Women, Then and Now

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It's not the easiest of decisions to put an end to an unhappy marriage and choose one's married paramour over the suffering husband. It causes Savi some heartburn, but she realises that it's the only life she covets, a life that puts her interests over every other consideration. Played first by actress Seema Kapoor and then Shefali Shah, the popular teleseries of the 1990s, Hasratein, remains one of Indian satellite television's revolutionary shows, and Savi, an unconventional protagonist. "Female characters back then were liberated and strong. The response we received from the audience was phenomenal — letters would pour in from across the country, with women confessing that they admired the courage of these characters," says Shah of her characters Savi and, later, Richa in Banegi Apni Baat on Zee TV.

Neena Gupta, who wrote, directed and played the lead character of a housewife, Priya, whose husband leaves her for another woman in the serial Saans on Star Plus, remembers how it touched a chord with middle-class housewives, some of whom had gone through a similar experience. "I drew the material from what was happening around me. Like Priya, many women realised that it didn't help to limit one's world to the husband and family, that one needed to be strong in adversity. Female characters today largely lack these characteristics," says Gupta.

Savi and Priya are a far cry from the female leads on television in 2012, for whom the husband and the family, or as veteran television writer-director Vinta Nanda puts it, "sindoor and mangalsutra" come first. "The women characters on television today are willing to sacrifice everything for their husbands. They are painted either in black or white. In such a scenario, a Savi or Tara will never fit in," says Nanda, who wrote the script for popular shows like Tara and Miilee, both of which had strong women in the lead.

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