Spring-autumn marriages gain popularity on small screen

May 12th, 2009 - 11:10 am ICT by IANS  

Ekta Kapoor By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, May 12 (IANS) The trend of older men marrying girls decades younger is fast catching the fancy of many TV serial makers. Be it just as a side track on hit serial “Balika Vadhu” or “Bandini”, or an entire soap on a marriage of convenience between an 18-year-old girl and a man over twice her age - the subject has become popular.

According to Purnendu Shekhar, the writer and brain behind “Balika Vadhu”, age-gap marriages do take place in Indian society and it is therefore relevant to show them through TV shows.

“Such marriages are not new to our society. It takes place in a lot of rural areas and small towns in the country. The basic perception is that even if the man is 60 years old, it doesn’t make any difference to a marriage and sadly, this mentality prevails even today,” Shekhar told IANS over phone from Mumbai.

While “Balika Vadhu” airs on Colors, “Bandini” is the top show of NDTV Imagine.

Shailja Kejriwal, creative content head at NDTV Imagine, says the channel decided to go ahead with “Bandini” for its “gripping and interesting storyline”.

“Ekta Kapoor had approached us with this subject and it seemed extremely interesting. A poor, abandoned girl, stuck in a conspiracy and married (forcibly) - it made a good story. We never thought of going ahead with this show to rake the issue of such (age-gap) marriages,” said Kejriwal.

“It’s just a story rather than any depiction of a social issue. The female protagonist could well have been even 25 years old, but making her 18 made it more interesting,” she added.

For Shekhar, including the track in “Balika Vadhu” was just an extension of the primary theme of child marriage in the popular series.

“The basic premise of ‘Balika Vadhu’ is child marriage. But this sort of social issue (young girls being married to older men) is also a serious aspect of the main story.

“It is a very sensitive issue - there are a lot of emotional and psychological needs of a person and these differ for a young girl all of 17-18 years of age and for a man who may be even more than 35 years old. What such marriages lead to is what we have tried to show,” he said.

According to Kejriwal, “Bandini”, launched in January, is the top rated show on the channel. While “Balika Vadhu”, which went on air last year in July, has become the USP of Colors and even helped it beat leading player STAR Plus in viewership last month.

For Neha Marda and Aasiya Kazi, the girls who play younger women married to much older men in “Balika Vadhu” and “Bandini” respectively, their roles seemed an attractive option as they were challenging.

“Initially I had refused to play this role because I couldn’t relate with the character at all. We were showing an age difference of more than 40 years between the man and wife and that was odd. But gradually I’ve come to understand it better and I’m happy that I took up this challenge,” 21-year-old Neha, who plays Gehna in “Balika Vadhu”, told IANS.

Aasiya, 17, too feels the same way.

“I gave auditions for this role without knowing too much about what I would be doing and got selected. When I was told about the story, it was not that I was apprehensive. In fact, I was very happy that I would get to do something new - a role that many girls of my age would not get to do. So I feel I was lucky,” said Aasiya, who made her debut with “Bandini” in January.

The trend of older men marrying young girls is not restricted to rural areas and traditional families. There have been quite a few instances in the elite circles as well - Bollywood thespian Dilip Kumar married Saira Banu, who is 22 years younger than him.

Yesteryear’s crime maestro Charles Sobhraj, veteran actor Kabir Bedi and British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie too are known for marrying or dating girls decades younger.

The only difference is that celebrities do it willingly while the girls in villages are often forced to marry older men.

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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