Almost a month ago, I had written about Sony TV’s new show, Pehredaar Piya Ki, which had appalled me. Not because of its garish sets and poor acting and very loose grasp on logic and reality. But because of its storyline of a 10-year-old Rajput boy whose father arranges his marriage with a 19-year-old Rajput woman, so she can protect him from his extended family, who want to kill him for his property. Of course, the very concerned father could have hired top security to protect the child, but that would make for a very boring serial.
The premise of the serial borders between silly and vile. Because it essentially celebrates child marriage – and poor scriptwriting. It’s also telecast at 8.30pm aimed at primetime family viewing. Which I do have a problem with. Going by how observant and firm parents seem to be with their children nowadays, by airing it at 8.30pm, Sony TV has ensured that child marriage becomes entertainment for the entire family. And yes, it’s true, children are impressionable and a child watching the show may indeed want to marry an 18-year-old woman by the end of it.
But does that mean that the show should be banned? Or that any creative content should be banned for that matter?
Well, people are so outraged that petitions have been floated on Change.org asking for the show to be banned. The petition by Mansi Jain states, “A 10-year-old impressionable little kid ("piyaa") caressing and stalking a lady who’s more than double his age and filling sindoor in her “maang" is being telecasted at prime time, family time. Imagine the kind of influence it will steadily and perpetually infuse in the viewers’ mindset. We want a ban on the serial. We do not want our kids to be influenced by such TV serials".
While Jain is correct that we do not want our kids or anyone for that matter — including scriptwriters — being influenced by such TV serials, a call for a ban on it seems not only absurd but dangerous as well. Thanks to everyone, including people who are usually against bans by the government, sharing this petition and then sending it to new information & broadcasting minister Smriti Irani, the government has now gotten involved. Remember, this is the same government which has a propensity for enforcing bans — against cow slaughter, beef intake, homosexuality. The list is long. And it needs no encouragement to interfere with what we watch or read or eat or the adults whom we have consensual sex with.
Irani, rising to the demands of the people, has sent the petition to the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and has asked it to take immediate action against the show on a priority basis.
Once you open the door to requesting — actually demanding — that the government take action on curtailing what we watch or read, it’s a slippery slope. How are the people signing this petition asking for a TV show to be banned, any different from the government banning Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses or Gulzar’s Aandhi or the Bangladeshi government banning Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja? Or more recently, when the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) decided that Nawazuddin Siddique’s film, Haraamkhor, did not deserve a certificate because the CBFC felt it glorified sexual relationships between teachers and students. Or when the CBFC decides what we can or can’t watch — from a lesbian sex scene in Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde to Lipstick In My Burkha because it will give wrong ideas to women.
The petition against Pehredaar Piya Ki claims that the show encourages child abuse. I’ve watched the show and other than the intelligence of the audience being abused, there is no other abuse. I have written earlier about how other than for PPK, there are shows such as Balika Vadhu and Udaan with mature storylines which have child protagonists or supporting actors ranging from the age of 2 months to 12 or 13 years at most. Who is monitoring how much these kids are working or where the money they’re being paid, is going? That is child abuse. Not to mention the reality shows with child contestants. As Cine & TV Artistes’ Association (CINTAA) had informed me, there are no laws monitoring the employment or participation of children in TV shows. What needs to be put in place are legal guidelines which are enforced.
If you must petition the government for anything, petition them to implement the CINTAA guidelines. Not to ban shows. TV channels already self-censor foreign shows and bleep out words ranging from “cow" to “beef" and even “Muslim". A nude statue in the background of Downton Abbey was blurred out in one episode. Why? Because the Indian Broadcasters Federation created a set of self-regulatory guidelines which channels follow blindly. And with good reason.
In 2014, Comedy Central had to go off air after a viewer complained about two shows - Stand Up Club, and Popcorn – which were aired in 2012. Why? Because he was offended. And he managed to get the channel banned for SIX whole days.
Of course, you should be concerned about your children. But if you don’t like the show, ask that the timing be changed — much like Bigg Boss was shifted to a late-night slot to spare us from feeling lobotomised every evening. You can place social media pressure on people to stop watching the show. If TRPs drop, the show will anyway be pulled off air. Criticise, comment, build awareness, shame the producers if you must through these tools – but do not ask for a ban.
Because all bans are equal. You can’t cry foul at channels censoring Game Of Thrones or not giving a film certificate to Lipstick Under My Burkha because you like their storylines, even if the government doesn’t. This is the most counter-productive and self-serving reaction to a programme which deserved nothing more than to be boycotted by audiences and pilloried in the press. Watching Pehredaar Piya Ki is less harmful than the petition asking for it to be banned.