unnatural to see him bear it all with a grin. The number of times Rishi expects Indira to apologise or thank him and the number of times she turns around and does the complete opposite of his expectations, leaving him bewildered, is actually pretty amusing. Well, it’s only been about a month – he’ll learn eventually. The best thing about how Indira’s character has been handled on the serial is that she is an independent and truly self-sufficient girl. Rishi may attempt to help her out of situations but she is not the kind to wait around for him to finish the execution of his filmi plans.
Delhi has lately been the backdrop for many serials, perhaps because nowhere is the dichotomy between India’s old-world charm and its fast-paced bhaag daud ki zindagi more marked than here. The last show to take full advantage of the spirit of Dilli was Chajje Chajje Ka Pyar (2011). With rooftops sprawling as far as the eye can see, the patli galis, the side pe lagaae hue scooters, the peeling wallpaint, the local bhatti and phone booth, the bamboo-cane stools, the tiling, the washing lines, the manjaas and the gali cricket – the set of Chajje Chajje Ka Pyar did a commendable job of depicting the average Dilli ki kothi.
Hitler Didi has been equally good at capturing the capital through its lens. From the patli galiyaan of Chandni Chowk to Lal Quila‘s constant presence in the background, from the mandirs to the masjids, from the sadhus to the babas, from the city’s rooftops to its shaayarana andaaz – the art director, director of photography and dialogue writer have brought the city to life on the small screen. One of the most quintessentially Dilli moments to happen in the serial is a sher-o-shayari ki jugalibandi between Rishi and Qasim miyaan, where they both wax poetic about the thirst for laughter. How appropriate, yeh aakhir Zafar aur Ghalib ki Dilli jo thehri.
To end this review on a similarly poetic note, I’ll dedicate these lines, recited by Rishi, to all those viewing the serial currently and to any who’ve been persuaded into giving it a chance now:
आना इस रस्ते ज़रा संभलकर ए दोस्त
आना इस रस्ते ज़रा संभलकर ए दोस्त
दिल हमारा भी धड़कता है हँसी की इच्छा पर
Show: Hitler Didi
Channel: Zee TV
Premiere Date: 7 November 2011
Production House: Trilogy Krikos Productions
Produced By: Raizada Rohit Jaysingh Vaidh, Illa Bedi Dutta
Cast: Rati Pandey, Sumit Vats, Rahul Pendkalkar, Aakash Pandey, Rituraj, Sejal Shah, Shabnam Sayyed, Sandeep Baswana, Gargi Sharma, Smita Singh
Story: Satyam K. Tripathi, Illa Bedi Dutta
Screenplay, Dialogues: Satyam K. Tripathi
Script Head: Illa Bedi Dutta
Director: K. Mohit Kumar Jha
Creative Director: Manish Mistri
Creative Head: Bunty P. Sahni, Arpna Nadig
Camera: Shabeer Nayak, Haneef Sheikh
Editor: Jay Ghadiiyali, Reese Khan
Costume: Sameer Patel, Shruti Shukla, Zeva Furkan
Title Track: Khalbali Machi Hai Khalbali
Lyrics: Ravi Chopra
Singer: Sunidhi Chauhan