Ghum Hai Kisikey Pyaar Meiin (GHKKPM) is an Indian television drama, produced by Cockcrow Entertainment and Shaika Films, which airs on Star Plus every day at 8pm. Starring Neil Bhatt and Ayesha Singh, the dynamic duo hailed by fans as the king and queen of Indian Television, this fictional show (a remake of Kusum Dola, which previously aired on Star Jhalsa) follows their journey together as husband and wife. It is the story of two imperfect people coming together, growing and learning together, and uplifting each other to make something perfect. As characters, Ayesha’s ‘Sai’ and Neil’s ‘Virat’ are both very different and very similar - and most importantly, feel very human and very real. And that is what makes #SaiRat (the couple’s shipper name) and their chemistry so enchanting to their fans.
So why then did the fans of this popular show, wake up on 11th June 2021 and trend #BoycottGHKKPM? Answer: Conscience.
It really is bizarre that the show that shares positive messages around consent (it is beautiful to see Virat respecting Sai’s physical boundaries) and then thrashes the very concept of consent through Virat’s own harassment at the hands of his sister in law, who quite simply refuses to understand that ‘no means no’ (men, as you know, can be sexually harassed and abused too). It is strange that the show where a husband (and mother in law) is shown supporting a wife’s ambitions to become a doctor, is also the show where the same wife is physically threatened by the father in law (stopped only because the husband arrived on time) and mentally tortured day in and day out by the rest of the family (bar a few good eggs who themselves are clearly victims). A show where a perpetrator gaslights the victim at every opportunity and actively orchestrates campaigns of abuse and not only do they do so without repercussions, but sad background music is added to the scenes to make the perpetrator appear as the victim – and the victim is made to apologise to the perpetrator.
After months of hoping for at least an acknowledgement within the scenes of the wrongful behaviours, it became clear that there would be no change.
The fans of GHKKPM have had to deal with kidnappings being ignored, false and misogynistic letters being written to keep vulnerable adults trapped with their abusers and then said letters being completely forgotten – and child endangerment not even being acknowledged. And then they saw the so-called matriarch of the family encouraging inappropriate behaviours, which any right-minded individual would interpret as enabling sexual harassment and abuse. After months of hoping for at least an acknowledgement within the scenes of the wrongful behaviours, it became clear that there would be no change. And #BoycottGHKKPM was born.
The trend was not an actual call to boycott the show itself. Rather it was a call to end the abusive, misogynistic, harmful and quite frankly, amnesiac storylines that were being shown; or at the very least, address the wrongs within the show itself. Of course the fans of GHKKPM understand that what they are seeing is fiction (after all, they’re used to seeing characters falling off cliffs and surviving). Of course they understand the show is a remake and the blueprint for #SaiRat has already been set. They also understand that Indian television shows (and television shows generally) require a mixture of positive and negative stories, which includes highlighting domestic abuse and other criminal behaviours. They accept that. But white-washing crimes and criminals? No. Portrayal of the negative character as the victim? No. Seeing Sai and Virat acting out of character for reasons beyond human comprehension (yes it is Indian television but there should be some consistency at least)? No. Accepting the argument that because it is a remake, no changes can be made to the script to make it fit for the year 2021? A resounding no.
Ayesha Singh and Neil Bhatt have won hearts across the world with their performances. Ayesha’s raw talent breathes unique authenticity into Sai, whilst it will be no exaggeration to say that the character Virat Chavan would have died a tragic death in the eyes of the public had it not been for Neil’s exceptional ability to salvage even the most heart-breaking scenes with his expressions and delivery. They are professionals who are doing as they are told and doing it well regardless of whether a scene makes sense or not - but that does not mean the fans are blind. It is an insult to Neil and Ayesha that their hard work is being undermined in this way, and an insult to viewers that the magic of #SaiRat which they fell in love with is being underused and compromised.
However, #BoycottGHKKPM was bigger than all this; despite their never-ending love for #SaiRat, the fans stood up for what was right. If the makers of the show were not going to make clear what is right and what is wrong, they would. And at least in the online sphere, someone somewhere would have been grateful that what they were seeing on screen (what they may have experienced themselves or seen their loved ones go through) was finally being called out. It may not seem it but this was a form of showing solidarity with victims.
Given that Indian television shows are broadcast within the UK, is it time to now evaluate their impact on British viewers?
In the UK, various efforts are being made to tackle digital harms, whether through law reform, removal of harmful online content from social media platforms, introduction of safeguarding measures such as trigger warnings, or raising awareness of toxic behaviours. Why are all these efforts being made? Quite simply, because it matters. Because the victim who escaped her abusive husband may be reminded of her ordeal watching a scene involving domestic abuse and it may impact her mental health. Because someone being sexually harassed by their boss may not realise that what is happening to them is illegal and the digital sphere may be the only avenue by which to educate them that what is happening to them is wrong. Given that Indian television shows are broadcast within the UK, is it time to now evaluate their impact on British viewers? If makers and media channels will not ensure that criminal behaviour is at the very least exposed in their fictional story lines (that wrong is called out within the show itself without complete white-washing), do we need to think about what steps need to be taken in the UK to safeguard British viewers?
#BoycottGHKKPM may or may not lead to actual changes in the script and delivery, but that doesn’t matter because there was a much bigger cause. Nobody wants to see the show end and it was never about that; all that is being asked is that the creators act responsibly. To the fans of GHKKPM, thank you and well done. To the makers and broadcasters, perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board?
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