Anupamaa: The Big Hindi GEC Breakthrough?

11 Sep,2020

A still from Anupamaa, the Star Plus show

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh Kapoor

While this weekly column has extensively covered the Hindi GEC category over the last eight years, pieces dedicated to a single show have been rare. If at all, they have been about a non-fiction show like KBC, or about a long-running fiction show like Balika Vadhu or Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. Nothing launched since the start of this column in 2012 has been worthy enough for 500 words of its own. And those who follow this column regularly will know that the general sense of mediocrity that plagues Hindi GEC fiction content has been my pet peeve over the last 5-6 years.

 

But here it is, a piece on a newly-launched fiction show that breaks through the mediocrity the category has learnt to unapologetically espouse over time. It’s the 10pm daily on Star Plus, and it goes by the name Anupamaa. An adaptation of a hit Star Jalsha show, Anupamaa was originally slated to launch in early 2020, but had to be deferred because of the lockdown. It was one of the first new shows to launch as things began to open up and shoots resumed July onwards. Less than three months into its tenure, Anupamaa is the top-rated show on Star Plus, more than 40% ahead of the next original show on the channel.

 

Now that has happened before with some other shows too. But something a lot rarer happened this week. In the August report of Ormax Characters India Loves, a monthly character-popularity track for the Hindi GEC category, the protagonist Anupamaa has taken the second rank on the fiction list. Character popularity is the Holy Grail of GEC content. It takes months, sometimes years, for characters to build an emotional affinity with the audience. Entering the Top 5 within six months of launch is a huge achievement, and entering Top 2 within two months an unprecedented one.

 

When I watched the show in its first week, my first reaction was: Wow, this looks so different from the rest of the genre. It was, in many ways, a reaction very similar to what I felt watching Balika Vadhu for the first time in 2008. Then, and even now, the Hindi GEC category has been guilty of a certain visual and thematic sameness that is omnipresent across shows, across channels. Some shows look ‘richer’ than others. But by and large, the protagonists are all in their early 20s, the costumes are fairly stock, the music largely similar too, the conflicts way too familiar, and the acting and the dialogue consistently mediocre.

 

In that first viewing itself, Anupamaa seemed to belong to another space. Top performances grabbed my attention first. In particular, Rupali Ganguly as the female lead here is arguably one of the Top 3 stand-out Hindi GEC fiction performances in the last 20 years. The other distinctive feature, of course, was the age of the protagonist. In her mid-40s, Anupamaa is a mother of three grown-up children. That’s a life-stage a Hindi GEC female protagonist usually reaches five years into a show’s lifetime, after at least two leaps. Instantly, this separates the show from the rest of the lot, which are essentially romantic dramas played out in a family context. The writing seemed two notches higher than the category’s accepted level too, especially the dialogue.

 

But as I started watching the show regularly, it seemed evident that this is that rare show that has a saga-like feel to it. After Balika Vadhu and Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, no other show has a premise or a protagonist so fascinating that you know that you can do a long-running show around her, without losing the point and dragging the show meaninglessly. Already in the two months, the show has covered several social themes like patriarchy, parenting and class difference. It’s like the old days of reading a novel. The story can keep evolving, chapter by chapter, and enter different spaces. But the audience loves the protagonist(s) so much that they are always invested.

 

Will Anupamaa manage that? Will it be one of the top shows in 2025 too? It’s, of course, too early to say that. But if there’s one show in the last decade that seems to have a strong foundation that longevity needs, this is it. The show’s name translates to “incomparable” in English. And unless the makers mess this one up, it holds the potential to live up to that translation over time.

 

It could be a matter of introspection why such success came from a show from a regional market. Much like one can wonder why Bollywood can’t make its own Bahubali. But that’s another topic for another day.

 

 

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