It’s been more than a year since Starplus launched a seemingly run-of-the-mill show called Anupamaa about a little-educated housewife whose life revolves around her family, with little or no reciprocation. What else is new, you ask? I did too and was mildly tempted to watch just because of the consistently high TRPs. But well, TRPs have hardly been an indication of quality content when it comes to Indian television, so I put it off further. What finally lured me into it was the internet chatter claiming it was “different”. That got my attention- different? What’s so different about a story that banks on a woman caught up in the woes of a domesticated life within a joint family. After all, a suffering daughter-in-law is the staple food for TV.
Turns out it isn’t a story of a woman that suffers. It’s about a woman that discovers.
At first glance, Anupamaa has nothing special. She is married to Vanraj Shah, a moderately successful man, who even though has managed to sire three children with her, holds her in contempt because she is not his “equal”. He does not even pretend to reciprocate her unconditional love towards him. In addition, the mother-in-law makes her life tougher while only one of her children is supportive of her. Tough life but not unusual for an Indian family right?
What’s unusual is Anupamaa’s character. She has indeed spent twenty-six years contributing selflessly to her marriage but it is not because of any lofty ideal of making a marriage work despite being miserable. She believes herself to be happy. Her absolute love for her husband and his family makes her blind to the lack of reciprocation. In a sense, she is untouchable- because of her spiritual love that does not demand anything back. But this illusion breaks with a thundering clatter when Vanraj’s affair with his coworker Kavya is revealed with little or no remorse from his side.
The show, to its credit, does not make much of a dilemma out of Anupamaa’s decision to walk out of the marriage. There is no question of compromise once the “love – ceiling” is shattered because that’s the basic foundation of her life. Now, a guilt-free divorce is not what is usual for middle-aged women. That’s where Anupamaa’s appeal lies. It gives a voice to countless women who have not walked out of a defunct marriage just because they were never taught they had the choice. Anupamaa does not hold back. She expresses her feelings in clear words, is not afraid of a confrontation, and shows everyone their place before leaving. Once disillusioned, she stands unmoving against all attempts of emotional blackmail, subjugation, or manipulation. We realize this is a woman who has never lived for others, she has always lived for herself. The only difference is that her sense of identity included Vanraj and his family. Now it doesn’t.
The satisfaction for a viewer as they watch Anupamaa navigate through a quick, guilt-free divorce is further sweetened when a second chance at love presents itself in the form of Anuj Kapadia, whose love for Anupama is as selfless. He is rich, handsome and sensitive, and stands by her like a rock with no expectations in return. It’s something Anupamaa struggles with. She has always been a giver, she does not know how to receive. As a result, a constant sense of guilt assails her even though her friend Devika points out a vital point she is missing out on. Anuj is doing it for himself; being there for her makes him happy. This is something that Anupamaa can understand, from her own experience of love. However, 26 years of unreciprocated love is huge baggage and it is natural for her to take a lot of time to fully accept the love she is being given now.
Meanwhile, in a typical case of late realization, Vanraj can see his life already unraveling without his ex-wife. Anupamaa’s scenes with Kavya, the second wife and the reason for her divorce, are a treat to watch. She is scathing and unforgiving to the woman, not just because she broke up her marriage but her lack of ability/will to care for a family that she has taken away from her.
Anupamaa has made an important point: lack of education does not determine how smart & capable you are. When given the needed support and confidence, she is all set to open a business and this opportunity has presented itself quite organically. Her abilities to do a lot of things have come forth in natural response.
There have been a plethora of shows which have banked on the glorification of “bahus” in the joint family system, but their focus has primarily been on how suffering through an unjust set-up is the only parameter of resilience. Respect is more of a dangling carrot that can be reached only after going through years of insult and ignorance. Anupamaa changes all that. Yes, there is that spirit of sacrifice, compassion, and boundless love that is essential to the spirit of an Indian woman but Anupamaa owns all of that independently. She behaves a certain way because it’s her will, whether it is to keep everyone’s needs above hers or to stand up for herself against everyone. There’s also an ability to call spade a spade and take charge of her own life, even when society advocates against it.
Although initially, I watched the show just to check out what the fuss was about, I must admit it has a great script/screenplay that keeps you hooked scene by scene. The dialogues are often quote-worthy and the drama is quite scintillating. Unlike most shows, Anupamaa’s story does not slow down or digress, in the interest of keeping the show going. The cast is doing a superb job and Rupali Ganguly’s performance is arguably the best ever on Indian TV.
At the end of it all, Anupamaa has a simple message – Love does not make you weak, it makes you infinitely stronger.