Ekta Kapoor’s Coffee and a Tale of Wives

Ekta Kapoor turned out to be effortlessly articulate with a definite command over the English language. This is notwithstanding the fact that English is the lingua franca of the Hindi film industry and one of the markers of success in the business is able to speak the language effortlessly. But Ekta’s choice of words, her vocabulary of adjectives, her syntaxes, her figures of speech reveal fluency over the written form of the language in a sharp contrast to the glib of Karan Johar. Ekta’s accent too is of an educated Renascent Indian, a relief from Madhuri’s poor English spelt out in a forced yankee tongue, or the effulgent Preity Zinta or Kareena who seem to think and talk in English but may not be able to construct sentences requiring more education and erudition. Ekta’s huge empire in the television, she said, was the by-product of her desire and ability to tell good stories. Indeed, Ekta does have the ability through the use words and phrases and metaphors to create vivid images in the minds of the listeners. And hence Ekta also vividly bared her mind and heart to the listeners when she spoke of a peculiar psychological affliction within her – an intense female jealousy by which she can stand no woman purporting to be in an affine relation with a man. This includes her father’s female fans all of whom she imagines as potential threat to her father’s fidelity and she cannot seem to stand her brother’s girlfriends.  This jealousy is serious because in her childhood when she was not as yet wholly socialized, she would scratch, maul, hit, or punch any woman irrespective of her age that included little girls.

The suspicion that any and every woman is interested in having sex or possessing otherwise men of her blood family is a serious psychological disorder, emanating from the strange social world that we inhabit. In broader terms, this mental illness among women like Ekta can alone go a long way in keeping women out of participation in public and civic life and circulate the thesis that if a woman is not married, she is a threat to the society. Such a mentality had once been very cruel to widows; it is this mentality that is now harassing women who decide to be independent entities. It is this mentality of Ekta’s that she shares with the nation that makes her tell stories of such suspicion of women towards women and make its viewers consume them greedily. The problem with such construction of every woman in the civil space as a potential threat to a married couple is unfortunate; unseen to most feminists and gender social scientist, women empowerment can never happen until and unless women overcome the fear of women. This fear lies at the heart of women oppressing women, a fact that men love to cite whenever they sense female bonding. The gay activists by seeing sex in everything have also contributed steadily to possibilities of larger female and hence human bonding.

As I was mentally composing this note to post it in the facebook and walking through the corridors of Aurobindo Place, I heard a shrill voice in an unstoppable outburst. I looked around for the source of the sound until I found it emanating from within one of the shops and not an irate customer but the wife of the shopkeeper, who also sits at the counter shouting her head off at her husband. This was the third casualty of the shopping complex!! There are two other shops where I have seen the husband and wife, both of who sit in the counter quarrel in a way in which the woman publicly humiliates her husband. The other day, at the stationery shop from where we have been buying our papers and pens for over quarter of a century now, the wife now in her mid-fifties misbehaved with Madhusree. On another occasion, the wife at the counter of the appliances shop misled me in such a way that I came out of the shop empty handed. The goal that these women work towards is to disgust and discourage customers away from their shops; a sly way of sabotaging their husband’s wealth, something that so many women do but we never seem to recognize as an academic problem. At the root of this sabotage by wives lies a deep insecurity, an irrational fear that husbands may stray. Why stray? With who? No, this is not true but women conjure this up in their own minds. So when the teenaged daughter of the owner of the appliances shop steps inside the air-conditioned zone, her mother screams at the top of her voice within my hearing that her father has many “female friends” and is enjoying himself. I am revulsed enough to move out of the shop and decide not to visit it again.

Aurobindo Place Market is like the atavistic Meena Bazaar of the Mughal forts, where the women of the modern day aristocracy visits. It is a shopping complex where women do almost all the shopping; this is not a small fact, but a rather significant one because only socially empowered and economically independent women do their own shopping, in the rest of the cases where women have less power, they are either accompanied by the men or as in the lower middle class Kolkata, they never emerge in bazaars. Women shopping are thus a matter of social class, the higher you go, the more relatively, I insist relatively, independent the women are. They drive their own cars, they do their own shopping, they take their own purchase decisions, wear resplendent clothes and perfume, they have interesting hairdo. This “bibiyana” instills sharp pangs of envy among those wives who yearn for such wealth and its consequent freedom.

Looked at more empathetically, the wives of Aurobindo Place are a trapped lot. They emerge from social classes that have little money to let women be free; they must depend on their husbands for their needs. The fathers never handed them over what was due to them has legacy and instead has passed it on to the husbands as dowry. With this dowry the men have set up shops; sometimes even pressurized women to leach their parents for more. In these shops now visit the women they always yearned to be but cannot be. The unbearable jealousy against the women of the upper class gets construed as imagined romances and infidelities of their husbands; the dainty, flowery, genteel fair sex will not even cast a glance and paan chewing, oily faced, pot bellied ugly men that the shop keepers are. But the wives would love to think that way because using such excuses husbands can be cornered, mentally tortured and also be beaten out of the shop floors where the wives would emerge as the sole proprietors, collect the money, steal much of it and then on the sly slither into the corner of the complex and so what their women clients do, grab and gulp an aloo tikki. I have seen this happen many times with the wife at the counter of the stationery shop. She (and I realized this only now after twenty five years) would charge a rupee or two more each item and then sneak out behind Wimpy’s to bite into a burger. After I realized what I saw, wives have become persons to be pitied. All that uncontrolled outbursts and public humiliation of their husbands, snide comments, rude behavior and dishonest business are concealed class wars that are fought between woman and woman, secretly, silently and invisibly.

I have often wondered why Ekta focuses so much on the family and what the role of the family is in the larger scheme of things and why the family must now be the metaphor of everything starting from the office, to the club, to the apartment home and the State ! The format of the family where every kind of conflict must arise, be located and also resolved is typically a domain of the woman. The protagonist is a virtuous wife because of her sexual insecurities emanating from other women; she senses no threat to her being from her husband, but from other women related variously to her husband or known to him as his colleague, or friend or even neighbor. Ekta, in her own insecurities betrays the fact that she too holds in her mind an image of herself as the wife. No wonder then that she denounces sex, finds sin it all the time, fears it as a danger to her existence and snubs it as “down-market”. Interestingly Bollywood insiders had never been so class conscious before now because before Ekta, Sonam was saying that trying to look sexy was tacky; this is a way of admitting in a manner of self defense that sexiness is a property of the upper classes in which they wish to belong to but do not and that women of the reference class are all threatening to the women of their class. The metaphor of the family then centers around women, and through this women break their bonds with every other woman, suck up to men, give them powers, make them the masters, get abused and beaten up and hold the giant structure of patriarchy. The family is then a silent process of patriarchy, not run by men but by women. Women steadily give up all that is valuable to them by subjugating themselves when they draw on the powers of men to give them identity, security and social worth. This is the feminine constitutiveness of our society, something that is so subtle, so hidden and so speechless that it has remained invisible and silent even to the feminists.

Ekta Kapoor places herself in the midst of this war. She uses woman against woman; her protagonists are usually the wives from the social class of the shopkeeper, a class that earns money more easily than it earns its freedom. These virtuous wives, no matter how much they tout their traditions, their devotional arsenals, within their hearts they know that they are incarcerated, harassed, dependent, subjected and controlled. These women therefore displace their frustrations against other women who they construe and construct as vamps. Hence smart, rich, successful and independent women in Ekta’s serials are also the dangerous ones who the wives can only contain and compete against when they themselves get trigger happy, or corrupt or lascivious. The good woman turns bad when she must emerge out of her oppression while an entire issue of the class war is relegated into the unconscious and woman gets pitted against the woman. This huge class war which is fought at the level of women is then neatly packaged and put forth in tele soaps as the consensus of the media. It is through these soap operas that the powers of the lower middle class housewife, through who women are everyday breaking bonds with other women, taking themselves away from public life, compromising on their autonomy are constituted as a grand consensus. Everyone is supposed to be happy to be or to be with a Parvati or a Tulsi. But Parvatis and Tulsis are miserable in their everyday lives; the wives of Aurobindo Place show all.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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