While the story was often referred to as the real hero, the writer was still an anonymous entity in the world of Bengali television soap operas. Then Leena Gangopadhyay entered the scene. Today she has five soap operas on the air while Hindi remakes of some of her work are on TRPs.
Indrani Halder, who plays the title role in Gangopadhyay’s hugely popular Sreemoyee – the Hindi remake is Anupamaa – made her television debut in Tero Parbon, which aired on Doordarshan in 1987 and made serial viewing popular. Series based on classic fiction such as Adorsho Hindu Hotel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay and Shei Shomoy by Sunil Gangopadhyay followed.
Themes for Gangopadhyay’s current crop of soap operas range from a mother with grown children finally finding love, to a suburban girl fleeing a forced marriage to complete her education, to a driver who aspires to be a rapper and a girl brought in. by a single parent adjusting to life in a common family. Not quite the onward journey of Gangopadhyay’s 2010 series Binni Dhaner Khoi, in which the female doctor protagonist gave up the love of her life to work in the village.
Gangopadhyay, however, thinks we can’t really call the soap operas progressive or regressive. “Writing for television is very different from writing novels. An author can be selfish, but a screenwriter will always have to keep his audience in mind, ”she says. Will they be affected by this? Can they accept this? These are apparently some of the questions she keeps asking herself.
“You can’t always say what you want to say. Being able to slip your point of view, say what you want to say in the formula that you follow … is writing for television for me, ”explains the woman who has scripted more than two dozen television series at over the past decade.
According to her, television must appeal to a representative sample of people: “From doctors and scientists to domestic helpers and daily workers. So we have different characters, some attract this section, others the other, ”she says. And, in the end, sometimes even politicians. The late Somnath Chatterjee, the former President of Lok Sabha, not only followed her work eagerly, but also provided regular feedback, she tells me. And rumor has it that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is also a fan.
Previously, Gangopadhyay focused on writing an entertaining story, but today she chooses her concepts more wisely. “I decide on an area I want to highlight and weave history around it,” says the 56-year-old former Bengali teacher.
One of her on-air series, Mohor, for example, is about a young girl from a small town who moves to town. “A lot of suburban girls come to town to study, they have to struggle a lot. I tried to capture that in the series, ”says Gangopadhyay. “In each of my stories, I like to explore a new area, something that I had never explored before. It interests me. Imagine how boring it would be to write about the same things over and over again, ”she explains.
Mohor can feature a college student who fights for her rights, but it also features a shared family who doesn’t approve of stepdaughters who pursue careers. “Television is after all a reflection of society. You cannot deny what is there in society. Regressive views exist. That’s why we have them in the TV soap operas, ”says Gangopadhyay.
“Television is a very powerful medium. Don’t you think we should use it to show the public what’s going on in society? ” she asks.
Did becoming president of the West Bengal Commission for Women expose Gangopadhyay to a whole new reality? “I didn’t want to take this job,” says the woman, who swears she’ll never join a political party, regardless of the search engine’s news.
“Now I’m happy. It took me out of my constructed reality and showed me a side of life that I would never have known otherwise. “
This life, according to her, is much harsher and more regressive than what she shows on television. “Sometimes I wish I could but it’s too painful, the audience couldn’t take it,” she said.
For her, the desperation of hearing about a maid raped and killed at a New Year’s party or the plight of a four-year-old orphan is counterbalanced by all the stories of hope she hears, like when an acid victim comes back to life. And she likes to try the difference.
“It gives me great satisfaction when I can solve the problems of women who come to the commission for help,” she says.
For Gangopadhyay, real life is often more dramatic than the soap operas she writes.