One last TV/ pop-sociology post, and then I’m done with the topic for a long, long time.
So lala-yuppie-hippie is one framework of classification which separates different shows on TV. But then there are shows which are 100% hippie. And then they sub-classify their characters using some different framework. For example Mind Your Language and it’s Indian ripoff Zabaan Sambhal Ke differentiated characters using national/ regional stereotypes.
These days my cousin and aunt fight over the remote. This is because my aunt wants to watch the aforementioned Radha ki Betiyaan yada yada while my cousin wants to watch Miley Jab Hum Tum, which is Both are on at the same time. What follows is an attempt to use words to describe the unspeakable horror of Miley Jab Hum Tum.
The unspeakable horror arises because the six main characters (three guys and three girls, of course) are built around stereotypes. This in itself is not a bad thing, but:
There is zilch character development beyond the stereotypes
The stereotypes are incredibly old and boring.
There are two different stereotype frameworks which have been used. The characters are students in college and are doing the incredibly hippie course Media Studies. (Must… resist… temptation… to sidetrack into the fascinating recursion of characters on television studying about television.)
So the three male leads have been stereotyped into playboy-nerd-dweeb.Playboy-nerd-dweeb was of course a wonderfully fresh and useful classification back in a) the 1960s b) America, when Archie Comics was at its peak. Considering that this classification doesn’t really exist in India, and that even in America teen demographics have split into goths, emos, geeks, and suchlike, why is it being used on Indian television?
The framework stereotypes used for the female leads are as stale, but at least the framework used here is Indian and not quite as old. The female leads have been split into rich bitch, behenji-turned-mod, and behenji. The rich bitch spends all her time trying to humiliate the behenji and behenji-turned-mod, who are sisters from Morena. (By the way, the Wikipedia entry on Morena is a hilarious rant on Tomar victimhood and the wickedness of Jats. In case it’s brought to a Neutral POV by the time you’re reading this, here’s the permalink to the current revision).
But yeah. So the entire premise of the serial is that people from small towns are uncool, people who’re interested in studies can’t dance, people who dance aren’t interested in studies, and that being an idiot is funny. This could of course have worked back in the 1980s, but the stereotypes are so old by now that there’s nothing left to do with them. Naturally, this makes the serial excellent junk/ comfort food for the brain.
Right, people, that closes my pontifications about TV, pseudosociological classifcations, and the like. We now return to our regular arbit fundaes.
Even if somebody tries to make a yuppie soap, I suspect that market pressures would force it to morph into a saas-bahu saga. I remember this soap called “Sanjeevani” on Star about a hospital. Seemed to be sensible in the beginning. Slowly elements like scheming colleagues, love polygons etc. were added. I think the limit of any desi soap opera as time tends to infinity is a saas-bahu soap opera.
Axshully, the serial about singing dancing doctors I wrote about in that post is called Dill Mill Gaye (yes, yes, I know) and according to its Wikipedia page, it’s a sequel to Sanjivani. Though since there are hardly any common characters it would be more appropriate to say that the two serials take place in the same continuity/ universe.
But anyway. Coming to Rajat’s point about market pressures slowly forcing everything into saas-bahu-soap-opera-dom. There seems to be enough market demand for singing and dancing that Dill Mill Gaye has settled into an equilibrium of background Hindi film music and inter-doctor romance without any scheming and plotting (though it does have the reaction shots). There’s a clip below if you really want to see for yourself. I am not responsible for the four minutes of your life you will never get back.
But just because it’s settled into a singing-dancing-romance equilibrium, doesn’t mean the producers aren’t occasionally tempted to take the exploitation route to higher ratings.
So a week or two after the Delhi blasts, the serial moved from having doctors in louw, to having doctors in louw… and bombs! After an idyllic existence where the doctors sing and dance, and occcasionally prescribe medicines for headache; the doctors suddenly land up in the middle of a bomb blast scene. There are copious entrails and severed limbs all over the screen in a primetime slot usually associated with light fluffy romance and item numbers. The episode ends with the discovery that the female lead has actually been wired to a bomb, and it detonates if she makes any move, not matter how slight. It was bizarre. And it reverted to the normal singing-dancing-romance in two weeks, as if the characters had never been through a near-death experience at all. Even more bizarre.
So the bad news is that even decently performing serials can suddenly veer away from their premise into something completely unexpected. The good news is that it needn’t necessarily be a veer into K-ness.
So what is it about TV that inspired me to write arbit posts defining lalas, yuppies and hippies? Well, it’s like this. Ever since I started watching TV about four months ago (when I moved in with relatives in Mumbai), I’ve realised this about it – all Indian TV (fiction) programming is centred around lalas and hippies. But never yuppies. As far as the people who make Indian TV serials are concerned, yuppies don’t exist.
Now soap operas of the K variety are of course dominated by lalas. From what little I’ve seen of them (fortunately, my relatives in Mumbai are not devotees) they’re centred around gigantic business joint families where everyone is scheming against each other, often for control of the business. Very lala, really. Even when said soap operas are not of the Balaji K-variety, they tend to involve ginormous lala families.
My cousin watched two soap operas earlier in the year. One involved a female who was dark skinned, so she was married off to a spastic guy. As in, literally spastic. I am not making this up. But the spastic guy belonged to a giant lala family and his sister-in-law schemed against this dark-complexioned chick. So full lala fundaes again.
The other soap opera was halfway between hippie and lala. Like I said, these things are intersecting stereotypes on a Venn Diagram rather than properly mutually-exclusive-collective-exhaustive categories. So anyway this one is about a star kid who’s being launched by his bigger movie star (or maybe director or producer) dad. Now being a movie star is as hippie as it gets, but if you’re being launched by your dad than lala fundaes come into play again.
The point is that in all of this, yuppies are missing.
Cut to now. My aunt’s favourite thing on TV these days is this thing on NDTV Imagine called Radha ki Betiyaan Kuchh Kar Ke Dikhayengeen. It regularly scales new heights of hippieness. It’s about this woman from Meerut who packs up and brings her daughters to Mumbai so that they can be successful in life.
What’s amazing is the path to success these daughters take. The accepted path to success is the yuppie one – become an engineer, then become an MBA, then become a finance professional, and pay off your EMIs for the next thirty years. You would think that these daughters would follow it too. But no! The oldest one gets a job at a fashion design house, which is the borderline between hippie and yuppie. But then she quits to enter a dance contest, and abandons all pretensions of yuppieness. And in fact this goes on throughout the show. The three daughters and their mother perpetually have to raise money for some reason or the other. It’s like watching a Sunday morning kids movie every night at primetime. And instead of doing it the yuppie way and becoming management consultants, they do it buy selling songs they’ve written, taking part in dance contests, and providing Hindi tuitions. Something involving Excel, or even maths done with pencil and paper never crosses their minds. It’s amazing.
Then there’s the stuff my cousin watches. There is first this show on Star One about doctors who seem to spend all their time singing and dancing rather than taking care of patients. So you have singing dancing doctors who never worry about the price of bhindi, or how much rent they’re paying. Come to think of it, they don’t seem to have homes – they just sing and dance at hospital. The point is that yuppie concerns of day-to-day minutiae are given the go-by.
Now it would be okay if the total absence of yuppie characters was restricted to television. But it exists in movies also. There are no yuppie characters in Bollywood either. Everyone in a Hindi movie is blissfully unconcerned about where the money is coming from. When will you ever see a Hindi movie character worrying about rent, or who’s going to clean the toilet? Let’s run through some of the movies in 2008:
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: everyone is hippie or lala. Aditi wants to do a course in filmmaking. I mean, come on. How much more hippie can you get? The guy she gets engaged to has a family business and is lala. Her brother is hippiemax. Even Jai never gets around to being a yuppie. To all indications, his mother doesn’t ever bother about rent because she lives in an owned house – lalaness, again.
Drona and Love Story 2050: Ok, the characters in these don’t fit any stereotype, but it’s still yuppie exclusion.
Singh is Kinng: Farmer with a heart of gold becomes head of the Australian mafia. Hippie, hippie, hippie.
Kidnap: Rich daughter of gazillionaire? Lala.
You see my point, yes?
So in all of this, do yuppies get seen at all? Well, yes. But only in the ads, which most people just surf away from. Now, let’s look at this in detail. With YouTube examples!
Usually, the category with the maximum yuppieness is life insurance. Which makes sense. Lalas don’t need life insurance because they’re already rich and have enough assets to take care of their dependents. Or if they do buy life insurance, they’ll buy whatever their CA-moonlighting-as-insurance-agent will sell them, not on the basis of advertising. Hippies don’t make financial decisions and just leave it to their private banker or lala family’s accountant. So you have to pitch to yuppies, who actually live on a month-to-month basis and have to worry about this shit. So it makes sense to have yuppie-focused advertising.
For a long time, the HDFC Standard Life ad was the yuppiest in India:
Consider! It has a daughter buying her father a car, which is the antithesis of regular lala relationships. Buying their parents stuff is probably what every yuppie dreams of. Plus look at all the other yuppie indicators – personalised checkbook from a new age private bank, shirt and pants instead of salwar kameez or sari, hair let down instead of plaited. In fact HDFC Standard’s slogan – Sar Utha Ke Jiyo – is the sort of thing that resonates more with yuppies than anybody else.
So yes. For a very long time, nothing could beat HDFC Standard Life in the yuppieness stakes. And then Airtel unleashed Madhavan and Vidya Balan. First, they established the young and urban part by showing them at an apartment building’s lift:
Having established yuppieness, they then set out to reinforce it:
Once again, we have the yuppie aspiration of giving money to parents instead of the other way around. Plus, check out the furniture. It screams yuppie. But in case you had any doubts at all, the next ad in the series set out to bury them once and for all:
Now prepaid recharges may not seem very yuppie. After all good yuppies have postpaid corporate connections. But set that aside for a while. And look at everything else in the ad. You have Vidya Balan telling Madhavan to make salad and do the household chores. This is the pinnacle of yuppieness. Hippies have domestic help to do the household chores. As for lala families, the woman telling the man to do stuff around the house is an exercise in futility.
But anyway. So there are yuppie characters in ads. But even this is in a very small set of ads. Usually for services, especially the financial sort. FMCG ads are dominated by celebrity endorsements (i.e., hippies). So are laptop ads for some bizarre reason. Confectionary ads have fantasy characters, and Fevicol actually goes so far as to show poor people. And like I said, people mostly surf away from ads, so it doesn’t really count.
So clearly the situation is grim for us yuppies. We get no representation in popular culture, and now the financial crisis is making the real world dark and depressing too. Now, we can only hope that the recent spate of yuppie suicides will mean that Sainath will give us some love. But honestly, who wants that?
PS1: I realise I’m only looking at lalas, yuppies, and hippies and ignoring poor people. But that’s pretty much because there have been no poor people in movies or on TV since the 1980s. People who watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and encouraged the secular trend in movies about hippie kids of lala parents, this is your fault.
PS2: Actually, even when there were poor people in the movies, they weren’t really poor. Even if they lived in chawls, rent never seemed to be a factor. Indian cinema and television is a fantasy world where everyone owns their house, no matter how poor or unemployed they are. (Insert subprime crisis/ NINJA mortgage/ Congressman Barney Frank joke here.)
PS3: Actually, there is one Hindi movie this year which has acknowledged the presence of yuppies. In fact it has covered all three stereotypes. But that will be discussed in the next post.