Being young and female isn’t the same in India anymore.
Our television serials might regressively wish to portray women as selfless beacons of perseverance and morality, but our women are fiery, hissing voices of feminism and sexuality. They’re eating into the wilderness that is life in the twenties and thirties – working, struggling, stumbling, and drowning it all at the end of the day with a joint of weed or a glass of wine. Sure, we’re referring to the demographic inhabiting the tier 1 and 2 cities, but they’re a large consumer of pop culture and are rarely to be seen on our ever-growing TV sets.
Once upon a time, Sex and The City captured the imagination of an entire generation of women. Four girls (who became women, somewhere along the way) craved sex, love and success in equal measure. These Louboutin-shod women were part of a world of which we knew little and pretty much never saw otherwise. Despite the show’s often mediocre writing, Sex and The City grasped the straws of high living. It was fine until it lasted.
Toppling the stereotypes of singletons from New York City are two shows about nimble-footed women, skirting career uncertainties, relationship dynamics and just about every complexity that comes with being single in the Big Apple. Helmed, written, produced by and featuring some fine comedic women, Girls and Broad City take pride in laying bare the discomfiture we like to remain oblivious to, with differing tonal expressions.
Girls is written, produced and sometimes directed by and centred on Lena Dunham, one of this generation’s most outspoken female voices. Girls might bear an experimental aesthetic, but at its heart deals with the anxiety of being young and failing. You’re not a fan of your best friends but you have little chops or inclination to find others; you’re obsessed with your fledgling career to the point that somebody’s death least affects you; you’re narcissistic to a fault. The series is full of unsettling instances that have the potency to fluster you with how real they seem to be. There is a certain emotion that grips childhood ambition, of wanting to become an important, contributing member to the universe’s culture. So believes Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath, as she proclaims to her parents the belief that she may be “the voice of the generation or at least a voice of a generation”. Girls hits home as we watch Hannah skip through frivolous female friendships, career switches and relationships falling short of being that voice, but being a voice, all the way.
On the other hand, there is Broad City, which chooses not to take itself too seriously. The show is a television adaptation of the popular web series of the same name, created by two real-life friends and comedic partners, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Part of a New York City that is not as avant-garde and hipster haven as Girls would have you believe, Broad City is a compilation of brilliant physical comedy moments, with the girls wading through stoned reverie, job dissatisfaction and romantic embarrassment with an infectious level of light-heartedness. There is irreverence toward stability and a que sera sera outlook to tomorrow as we see the lanes of New York City most conducive to smoking weed through the eyes of two broke young women. Ilana and Abbi are friends wholly and fully committed to each other first, and the city second. Their romantic entanglements are mere blips in their lives otherwise revolving around each other.
In many ways, both Broad City and Girls signify an era of feminism that is ushering its fourth wave, one in which women can be as perversely miscreant as we’ve seen some iconic male characters of television to be, like Ari Gold (Entourage) or Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother). They’re flippant about their sex lives, live in the moment, are afraid to be entangled in serious, monogamous relationships and have an exalted sense of self – much like the many women around us.
You will meet several women of this kind in Indian metropolitan cities. Much to the dismay of Imtiaz Ali’s brooding men, Indian women are not manic pixie dream girl stereotypes – one-dimensional characters existing for the pure escapist pleasure of troubled men. They can be incredibly self-involved to the point of apathy. They bear impertinence toward society’s rigid structures and live untamed. Nor, as some of our conservative squares will have you believe, are they beguiled women without any cause. Many of them are successful and prefer to learn their own lessons. Despite having an too-real romanticism about them, they have no place on Indian television.
Much of that can be attributed to a television industry governing on conservative archetypes, of which even power-woman Ekta Kapoor is guilty. They like to feed on the image of the sanskaari woman who has committed her passion, career and life to her husband and her family. Should so-called vices exist, they would be the accessories to the vamp, out to destroy the social construct of Indian values. It’s time our television makers realised the distinction between the women in India and the image they’re keen to perpetuate. With Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mindy Kaling going behind the camera and creating shows centred around female characters defying stereotypes, it’s time some of our smart, creative women took charge instead. If they could keep judgement at bay and flesh out wonderful, relatable women on television, its stagnated creativity could face a reawakening.