Let’s face it, being mind-blowingly original has seldom been a desi serial’s prerogative; for the most part serials rely on standard plot devices for their content.
…how many times has that been written and said? And yet serials continue to thrive in India. Shailesh Kapoor, CEO of Ormax Media Pvt. Ltd., “India’s only specialist consumer research company for films, television, radio and other entertainment industries”, wrote a fascinating blog post last year about the business of TV. He noted that the Indian film industry’s net revenue is about 30% of the television industry’s net revenue. With 600 million Cable & Satellite viewers in India and serials sometimes getting a consistent TRP of 7, meaning 42 million viewers tuning in to a serial on a daily basis – is it a wonder that daily soaps litter the GEC space?
Serials are often derided for featuring “ghissa pita” content but maybe what’s “ghissa pita” for one person feels comforting in its familiarity to another. Mills & Boons, Harlequin and Bantam churn out countless romances year after year and continue to laugh their way to the bank, why? Because they know their market and cater to its needs. Like any genre, romance novels have their well-established tropes – from Marriage of Convenience plots to novels featuring work romances. Each trope has its fans and detractors. Romance readers pick their novels with certain expectations about what they’ll be reading about, and from there onwards it is up to the writer to figure out how she can make the story enjoyable for a reader that knows what’s going to happen.
The serial audience is similarly aware of the conventions of their genre-of-choice. Serials often use certain types of romantic sequences for their jodis and viewers look forward to their occurrence. Online fans speculate about what songs may be used for the romantic sequence or when the sequence should be introduced. On-screen the channels and production houses use romance sequences as an opportunity to bring back lost viewers or gain new ones by heavily promoting them. With little left to surprise the viewer in terms of the concept, what distinguishes a dil jeetne waala romantic sequence from an eye-roll inducing one is its execution. There’s no magic formula for what makes a “love scene”* click: sometimes the sheer chemistry of the jodi is enough to enrapture the audience; other times it’s the refreshing dialogues – be they of the sparkling wit or the dil choone wale variety; sometimes an homage to a well-loved movie does the trick; other times a spin on the convention proves more charming.
* Nahin baba, I’m not being obscene. “Love scene” is the de facto fan-forum and Youtube term for scenes of a romantic nature between the hero and heroine of a serial.
“The Science of Serial Romance” is a series of blog posts that intends to delve into the types of sequences serials often use to spice up their romantic narratives.
Normally our hero and heroine aren’t very good at communicating with each other – maybe they always have their guard up because of a tragic past, or they are the akdu and sadu type, or they are always fighting with each other, or they are in deep denial about their feelings, etc. Whatever may be the case, serial writers know that a drink (or three) is all that’s needed to get them to lose their inhibitions and show a different side of themselves.
Drunk sequences are a handy device because they radically change the dynamic between characters, and sometimes the tone of the entire serial, even if it is just for an episode and the next day everything may go back to square one. Sometimes this is a welcome relief, especially if there’s been a long spate of episodes where the hero and heroine have been studiously ignoring slash hating on each other. Having one from the jodi drunk allows both characters to be more honest about themselves and their inner-most feelings.
In this clip from s2 of Dill Mill Gayye (2009-2010), Naina admits, Dharamendra-style, ke “gaaonwaalon! yeh battameez, baddimag daffod …mujhe bohat pasand hai“. Though it’s been obvious to everyone for a while that she’s infatuated with Yuvi she’s obstinately refused to admit it till now, and for good reason too – she can’t read Yuvi very well and sometimes she has doubts about his intentions. As she should do -Yuvi wants to use her to get closer to her mentor, Dr. Shashank, who he holds responsible for his brother’s coma-like state. Yuvi’s been pretty poker-faced about his own feelings for Naina so far, but the beauty of an episode like this is that though when Naina is lucid Yuvi is firmly intent on his “mission” and always trying to manipulate her, when she is isn’t in any state to keep guessing at his motivations or responding sarcastically he finds himself letting his guard down, despite himself, and the audience gets to see one of those very rare moments where it’s clear without a doubt that Yuvi has fallen for Naina somewhere along the way too.
If the hero and heroine are not yet together then the scneario plays similar to the Yuvi-Naina one: heroine finds herself intoxicated, hero tries to sambhaalo her while she leads him into a merry dance to a hit song or gets up to other sharaarati antics; hero demonstrates what a wonderful guy he is by taking care of the heroine, while the heroine wins the hero’s heart with her saaf dil. On the other hand, if the hero and heroine are together already then the focus is not on the hero’s attitude towards the heroine softening but rather on how adorable he finds her. Ofcourse the heroines seldom get drunk intentionally: it’s always a spiked drink at a party or accidental intake of bhaang wali thandaai on Holi – and funny how they never get drunk without the hero around.
While heroines tend to have cute sequences when tipsy, usually sequences where only the hero is drunk tend to be of the angsty variety. It goes without saying that the hero in this case intentionally drinks heavily to drown his sorrows. The angst most often relates to a lost love, and the focus is on depicting conflicted feelings. The heroine, especially, gets the chance to reflect upon the situation because she realises she wants to be there for the hero, but she also knows that he is thinking of the girl he lost and not her.
This sequence from Phulwa (2011-) has its flaws but that matters little when an avid follower knows the storyline and is well aware of the quagmire of emotions the jodi are experiencing. In this sequence a drunk Abhay accuses Phulwa for ruining his life by marrying him by deception, which is highly ironic given that he was the first to ruin hers. He became a part of Phulwa’s band of dacoits by pretending to be a petty thief though he was actually an undercover police officer. He manipulated Phulwa into falling in love with him only to then turn the tables and arrest her and her gang in a publicly humiliating manner. Phulwa manages to win in court though and gets out. Disturbed by the kind of bitter and mean person he has become, Abhay’s fiancée, Inspector Aarti Bajaj, decides that she will help him reflect on his life by letting Phulwa take her place during her wedding with Abhay. The betrayal is discovered only after the wedding and by then it is too late. Phulwa is perfectly placed to exact her revenge on Abhay and his family. Phulwa, however, still has lingering feelings for Shatru, the identity Abhay had adopted when with her gang. In this sequence Abhay mocks Phulwa for believing he ever loved her and explains that the deception was his duty, not as a police officer – but as a brother: she killed his half-brother and he was avenging his murder because his father asked him to. Little does he know that his brother and father murdered Phulwa’s entire family as a child and years later she only killed his brother in self-defence. The rest of the sequence, where Abhay is blurting everything he’s repressed for so long, helps both Phulwa and the viewer understand that the Abhay they hate as a traitor isn’t cruel by nature but misguided by circumstances. He seems to despise Phulwa because he believes she is a cold-blooded murderer, but he also suffers from self-loathing because of everything he’s done.
…without all that context the sequence may come off as a bit of a disjointed mess but with months and months of watching the plot build to a crescendo there’s nothing more satisfying for a viewer than an epic song sequence that gets what everyone’s thinking out in the open!
A state of intoxication, however, is not just angst-central for heroes anymore – the number of cute scenes involving drunk heroes are on the rise in serials. These heroes are of the seedha saadha teetotaller variety who find themselves accidentally drunk, usually because the writers of the serial want them to do a dance sequence and it would seem out of character without the excuse of being sloshed. So you have the likes of studious Mayank from Miley Jab Hum Tum (2008-2010) and serious-minded Daksh from Sapno Se Bhare Naina (2010-2012), both usually stand-offish guys, suddenly burst into song during Holi and then confess what they’ve wanted to tell their heroines for a while but didn’t have the courage to before. With the hero drunk it’s usually up to the heroines to sambhaalo the hero and they do so with varying degrees of resignation or tenderness depending on what stage their relationship with the hero has progressed to.
There aren’t very many instances where both characters from a jodi end up drunk at the same time. I assume this is because the point of drunken sequences is that one character gets to wear their heart on their sleeve while the other observes. It would be a bit of an empty sequence if you made a drunken confession and the other person was too drunk to realise it. Nevertheless, occasions with both the hero and heroine drunk do happen, usually resulting in ridiculous amounts of silliness.
So is there anything left to innovate in the realm of inebriated serial characters? I think so – how about featuring a drunk angsty heroine that feels wronged by the world or the hero (even though we know the hero is innocent). I think heroines are permitted drunken rages too sometimes. They don’t even have to consume alcohol intentionally, I know that might be pushing things too far for serials.
I also recently particularly enjoyed how the writers of Hitler Didi (2011-) played with audience expectations when they appeared to have the intoxicated hero confess that he likes the heroine, only to have it revealed to the audience and heroine later that the drunken state was a pretence to help the heroine get rid of an annoying colleague.
What about you, do you have any favourite scenes from serials involving intoxicated heroes and/or heroines? Or do you dislike this particular serial convention? Share your thoughts in the comments. And also let me know other romantic sequences you’d like The Science of Serial Romance to cover.