Anshuman Sinha

Bijesh Jayarajan

Dheeraj Sarna

TV Review
Dil se Di Dua Sowbhagyawati Bhava:Review

Anshuman Sinha (Story),
Bijesh Jayarajan (Screenplay) 
Dheeraj Sarna (Dialogues)
Telecast on LIFE OK at 10.00 p.m.

There are multiple reasons to dislike this show. It’s a loose rip-off of Sleeping With the Enemy or if you must Agnisakshi. So it definitely fails the originality criteria that we as writers must hold dear. Considerable newsprint has also been expended on questioning the morality and ethics of a show that celebrates brutalization of a wife by a husband. In fact one could argue that the maximum creativity shown by the creators is to come up with newer and newer ways of torturing said woman. But the point is not whether we like the show or agree with its ethics. The point is to study the show from a craft point of view. And definitely a show that is almost singlehandedly holding up an entire channel must be getting something right. One would rather believe that than dismiss an entire segment of the television watching public as base sadists who enjoy watching women being tortured. And so then the question is what are the writers – Anshuman Sinha (Story), Bijesh Jayarajan (Screenplay) and Dheeraj Sarna (Dialogues) getting so right?

Let’s start with the characterization. Most of us believe that TV is all about creating compelling characters, who became real for the audience so much so that their triumphs and failures, joys and sadness become our own. One could argue and say that is true for movies as well. It would be hard to find a movie that we hold close to our heart that does not have at least one character whom we have loved and taken back with us. Therefore the first criteria on which the writing must be judged is the characterization. On this the writers score exceedingly well. People may argue that they had it easy – the primary character of the show – the husband Viraj Dobriyal is a villain. And evil always has its charm, the darker, the more diabolical a character, the more we as an audience are drawn to them. True. But I would say it is a tricky balance. Grey characters no doubt are compelling, their shades, their complexities, their internal conflicts that pull them simultaneously towards redemption and damnation – that’s what makes them so watchable. But an out and out black character, someone whose every action is pure villainy – there’s always the danger of it become one dimensional and especially on TV boring. The challenge therefore is to find a way to add layers and shades to the black character and find a way to make him unpredictable. And to a large extent the writers of this show have succeeded.

To my mind the cleverest thing that they have done is to play out the blackness, the evil right up front. So right in the first episode of the show we see the character burning his wife with hot water. The streaks of white come later – be it making breakfast for her or buying her gifts or whatever else. What this achieves is that every normal or supposedly nice thing he does has an undertone of tension, of malevolence. The audience is constantly expecting the villain to flip, lose it, unleash his violent side. 

The other smart thing the writers have done is to make the villain, shrewd, intelligent, someone who’s always several steps ahead of everyone else. So on one hand anything nice or noble that he does sets us thinking – what is his ulterior plan, what’s he up to. A feeling of intrigue is created, regardless of whether the writers actually have something up their sleeve or not.

The second big advantage of this is as regards longevity of the show. One definite problem that a show of this nature will face is the issue of how to drag out this story for 100’s of episodes. You can’t just have a husband torturing his wife, no matter how creative the methods are endlessly. So the next level of the story has to be some manner of salvation for the heroine – either in the form of her family or more likely – the real hero of the show – the new love interest. Now having made the villain several notches smarter than most people, the writers get to play out a cat and mouse game. Somebody from the family will nearly find out the truth but he will use his intelligence and cover his tracks. When this gets boring, since he is an out and out blackguard, he will eliminate them, probably in the most brutal, horrifying way possible. The writers have already done this in the form of a grandmother of the heroine – an event which one presumes was shocking enough to send the ratings soaring and have people talking about it at least for a couple of weeks. 

And the third accolade due to the writers as regards characterization is TV’s favourite ace in the hole – a mysterious past - he is not what he seems, there is a story buried in his past which will be uncovered one day. This promise, show after show manages to keep audiences tuning in day after day hoping that one evening they will find out what really is the dark secret that they were dying to find out. (Strangely it doesn’t seem to bother them so much that the secret was something they had probably guessed pretty early and there was no earthly reason for them to wait months for the revelation. Unless it is just to feel a sense of satisfaction at being proven right. J)

So fact is the writers have got all these bang on. However they seem to have fallen prey to a writers’ standard failing, falling too much in love with one character to the detriment of everyone else. Not one other character is even remotely as interesting or as watchable as the villain. Again one may argue that evil characters are more interesting. True but is the Batman completely dullsville compared to the Joker? Not at all. Are Jai and Veeru blah in front of Gabbar? Not at all. So where the writers have put so much time and effort into Viraj’s character, why are Jahnavi and the rest of her family so typical and so utterly boring? Is this actually a clever way of getting the audience to not hate Viraj? After all we also are pakaoedby her, then we actually may subconsciously rah-rah Viraj when he electrocutes her or flings a zillion cockroaches at her. Or is it that TV channels cannot stand to have any heroine who has any shades beyond being a suffering housewife (also a very strong possibility)? Whatever the cause, fact is that the heroine of this show has no depth to her beyond being terrified, tortured, in agony et al. There was one scene that showed her actually exhibiting some feelings of affection towards her husband when he’s been in an accident, where she’s happy that today he cannot hurt her and she’s enjoying taking care of him. There was an opportunity here to delve deeper into a character like this – cause fact is somewhere it has been psychologically proven that victims of domestic abuse do become habituated to the pain and torture, (the Stockholm syndrome) somewhere this becomes their comfort zone and they develop a perverted sense of affection towards their torturer. Which is why it becomes so difficult for them to break away. I wish the writers had played on this a little more – it could have been an interesting lesson for real women facing abuse or their family and friends – a wake up call if you may. Cause Lord knows there are enough of those around and they desperately need help at multiple levels…

As regards rest of the characters, nobody seems to really being a character. They’re all serving the needs of the story but as living, breathing, flesh and blood individuals, they do fall short. Again it would be interesting to see what the writers do with the eventual hero of the show. Will they make him the archetypal Ram or will they be able to give him shades and depth and make him as watchable as Viraj?

As regards other aspects of the writing, full points to the structural play in the early episodes. Rather than going the usual TV way of setting up the heroine, her family for umpteen painful episodes and then getting into the real story, this show actually begins at exactly the perfect point –in the middle, where the heroine is already a victim of the abuse, thus giving the audience the story, the ambience, the tension all right from the word go. And the origin stories – who the heroine is, her family, how she got married to this guy – all come in a series of short, interesting flashbacks. Yes, this device has been used before but here it works. 

But if you ask me the testing times for the writer team are just about to come. The villain has been set up and we know how all powerful, all smart he is. The heroine is hapless and needs salvation. Which means this is the point at which the hero will enter and get her out. After which the chase and the cat and mouse game begins. Now all of this is a 2 hour tale at best. How are the writers going to take this and make it last at least a 100 odd episodes or more – that’s something I would really like to see. Cause that’s where real craft and storytelling will come in. The writers have demonstrated that they have what it takes to face this challenge. But whether they come up trumps or are felled by this mighty labour, only time will tell.

   Anand Sivakumaran

Anand Sivakumaran . .

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