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BizAsia 2019 Reflections: Best of Hindi television

2019 has been a year of changes for Hindi TV. After major shows like ‘Udaan’, ‘Ishqbaaaz’ and ‘Yeh Un Dinon Ki Baat Hai’ left the screens, there was a void waiting to be filled with new content. As a result, we were treated with spin-offs, new concepts and old reboots, some successful, others not as much. Here’s a look at the most memorable Hindi TV shows this year.

‘Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Ke’ – Star Plus
Rajan Shahi brought in a lot of change with his still-running ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai’, and is slowly doing the same thing with the show’s spin-off ‘Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Ke‘. Through Mishti and Abir, the showrunners are exploring the usual young romance with a feminist lens that is unusual for Indian TV. Mishti is a strong woman with agency, who doesn’t shy away from expressing herself, whether it’s a strong opinion against norms or her feelings for Abir. Abir is also unafraid of speaking up for his partner, not necessarily out of love but out of a sheer need of standing up for what’s right. He goes against everything that is sacred for a typical Tellywood hero to make sure the women in his life are being treated fairly. In a lot of ways Abir is a true ally, accommodating and encouraging Mishti’s fearlessness without overshadowing it, taking a step back unless he is absolutely needed.

Without blatantly throwing around heavy feminist vocabulary, the show portrays feminism through the characters’ actions, making the idea more naturally ingrained into the story as opposed to seeming superficial and performative. For ‘Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Ke’, equality isn’t a small plotline, but the central premise of the show. Through this approach, the series is attracting an audience that has been discovered by Tellywood only recently – the young internet-savvy viewer who likes the simplicity of TV without the regressive messaging.

‘Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum’ – Star Plus
‘Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum’ started off with a distinct vibe – a combination of genuine emotion and cheeky satire. Sonakshi Rastogi,  a TV actress not unlike Dipika Kakar herself, navigates her career and family life, allowing the show to highlight the absurdity of the medium while also bringing to attention the hard work and dedication a long-running daily soap requires. Heart surgeon Rohan Sippy is the polar opposite on the surface, but deep down both share similar struggles and heartbreaks, bringing them closer together.

Even though the show is now unironically embracing the TV tropes it once playfully mocked, ‘Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum’ has a very strong foundation to build on. The dynamic relationships between both main and supporting characters continues to be its strength. Here you see unique couples presented naturally as a part of the larger picture. YK and Nishi’s age difference, Akash and Deepa’s live-in relationship, Tanya and Rohan’s unfaithful relationship, all of these plotlines could be (and have been) their own show.

The characters on their own are also complex and flawed. Sonakshi’s mother Suman is ruthless, yet loving. Rohan and Praniti are supportive children and siblings, but indulge in disloyalty. Pooja is more than just a stereotypical rich, young aspiring model, she’s soft and caring. Hopefully the show will take everything they have established so well in the story and grow, instead of resorting to the usual TV storylines.

‘Ishaaron Ishaaron Mein’ – Sony TV
‘Ishaaron Ishaaron Mein’ is about mischievous yet sweet Yogi, his family, friendships and love. Yogi happens to be deaf and mute – a disability the show lovingly depicts as a quirk instead of a tragedy. There’s also Pari – a feisty doctor who lives with Yogi and his family as a paying guest, and Gunjan – Yogi’s love-at-first-sight, a sweet, pampered girl who is also mute, completing the most compelling love triangle currently on TV.

The show occasionally suggests that Yogi and Pari are fated to be together, but the story doesn’t ever discredit Gunjan and Yogi’s love to be any less pure. Instead of spoon-feeding who we should and shouldn’t root for, the show trusts its viewers to understand that just because a romantic relationship isn’t meant to be, doesn’t mean it’s any less meaningful. Gunjan and Yogi’s love story is filled with grand gestures of romance, and their breakup doesn’t villainize either person. Pari and Yogi’s love is built on trust and friendship. They fight and reconcile on a daily basis, but they also understand each other more than anyone else.

‘Ishaaron Ishaaron Mein’ does love well in general. Old to young, platonic to romantic, the show depicts all kinds of relationships with their own quirks and language. Yogi has a deep connection with all the characters in the massive ensemble, but each of them is different. The chemistry amongst the extremely talented cast is fantastic, but the show shines because of Mudit Nayar’s portrayal of Yogi, who truly is the heart of the show. Yogi has a filmy charm that Nayar plays on with full conviction. His character is gentle, fun and sweet, guaranteed to put a smile on your face, just like the show itself.

‘Kasautii Zindagii Kay 2’ – Star Plus
This reimagining of the iconic TV serial ‘Kasautii Zindagii Kay’ feels familiar yet different. The story is still about Anurag and Prerna’s unrequited love, the characters are all similar, but the circumstances are new. The makers are working to maintain a tricky balance of honouring a classic story without making it too familiar, and they seem to be succeeding.

While most TV shows are attempting to bring something fresh to the table, ‘Kasautii Zindagii Kay 2’ has chosen to stick to tried and true TV formulas that Balaji is known for establishing. In the span of 333 episodes, the show has had impromptu mandir weddings, memory loss, blackmail, plastic surgery, kidnappings, near-death accidents (and a fatal one), a brooding anti-hero and a gorgeous vamp’s comeback. The lavish sets and the committed actors all add to the drama as well. In fact, the actors’ understanding of their characters helps ground their over-the-top actions, making them more believable despite the grand context.

Everything ‘Kasautii Zindagii Kay 2’ does has arguably been done many times before, especially since it is a remake, but what makes the show stand out is the conviction of the production. ‘Kasautii Zindagii Kay 2’ may not be reinventing the wheel, but it is currently the best presentation of everything Indian TV is known for.

‘Yehh Jadu Hai Jinn Ka!’ – Star Plus

Joining the slate of numerous fantasy TV shows this year was ‘Yehh Jadu Hai Jinn Ka!’. Nawab Aman Junaid Khan is cursed by the Jinn in exchange for his magical powers as a part of a deal made by his father. His mother Parveen is critically ill because of the curse and can only be saved if Aman marries an Ayaana – a woman with the heart of an angel. Roshni fits the bill perfectly, expect for one flaw. She’s a courtesan’s daughter, making her a socially unacceptable wife for a rich Nawab like Aman.

Remaining true to the genre, what sets ‘Yehh Jadu Hai Jinn Ka!’ apart is that the story seems more focused than is usual for Hindi TV. Since the series is limited to 100 episodes, the writers have a clearer vision of where the characters are headed, which has made a significant impact on the storyline. It gets to the point much faster, sparing the audience from stretched out tracks or abandoned plotlines.

The show is reminiscent of previous Gul Khan shows like ‘Nazar’, ‘Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon’ and ‘Ishqbaaaz’ and has elements of everything that has worked for them in the past. As a result, ‘Yehh Jadu Hai Jinn Ka!’ has established a solid balance between Aman and Roshni’s angsty love story and their supernatural journeys. Vikram Singh Chauhan is very compelling as Aman, effortlessly playing his hot/cold persona while still remaining likeable. Roshni is sweet and child-like in contrast to Aman, a role Aditi Sharma has really grown into and made her own. The supporting cast filled with faces familiar to fans of Gul Khan’s previous shows are all consistently great onscreen.

‘Yehh Jadu Hai Jinn Ka!’ is slated to wrap up in February 2020.

‘Patiala Babes’ – Sony TV

‘Patiala Babes’ has had a very dynamic storyline this year, with major transformations for their characters. The show is about Babita, who escapes from the trauma of her abusive marriage with the unconditional support of her daughter Mini. Their mother-daughter dynamic is filled with friendship and affection instead of authority. The relationship also represents how old and new thoughts can come together, allowing people to grow.

This year, ‘Patiala Babes’ has wrapped up Season 1 with Babita and Hanuman’s marriage and Mini’s separation from Babita. Season 2 picked up on the story 5 years later, as Mini is confronted with a new relationship – her young sister Arya, born to Babita and Hanuman, who passed away in an accident.

At the heart of ‘Patiala Babes’ is a love story, but unlike other serials, it’s not romantic. The show deliberately prioritizes platonic, family love over romance, like Babita and Mini as opposed to Babita and Hanuman. Even after the marriage, the show never shifted focus to the new couple, but highlighted how Mini felt about the new family dynamic. ‘Patiala Babes’ shines because it is unafraid of staying true to itself two seasons in.

‘Choti Sarrdaarni’ – Colors

‘Choti Sarrdaarni’ in its short-time on-air has emerged as one of the biggest success stories for Colors in 2019. The show’s initial promos struck gold with viewers, which saw a Sikh woman – Meher, getting married to Sarabjeet, a widower with a five-year old child. Things took an interesting turn right from the beginning, when Meher was seen pregnant with her love, Manav’s child.

The show stars Nimrit Ahluwalia and Avinesh Rekhi and has not only proved a slot leader but also the most watched fictions on Colors in recent times.

In terms of reality shows, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ and ‘Bigg Boss 13’ have been the most successful this year. ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ has maintained its legacy of compelling contestants and heartwarming stories. ‘Bigg Boss 13’, however, has reinvented the show to make it more fresh and exciting for its long-term fans. Both shows may have taken different approaches, but have consistently remained major staples of Indian TV.