Thursday, September 20, 2012

All Extended Families Are Psychotic: Subarnalata

Subarnalata (Zee Café Jan - Dec 2011)

Sky EPG: An adaptation of the classic novel "Subarnalata" by Ashapurna Devi. This serial is about the journey of a girl who is married at the tender age of 9 years. In Bengali.

Harridan: Muktokeshi (Sabitri Chatterjee)
Fuck. FUCK. Oh My GOD. At this point, Hunt-Sharples becomes Logarithmic. First, this makes justifiable claims to being a *mega-serial* rather than a standard soap, as it is attempting to stay true to the original source material of the novel it was based on and is a period drama.

Oh my. Where to begin… I watch a lot of soaps. I used to watch Santa Barbara for crissakes. And Sons and Daughters. I KNOW what a finely turned-out harridan looks like. The growling voice, the Medusa stare. But I am struggling to find a character anywhere else in UK/US/Australian /Indian soap who comes anywhere near close to the vindictive, self-pitying, spiteful, childish, maudlin, vile, violent, lazy, abusive, insanely dogmatic, wilfully stupid, wilfully neglectful, neurotic, narcissistic, foul-mouthed, callous Weapons-Grade Cunt portrayed here as the mother-in-law to unfathomably reasonable child-bride Subarnalata in early 20th C. Calcutta. 

Take the Mother from Precious then multiply it by a thousand - you're still nowhere near it. Sabitri Chatterjee was a romantic heroine in the 50’s. She must have borne a passing resemblance to Suzanne Pleshette. In this her face curdles all dairy products in a 5 mile radius. The USP of this drama is its intricate depiction of the Tiny. Petty. Myriad. Ways in which it is possible to cause offence to someone determined to find fault with the uppity new bahu- ostracised for the dangerous ability to read and write (and these aren’t rural no-marks, the men in this family are middle class, upper caste professionals). 

Like, for example, when your dim-witted sister-in-law is about to die in childbirth, and your other brother-in-law is in the room down the hall with his LAWYER SCUM mates pissing away the last of the household’s food on ANOTHER gambling session (and on viewing, I just remembered this - are enraged that they are not being served tea as promptly as a household of *status* would demand), and whilst the little wimmin are fretting away at the impending tragedy, through the walls you can hear the garrulous laughs of aforementioned LAWYER SCAB SCUM oblivious.

Would you:
a) Storm into the gambling session, tell Lawyer scum to fuck off and demand your snide brother-in-law to fetch some sort of actual like *help* or go too
B) run amok with a kitchen knife. No jury would convict.
c) anxiously fret over what to do, but eventually appear in the room and make some veiled allusion which might perhaps be interpreted as a suggestion that there might be other events taking place which may disrupt their enjoyment
d) none of the above

I reckon most would pick a). Most right thinking British Soap women would b). Subarnalata picks c).
She is then subsequently admonished by the remainder of the household for not doing d) in another ‘tough love’ style family confrontation, not least because as A Married she entered a room with MEN in it thus marking herself out as a Harlot and Hooeer and has SHAMED the faaaaaamily.

House Arrest
It is this relentless detailing of the Myriad. Intricate. Every DAY tyrannies of her imprisonment (never has the term ‘housewife’ been more adeptly illustrated - once that front doorway is sealed, one is literally housebound) that made this so hideously compelling. And it illustrates the slow painful process of attempting to challenge bigotry and entrenched neuroses tarted up as custom that makes the progress of society possible on a personal level. It is therefore deeply political. Ashapurna Devi’s account means that even if you are a housewife who never heard of Orwell or Doesn’t Do That Political Stuff or can’t even read, approximately 10 minutes watching this and you know what Fascism looks like. 

I was having difficulty placing the actual time period the events in this were occurring in. All that can be certain is its pre-Independence India. There is no electricity. There is no radio let alone TV. The household even forbids newspapers. There is the terrible sense that this could actually be set in the present or even the future, so strong is the force-field of orthodoxy permeating everything.

Hunt-Sharples rating: At this point, Hunt-Sharples becomes logarithmic. 50 Mega-Blanches.


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