What I learnt from Tamil serials (or, Lou in the time of Halloween) 20

Reports say that, over the Diwali weekend, apartment complexes all over Bangalore and Hyderabad were invaded by gangs of costumed children demanding candy. Halloween, it seems, had arrived in South India. “I was forced to hand over 2 kg of Diwali laddoo”, said one agitated woman, “And they didn’t even sing carols!”. It was a very confusing time.

I managed to escape the hullabaloo and decided, in the interests of research, to spend a day watching Tamil serials. Most of the serials had storylines such as below:

Manjuri is a jaali young woman whose life takes u-turn. Manjuri sees that her stepmother Meena’s stylish purse is open and has a photo of a cow. She shows the photo to her father Chandran, who promptly faints and is admitted in nursing home. There, man with beard in nurse-uniform gives Chandran halwa that has fungus. Chandran loses speech and can now communicate only by whistling. This irritates his second wife Meena. She starts wearing chiffon sarees and snake-shaped bindis and therefore becomes evil. Chandran is able to safeguard Manjuri from Meena, but in the process Manjuri also starts whistling. This lowers her marriage prospects. Luckily, she finds lou with Gopi who says her whistling reminds him of his mother’s Prestige pressure-cooker. Meantime, the bearded nurse is trying to lure Gopi into a honeytrap. Will Gopi-Manjuri overcome all obstacles and get married? Is the mysterious cow Meena’s long-lost sister? If not, then why is the nurse wearing a beard? Keep watching to find out!

At the end of that day, I emerged a changed woman. Why, you ask? Well, I realised that even something as simple as a TV serial could teach me valuable life-lessons. For example, here is what I have learnt so far:

1. You have not arrived in life until your meals are served in casserole dishes. In all Tamil serials, successful people sit down to eat at big dining tables, on which there are a minimum of three Milton-type casserole dishes, contents undisclosed.

2. No house in South India has front doors. This is so that villains, police officers, scheming relatives and cows can freely walk in and advance the storyline without wasting time.

3. You can tell the character of a woman by her clothes and her hair. Women in cotton sarees that are pinned are saints. Further down are women in synthetic sarees pinned up, then, women in synthetic sarees with the pallu left loose, followed by women in salwar-suits, and leading right down to women in jeans (sinners!). A woman’s hairstyle is also a sign. The more loose your hair, the more loose your morals.

4. Men’s clothes do not indicate their character, but a man wearing more than one gold chain is a villain. There are no exceptions to this rule.

5. There are three key emotions in the climax scene: anger, helplessness and evil. Anger is portrayed by looking up and down rapidly. Helplessness is portrayed by looking up and down and then looking to your left. Evil is portrayed by looking up and down and then looking to your right.

6. All episodes end with a semicircular arrangement of the family around the key character. This is so that the camera can pan smoothly across every person’s face, clockwise, as they emote. For example, when a baby is born, each person gets to smile in turn for exactly 3 minutes. Or, when the vamp accuses the hero of infidelity, each person gets 2 minutes to raise their eyebrows and open their mouth wide. When the camera zooms out, everyone repeats the emotion again, but this time in anti-clockwise direction.

7. The music and camera movement need to be in sync. As the camera pans or zooms faster, the tempo and volume of the music must increase in a geometric progression. Simultaneously, all dialogue should cease. This kind of sound and light show can easily account for 40% of the show-time.

I know what you’re thinking dear reader. Only seven lessons from such a deep and meaningful experience? Fear not, I plan to immerse myself more into this world and attain total enlightenment. Just be prepared for when I turn up at your (non-existent) door next year for Halloween.

Remember, I will be the zombie in the pinned-up cotton saree with a tight plait. Don’t give me halwa, OK?

[This is the unedited version of my column published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on 10 Nov 2013]

20 thoughts on “What I learnt from Tamil serials (or, Lou in the time of Halloween)

  1. Reply Vandana Nov 11,2013 9:23 am

    That was sooooo….funny! I enjoyed reading it. But why only Tamil serials? Hindi serials would give a tough competition to any other language serials, but you would know that only if you have the patience and thick skin to sit through the entire show!

    • Reply Suchi Govindarajan Nov 11,2013 9:30 am

      Vandana, thank you! And that was exactly the reason! The Tamil serials I happened to watch were terrible but there was a lot of drama so I could manage many hours. But once I was done with that, I had no patience left for the Hindi serials. 🙂 And the ones I stumbled upon were especially bad–like watching paint dry!

  2. Reply k v chellappa Nov 11,2013 4:17 pm

    I was quite amused with my own aversion for these enhancing the humour. It reminded me of Cho’s parody titled ‘Navarasa Kathaikal’ that appeared long back in Ananda Vikatan. Your father may know of it. Well done.

  3. Reply M.R.Ramesh Nov 11,2013 4:37 pm

    I do not see serials. After going thro’ your article I think I should try once to see whether I am able to retain my sanity!.Any way I had a good laugh reading your piece.

  4. Reply N.R.SAMPATH Nov 11,2013 4:44 pm

    Dear Suchi,
    Hilarious.You have described the salient features of the Tamil serials in your inimitable,humourous style.In most of the serials,the central theme is love, infidelity,revenge,jealousy and unbelievable living style,unrelated to the income of the characters.—not necessarily in that order.Mega serials,like Kolam,Chithi etc.,ran for years and the womenfolk in TN were glued to the TV when these serials were telecast.Husbands had to get back home and finish their dinner before the telecast time of these serials or else they had to wait till the episode got over.He also has the choice of the dinner being served in instalments,during commercial breaks.Viewers are so obsessed with the serials that they lose sleep on week ends,if the serial stops with a suspense on a Friday—like the ex-lover of the heroine secretly entering her bedroom,with a knife in his hand.But,these serials are fun,since they catapult the viewers into a world of make believe.
    The common characteristics of the serials detailed by you are very true.The serials are an addiction and in TN,while the menfolk satisfy their addiction by visits to TASMAC,the womenfolk sit at home and find the addiction in serials.
    Kudos to you for a lovely article.We are waiting for more from your mouse.
    Best wishes.Sampath.

    • Reply Tina Feb 4,2014 7:15 am

      While my comment deviates from the subject matter of the blog, I’m surprised that husbands have to wait to be served. Can’t they serve themselves their dinner? Maybe after a long day of housework and in many cases office work and housework, the woman sits down to watch some serial of her choice. But she is expected to forego that to SERVE food to her husband? Patriarchy in a subtle form 🙁
      If the lament is that quality dinner time is sacrificed because of the serial, that’s understandable. But being served?!

      • Reply Hasya Feb 17,2014 3:43 pm

        Thank you, Tina! I don’t even care about serials but this implication that all work-at-home (did you ever hear of a woman who does nothing all day when she isn’t much much too ill? yeah, me neither; whether she has a money-paying job or not, she is a working woman) women do is watch serials is supremely annoying. Guess what, even when I didn’t work full time outside of home (we get pretty long maternity leaves here), I didn’t watch serials or even movies, really. Guess who IS the movie buff of the family! I am not without my addictions. Hint: starts with a cover, paper or hard, ends in a cover, paper or hard; can be in an e-format these days.

    • Reply Nalini Persad Apr 4,2014 1:52 pm

      Hello N. R. Sampath,

      I am writing to ask if it is you who wrote 3 books in Tamil, in 1995-1998.

      The books are Pancadasi, Intu matam : 1000 kēḷvi – patilkaḷ / Svāmi. and, Atīta saktikaḷaip peṟa yōkap payiṟci muṟaikaḷ / Svāmi.

      If so, I would be grateful if your real name is N.R. Sampath and your punaipeyar is Svami, to correct our catalogue entries for Sampath, N. R.

      Many thanks in advane.
      With best regards, and best wishes.

      Nalini Persad
      Curator, South Indian Lanugaes, Asia & Africa, The British Library, London NW1 2DB.

  5. Reply Saraswathy Athmanathan Nov 12,2013 5:15 am

    Dear Suchi
    You have not seen climax if you have not seen the slap. It comes slowly. Pan everyone’s face. Repeats of the slap in slow motion. Episode ends. To see the reaction of the person slapped watch next episode. It’s a killer closure for an episode. Whole world will be wringing their hands in tension till the next day. God help them if its a Friday.

  6. Reply Venkat Nov 12,2013 10:35 am

    Dear Suchi
    You have not missed anything if you today decide to watch Thirus Nadaswaram after 400 and odd episodes Good bad ugly in different episodes repeated with slight difference.Either he has run out of ideas or the viewers out of their brains…..
    Well what do they lose ?????

  7. Reply Meera Murti Nov 13,2013 4:42 am

    Just fantastic – you have brought out all the unintended funny points in TV serials which we were observing but did not crystallize in our minds! I have been sharing your pieces with my colleagues in the Manipal Academy of Banking, Bangalore and we all break out into laughter aloud. Compliments for the consistently high standard of humour from me and my friends Meena, Lakshmi and Chandrika (herself a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers) !

  8. Reply B.Baskaran Nov 13,2013 3:03 pm

    Dear Suchi,
    Humourous as usual.At the same time makes you think.Again,as usual.
    The serials do not make you think.They numb you and bring down your
    IQ to the level of that of the director and the one behind the story.
    I am surprised at the huge viewership they seem to enjoy.Absence of
    other entertainments and not having the habit of reading or any other
    hobby make TV serials thrive.Perhaps articles like the ones by you
    will put our tastes on right path.Looking forward to reading more such
    writing from you,B.Baskaran.

  9. Reply vasudha sundararaman Nov 20,2013 6:59 am

    Suchi, you have captured the essentials of Tamil serials so well. In fact all serials are alike and characters too are alike. It seems incredible that people can watch these at all and waste their time. but then, these are probably a life saver for all those folks who are stay at homes for some reason or the other.

  10. Reply Sathyan Dec 10,2013 2:01 pm

    These serials are deliberately created to quench the unethical desires of middle class anxiety to peep into the misery of the neighbours, just to convince themselves that they are far better!….

  11. Reply Tina Feb 4,2014 7:17 am

    Ha ha… Hilarious Suchi. Especially loved points 3 and 6 😀

  12. Reply Sathyan Mar 8,2014 7:56 am

    And you can also analyze the Super Singer competitions “and… and…amazing” and Dance Competitions! ! Perhaps we must be proficient in English to understand the Judges’ comments! They know “much” English!

  13. Reply Kanchan Mar 30,2014 3:57 am

    Suchi,

    I’m thrilled I spotted your blog thanks to this morning’s article in the DC, which rang a bell and walked me down a road filled with similar “nostalgic moments”.To shAre one of mine, would be to wait in tremulous anticipation if my NP Bubblegum would throw up a pink one or a white one ( the white one would land me a lottery of another FREE bubblegum!)
    And lo and behold, what a wonderland of humor and tongue in cheek wisdom, I’ve stumbled upon. Being a resident of Chennai for the better part of the last three decades, I’ve never ever been bothered to watch any serials, save to snigger at them when the over the top emoting got beyond ignoring levels- my wonderful mil being an avid watcher. But for one occasion, when she had a cataract surgery, and I being the dutiful dil had to bring her up to speed on the everyday trials and tribulations of Chithi… I swore off them, ever since.
    Keep the smiles coming… Suchi. Love your blog..and the play of words in them…such is writing…:-) you’ve got at least one person, smiling, thru the day!
    Kanchan

  14. Reply Paddy Padmanabhan Jun 7,2014 2:14 am

    I like your writing. A terrific combination of substance and presentation. Keep writing. Best Wishes.

    “In good faith” was very good too.

    Paddy.

  15. Reply Pramodh M R Jun 23,2014 3:51 pm

    Fantastic analysis of the serials.Every language serials are the same. Keep it up.

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