Soap opera Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon amassed a massive reach of a reported 400 million viewers when it was aired on Doordarshan in 2014 and 2015. The edutainment show, which has been produced by Population Foundation of India, is back on the national broadcaster for a daily rerun, and a third season is under production. Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon chronicles the life of Mumbai doctor Sneha Mathur, who returns to her ancestral village Pratappur to provide the people with quality healthcare and educate them about the adverse impact of social hierarchies on the mental and physical health of women and girls.
The show smoothly blends the plot elements and aesthetics of a traditional soap opera with eye-catching imagery that communicates a strong message, said series director Feroz Abbas Khan. “If you have a powerful story to tell, the story itself becomes the message,” said Khan, the director of the long-running epistolary play Tumhari Amrita and the movies Gandhi, My Father and Dekh Tamasha Dekh. “But if you say that you have a message which you want to deliver powerfully, you will sacrifice the impact.”
Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon provides scientifically accurate information about mental and physical health which most Indians do not have access to. “When we were doing our ground research, we realised that there is a great unmet demand for this kind of information,” Khan said.
Khan’s association with PFI began in 2011, when he directed a short film about family planning titled Haule Haule for the NGO. Before he began to work on Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, Khan sought direction from other Indian television serials such as Hum Log, which entertained and educated audiences in the 1980s with equal effectiveness. Khan was also inspired by the work of Mexican screenwriter Miguel Sabido and the popular South African educational soap opera Soul City, which also focused on promoting public health.
The popularity of these edutainment shows was rooted in thorough ground research and a strong commitment to a specific agenda, Khan realised. “The makers knew exactly what they had to tackle in each season, so I followed that blueprint,” he said.
Khan travelled to several states, including Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka, for four months before crafting the show. “I did not want to come from a position where I said to audiences: I know what needs to be given to you,” he said. “These people who live and work in villages have their own voices, and they were instructive in terms of the thematic ideas they gave us.”
He was especially inspired by women running successful self-help groups in remote corners of the country. “Women navigate the differences of community, class and caste so beautifully, even as men react with anger, prejudice or violence,” he observed.
Khan was also moved by the work of Abhay and Rani Bang, the noted social activists who revolutionised healthcare for the poor in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. “There are these extremely fine people who are working around in this country – and some governments whose programmes which are also working – which I call positive deviances,” Khan said. “So I wanted to pick these up, and do it on television so that it is something others can understand and replicate.”
Intelligent distribution has also played its part: the content was reworked to suit the radio and aired on 216 All India Radio channels. Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon has been dubbed in 13 Indian languages and is shown on national as well as regional Doordarshan channels.
Perhaps the show’s biggest triumph is its female protagonist, who actually works on the ground for women’s empowerment. “I think a person can inspire only by leading with an example,” said Meinal Vaishnav, who plays Sneha Mathur. “Talk doesn’t matter if actions don’t match it. But Sneha has actually gone back to her village, and is working for the people there. She’s not just discussing problems, but looking for solutions.”
With Sneha, Khan hoped to craft what he calls a “naturally right character” – a woman who would not need to engage in dramatic fisticuffs and yelling matches to get her point across. “Sneha is not what you might call a conventional role model because that way, she could have become extremely preachy, melodramatic or boring. Sneha is real and vulnerable.”