Around mid-September Manish Raisinghani entered Sasural Simar Ka (2011-) as the estranged son of the Bharadwaj family, who was back on a mission of revenge. The track was introduced to salvage the show’s falling ratings, a show that had started out with a bang with a Shahrukh Khan appearance no less. Apparently Prem (Shoaib Ibrahim) and Simar’s (Deepika Samson) chemistry wasn’t quite burning the small screens as you’d want a lead jodi to so the creatives decided that it was time to throw in some masala by bringing the previously exiled elder Bharadwaj son into the picture.
Return of the Estranged Son tracks, if pulled off properly, are quite powerful. Take Gulaal (2010-2011) for example – it became even more engaging with the return of a conflicted Kesar, out to uncover the truth behind his brother’s death. Or think back to a decade ago when Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (2000-2008) had its first 20 year leap and the rebellious Gomzy entered Shanti Niketan, bringing with him a lot of ashanti. The bitter young men in these types of tracks come in as islands of aloofness but as the initially bewildered family members start building back bridges with them, usually with the help of the beloved bahu of the house or the to-be romantic interest of the son, the audience has the immense satisfaction of watching the clouds of angst slowly dissipate as the misunderstood son’s own misunderstandings are cleared away.
The successful execution of such a track relies on several factors – a solid back story that explains the son’s current state of suppressed anger, credibly tense situations that highlight the conflict of values between the returned character and his family, an actor that can successfully deliver hints of blossoming attachment and affection beneath the character’s adopted mask of a brash and thoughtless attitude, and plenty of gripping moments where either the family or the family and audience both are unsure of the intentions behind the son’s actions.
While actor Manish Raisinghania is quite adept at pulling off a character like Siddhant, it’s a pity that the creatives behind Sasural Simar Ka were not as committed to exploring the potential the concept had to offer. His track may have started with a bang but in less than two months ended in a whimper with a too-hasty reformation made for the sake of a return to that most regular of fixtures on our small screens these days – conniving kitchen politics and endless cryfests. What a pity.
Manish’s entry on Sasural Simar Ka was suitably toofani, replete with countless reaction shots and a clanging background score. He arrives with an unconscious Roli in his arms, having just saved her from getting run over by a truck. No one but her sister seems to register that, probably every other character was too busy flashbacking to his angry departure 5 years ago.
“Kaun hain aap?“, Simar asks, after thanking him for saving her sister’s life. The tension in the room reaches new heights. Manish, his face betraying nothing, gives a measured look to every single member of the household, letting the significance of the words transform into an elephant in the room. Clearly no one in the house has ever mentioned his existence to the new bahu, she hasn’t inadvertently run into any pictures of him either. “Siddhant” is his only reply. Later, Siddhant and Mataji (Jayati Bhatia), the stern matriarch of the house, have a stare-off. After several eye-daggers the man walks forward, bends over and touches her feet. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Mataji smiles. The episode ends.
As entrances go, it was a solid start – there couldn’t have been a more intriguing end to the episode nor a stronger beginning to the next one. Mataji tells Siddhant he doesn’t have to apologise because his actions indicate that he has accepted his mistake. Siddhant immediately corrects her galat fehmi by explaining that he does not believe he has anything to apologise for and has only come back because he promised to do so 5 years earlier on this day to prove he has won. He proceeds to give her 50 lakhs as payment for his parvarish as well as kiriya to stay at their place as a guest.
Shockingly lacking in respect he may be, but when you find out the back story you can see where Siddhant is coming from. Five years ago, instead of donating the money Mataji gave him to the temple like asked Siddhant invested it in various shares because he thought the family was in no position to be giving away money. Everyone soon finds out, though only after he’s had good luck in the share market and has managed to repay all the debts they owed. Mataji is furious that he played jua with the chadhawa, Siddhant explains that he made sound investments for their sake and now they are free to donate as much money as they want, barbed words are exchanged and Siddhant leaves claiming he will return in 5 years to prove he was right. It’s a clash of traditional mores vs modern practicality – should you blindly follow what you have always done because it is parampara or should you decide what is best according to the circumstance at hand? Amidst all this is there no value for forgiveness and the respect one should afford familial relationships?
With such a theme you expect the serial to depict how Siddhant makes his family realise that in some cases their khokle usool come at the expense of people’s happiness while himself realising that his family is better than he gives them credit for. Sequences where the audience feel Siddhant’s sense of loss because of his exile away from the family, even when he’s being hostile by couching any gesture that could be considered sweet in an impenetrable armour of bitter words, worked quite well. Siddhant’s confrontation scenes with Mataji were especially well done because of the power-packed dialogues, the excellent performances by the actors and the stakes of their battle.
The situation takes an even more interesting turn when Prem, Siddhant’s younger brother and the ideal son of the house, defends his wife Simar when she’s being thrown out of the house by the bhabhis and Mataji because they find out that she went for a dance audition on the day of her marriage. It’s exactly what Siddhant wishes someone had done for him all those years ago – it is what drives his bitterness and resentment towards everyone in the family. The judgemental attitude against anything that challenges Mataji‘s sense of propriety and the “bematlab ke sakht kaanoon” is what he came back to fight against and, admittedly through no machinations of his own, he has the satisfaction of seeing someone stand up against them. From here onwards, where this show could have upped the ante a notch on this track, instead the audience finds themselves witnessing a string of senseless sequences.
First Prem gets into an accident that disables him, thus preventing further conflict on this issue as the family members are too concerned for him to care about what transpired before. Siddhant, despite being Prem’s brother, seems strangely absent from the track with not a single scene between them to show that he cares for his brother. Then despite knowing what’s just happened Siddhant gives younger cousin Cherry the keys to his car, just so she defies Mataji and goes driving, and she inevitably gets into an almost accident. While he does spout undeniable dialogues about how an atmosphere full of stifling restrictions is the cause of low self-confidence and self-respect, in the current situation the audience can hardly side with him – his cousin almost ran over a man after all!
Despite all this, there is some attempt to get back to the theme of the track. Siddhant is slapped by his mother for being rude to Mataji and he challenges her on her right to do so – “adhikar jataane se pehle adhikaar kamaana padta hai” he fumes, still hurting at how no one stopped him from leaving (one guesses) though ofcourse his mother did beseech both Mataji and him to not be so rash at the time. Later, when his mother faints (a combination of weakness from the Karva Chauth ka vrut and the stress) and he wishes to see her he is prevented in doing so by Mataji, something that pushes him over the edge. He orchestrates a plan whereby the family needs his help to get someone on board for a contract, otherwise they’ll all end up on the street. His offer is to bribe the person and naturally Mataji is against this. Though this time Siddhant is unambiguously in the wrong, everyone speaks up for his plan and tries to weaken Mataji‘s resolve. There was potential here for some commentary on the selfishness of humans – everyone takes Siddhant’s side this time so they don’t end up broke while 5 years ago this was exactly the state Siddhant had saved them from and no one bothered defending his actions then. The serial doesn’t bother philosophising on this front though; Siddhant’s actually conning everyone to get the Power of Attorney signed to his name and once this happens he gleefully puts the house up for auction.
There’s no going back from this step. Having crossed all moral and legal limits in a spiteful fit Siddhant’s character can naturally fall no further and you know the vengeful son is about to undergo a reformation. Siddhant finds that what he has been looking forward to for so long, revenge from Mataji for turning him out of his own home, gives him no joy. It doesn’t bring back the years he has lost, in fact it serves only to distance him even further from his family. To numb the pain he gets drunk and in the middle of pretending as though he is pleased with having the last laugh Siddhant, who has fallen so much metaphorically from his moral high ground, falls down the stairs. Ofcourse Siddhant wakes up in the hospital realising that his family loves him and he loves his family. He apologises to Mataji and becomes reconciled with everyone. It’s a bit of a stretch to believe – especially Siddhant turning apologetic and understanding so soon. Or perhaps the execution of the scenes was lacking, for an episode ago he was plotting the downfall of the woman he believes rules the house with an iron fist but no heart and in the next he can suddenly see the apnaapan behind her efforts.
Since then the serial has taken some other turns. Everyone discovers that Prem and Simar aren’t really married, instead Roli and Prem are (don’t ask). Mataji transforms from a stern matriarch into an evil scheming grandmother-in-law who wants to get rid of Simar. Prem and Roli attempt to get a divorce with the help of Siddhant but are stopped by Simar who is being played like a puppet by Mataji. Siddhant, forced by Simar’s pleas, pretends to be married to her so Prem will accept Roli as his wife (never mind that both would spend the rest of their lives unhappy and conflicted). Prem and Simar end up really getting married and to save Roli from Mataji‘s taunts Siddhant fills Roli’s maang with sindoor so now Simar’s younger sister is married to her husband’s older brother. And Mataji and the bhabhis continue to look for ways of ousting Simar and Roli from the house.
In other words we’ve returned to the monotony of regular saas-bahu serial fare, where oddly the only scenes with any charm are the ones between 32-year old Manish as 24-year old Siddhant and 14-year old Avika as 18-year old Roli (“awkward, right?” says Siddhant to Roli on their suhaag raat in, what feels like, an ad-libbed meta moment). Their track is going to have to be handled a bit delicately since the image of Avika as Anandi in Balika Vadhu (2008-) is still fresh in the audience’s mind; they’re well aware of how young she is. Thankfully there’s no naam-o-nishaan of any budding romantic feelings between the newly married Siddhant and Roli – they are only friends for now and one hopes it continues in this fashion for a while longer because frankly it’s a bit refreshing to see a jodi‘s interactions so free from the romantic treatment that serials subject hero-heroine scenes to on a daily basis.
There’s still a twinge of regret from this viewer though for diluting Siddhant’s powerful storyline with convoluted soapish detours. A better approach would have been to have Siddhant find out about the truth behind Simar and Prem’s marriage prior to his reconciliation with the family and then have Siddhant help Prem, Simar and Roli through the whole track where Mataji wants to separate Simar and Prem. It’s not only in keeping with his character – since he looks at needlessly stern rules that stand in the way of people’s happiness with disdain, it would also have lent more dramatic tension to the story, as neither the audience nor Prem would be sure about whether Siddhant is doing this to spite Mataji or because he thinks it is the right thing to do. Prem would have had to reconsider his own allegiances as well and perhaps begin to see why his brother is so intent on shaking the foundations of their family. All this would also have given that moment where Siddhant decides to marry Roli because Mataji accuses Simar of ruining her own sister’s life a greater impact because his actions have left Mataji absolutely no recourse now, while shielding Simar, Roli, as well as his brother Prem from any further drama from family members on this front. From there onwards it would have been interesting to see how Siddhant would have pursued his goal of making everyone in the family reflect on their slavish subordination to Mataji’s neeyam and parampara and watch as Siddhant and the family slowly begin to reconcile. But alas, this was not meant to be!
Show: Sasural Simar Ka
Premiere Date: 25 April 2011
Production House: Rashmi Sharma Telefilms
Cast: Deepika Samson, Shoaib Ibrahim, Avika Gor, Manish Raisinghani, Jayati Bhatia, Nishigandha Wad
Concept, Creative Director: Rashmi Sharma
Story: Ved Raj, Sudhir Kumar
Screenplay: Saba Mumtaz
Dialogues: Nikhil Deo
Episode Director: Pankaj Kumar, Sumit Sagar
Series Director: Pawan Kumar
Cinematographer Rakesh Singh
Set Design: Aroop Adhikari
Editor: Awadh Narayan Singh
Costume Designer and Stylist: Ritu Deora, Nisha Bedi Rai
Background Score: Harsh Dixit