Looking back on the Hindi serials that raised me

A return to the world of twisting plots, charismatic villains, and swooning music I enjoyed with my mother and grandmother

Shanjida Nowshin Chowdhury
Published : 15 March 2023, 01:00 PM
Updated : 15 March 2023, 01:00 PM

Before Netflix turned watching TV into an individual activity, TV privileges couldn't be bought for $7.99 a month. No, like Thor's hammer, only the most worthy member of the household could hold the fabled remote control. And as the second youngest member of a TV-crazed family, I most definitely was not worthy.

But I knew better than to fight. Accepting my fate, I watched whatever my mother, grandmother, or older cousin chose to put on. Most of the time, their poison of choice was Hindi serials. And though I often pretended otherwise, I was equally hooked on the drama. Hindi serials had it all – arguments over washing laptops with dish soap to chases through the woods pursued by a gang of thugs.

As I grew older and got my computer and phone, I started watching fewer soap operas with my family. But now and then, I feel the tug of nostalgia and check out one of the old shows. Surprisingly, they feel much different than when I first watched them.

Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai (2009-now, Star Plus)

YRKKH is the quintessential Indian soap opera. With more than a thousand episodes under its belt and counting, it's the second longest-running Indian TV show of all time. The story follows the main character Akshara, as she prepares to get married and adjust to becoming a new wife in the Raj Shekar Singhania House.

The show has changed a lot over the years. In its early days, YRKKH focused on mundane issues, such as not liking your mother-in-law's choice of jewellery or putting too much sugar in the kheer. Where many serials went out of their way to create big dramatic scenarios, the charm of YRKKH lay in its simplicity. Unfortunately, this has fallen off over time as the show chased higher stakes to keep its old audience watching.  

Saath Nibhaana Saathiya (2010-2017 Star Plus)

The story of the infamous Gopi Bahu made a triumphant return to screens during the pandemic after various memes made it an internet sensation. As far as soap operas go, Saath Nibhaana Saathiya is as dramatic as it gets. Every other episode depicts poor, innocent Gopi being taunted, manipulated and yelled at by people who don't appreciate her.

Even as a child, I remember feeling a somewhat sadistic sense of pleasure in seeing Gopi so miserable. In my defence, many of the lies she fell victim to were downright laughable. It also didn't help that Gopi's main nemesis, Rashi is perhaps one of the most beloved and charismatic characters of the show, second only to the legend and absolute icon Kokila Modi, Gopi's mother-in-law.

Dill Mill Gayye (2007-2010, Star One)

In contrast to the constant 'Saas-Bahu' element of most Indian soap operas, Star One came out with shows such as Dill Mill Gayye, Pyaar Kii Ye Ek Kahaani, and Miley Jab Hum Tum, which were much more youth-oriented. Though hospital soap operas with tales of growing friendship and dating drama were nothing new in the West, Dill Mill Gayye felt like a breath of fresh air among Hindi serials.

The story follows five rookie doctors as they begin their internships at Sanjeevani hospital. As a child, I remember being wholeheartedly enthralled by Armaan and Riddhima's romance. However, revisiting this show during the pandemic, I couldn't help but feel sorry for all the poor patients waiting in agony while their doctors stared into each other's souls as the romantic soundtrack swelled.

Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? (2011-2012, Star Plus)

There is no easy way to explain the plot of IPKKND. In short, a series of tragic events occur, which leads to businessman Arnaav Singh Raizada marrying middle-class jalebi lover Khushi Kumari Gupta in an attempt to ruin her life. Comedy, tragedy, and drama all transpire together as two people who hate each other try to make sense of their marriage.

If you're in the mood for a toxic relationship, Khushi and Arnaav deliver on all fronts. As long as you don't mind giving characters a little fictional leeway from the morals and values of the real world, the development of their relationship from enemies to lovers is fun, even without the rose-tinted goggles of nostalgia.

Beintehaa (2013-2014, Colors TV)

Looking to heal the hole in my heart from the end of IPKKND, I found refuge in another classic 'enemies to lovers' story, Beintehaa. The story depicts Zayn Abdullah, who is forced to marry his cousin Aaliya Ghulam Haider after he accidentally ruins her wedding and her reputation.

In contrast to my teenage years, as an adult it's harder to take the topics Zayn and Aaliya bicker about seriously. However, Beintehaa still has its moments. I particularly enjoyed the intelligent, headstrong portrayal of Aaliya, especially compared to the typical submissive wife stereotype usually depicted in these shows.

While I enjoyed the trip down a memory lane lined with treacherous mothers-in-law, dramatic zooms, and over-the-top performances, I can't say I have the same love of Hindi soaps that I used to. Maybe it's that I'm older, maybe it's that I've seen a lot more good TV over the years, or perhaps it's not as fun watching by myself as when I pretended to be snobbish while glued to the screen alongside my mother, grandmother, and cousin. Still, I don't regret the time I spent. Sometimes it's okay to look back on the past and honour the memories that have made you who you are today.  

This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.