I’ve been meaning to write about what’s on TV for a while now. The Government’s attempt to ban the hugely popular Indian soap operas gives me another reason to do so. But I’ve been putting it off for a reason: they are simply too terrible to describe.
I watch more TV than I’d like but not through choice. I live in the office with many of my colleagues and watching TV while eating supper is an evening ritual.
So, to share my pain with others, here is the first in an occasional series of Rud’s synopsis of Afghan TV, starting with those soap operas:
‘Kasultii’ something or other. The day to day dramas of a rich north Indian family. And boy, is it dramatic. To emphasise just how extraordinarily dramatic it is, when something happens it is followed by a close up of each of the twenty characters present in turn, looking shocked/horrified/dead etc, accompanied by a dum dum dum and jerky zooming in just to let you know something dramatic has happened.
Annoying changes in camera angles for no apparent reason, often as if shoot by someone on a rocking-horse, are common place.
Featuring: a whole host of ham actors, the relations between whom are beyond me. My personal favourite is the evil daughter-in-law with the even eviler squeaky voice and sour-puss grimace. Somebody once described her to me as ‘shaitan’, the devil. That’s how kinivingly evil she is. Occasionally, when she is being evil, an ethereal voice seems to say ‘knickers.’ I know not why, but it usually makes people laugh. (Please note though, that for the rest of the time laughter, or any other distraction for that matter, during the show will be severely frowned upon.)
I also like the man with the tipexd on white streaks in his hair. And the cheap and garish sets and costume in general.
‘Tulsi’ is the other most popular one. I may have got some of the details between them mixed up as they tend to blur into each other in my mind. This has a similar set-up, focusing on family relations and strife, but manages to be marginally less aggravating.
Both are dubbed. Badly dubbed at that, with the most wonderfully, exaggeratedly stilted voices giving the already wooden performances an extra twist.
And both include women in saris which don’t always cover every inch of their skin, and Hindu idols. These are pixellated out. But still, according to someone in government, these make the programmes contrary to Islam and the Afghan Constitution. Thus the call to ban them.
Some people are also saying that trying to ban them is an attempt to mollify the Taliban. Personally, I reckon most Talibs watch these as much as everyone else and I used to think that if there is one thing that could unite this country, it would be Tulsi and Kusultii.
I was asking people about all this the other night, and given how religiously my male colleagues watch them was expecting a more heated response against the ban then I got.
I was also surprised that they seemed less concerned about the idols or the exposed flesh (actually no, not surprised about that bit but anyway), then the relationships between the characters.
I had always assumed that it was the family centred nature of these soaps – relations between in-laws and between siblings, between the family and its patriarch and matriarch – that chimed with and appealed to people in Afghanistan.
But I was told the other night that this aspect of the soaps was a bad influence on people, especially children. Because, I am guessing, it shows children not always doing what their parents tell them to, and women being assertive and independent, like that evil shaiten.
A month ago I would have argued that these soaps should be banned as crimes against common taste and decency. Now the Government’s trying to ban them, I almost feel compelled to watch them as a way of protest. Not that I have much choice, they are on while I’m eating my naan and chai whether I like it or not.
(I’ve just been looking for YouTube videos of the soaps, of which there seem to be plenty, though not the Afghan versions, but putting them up here is beyond me right now. If you’re interested though, they’re there somewhere, so go knock yourself out.)