The Saas-Bahu Drama
When Indians and foreigners alike find out that I live in the same home as my Indian saas (the Hindi word for mother-in-law), they almost always ask about our relationship. Fortunately, I can answer truthfully that my mother-in-law and I co-exist quite well (and touch wood – the Indian equivalent of “knock on wood” – that it stays that way.) We are respectful of one another’s space and different cultures, and we enjoy each other’s company. She can teach me how to make paneer and where to find the best Indian clothes, and I can show her how to bake chocolate chip cookies and how to do Pilates. All in all, a good working relationship.
I do understand, though, why questions about my relationship with my mother-in-law arise so often. Abroad, mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships can be a bit rocky. In India, though, it seems that these difficulties can be amplified by traditional cultural roles and expectations, as well as extended families co-existing in the same household. There are horror stories of abusive in-laws and dowry-related bride burnings (although most recently there have been news stories focusing on murder cases where retaliating young brides are the perpetrators, and their in-laws the victims.)
What I find interesting, though, (and less morbid than these other news stories) is the pop-culture phenomenon of the Saas-Bahu (Mother-In-Law — Daughter-in-Law) serials, or soap operas. Some despise these serials, saying that they show inaccurate, regressive portrayals of family life and women’s roles in India. Others, though, are positively addicted to the shows, as is demonstrated by the number of viewers that these serials pull in weekly, and the number of television awards that they have won.
I don’t watch the serials regularly (primarily because they’re in Hindi, so I never fully understand what’s going on), but I do have to admit that I sometimes get drawn into the clips that I have seen. They’re just so delightfully dramatic (to the point of bordering on comedy), and some of the women’s wardrobes and homes are so opulent that I can’t help but watch!
Below is a clip from one of India’s top-rated Saas-Bahu serials Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because a Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law Too). I’m not exactly sure of what’s going on – it appears to be some very emotional family meeting in the drawing room. I do, however, love the dramatic pauses and the slow-zoom on each character’s face, which is a technique ubiquitous to all of the Indian serials/soap-operas that I’ve seen.