The society was wracked by many ills such as child marriage, female illiteracy, untouchability and banning widows from remarrying, while it was perfectly alright for a widower to do so. Widows--even as young as in their teens, or younger-- were not only not allowed to remarry, they were banished from leading a civil life, restricted to the confines of their parents' or in-laws' home, treated as outcasts on all auspicious occasions. If this was not enough, they were defaced by shaving off their heads, and forced to spend the rest of their lives in a dreadful, red, 9-yard saree. Devoid of any adornment, their appearance was a constant reminder of the tragedy that had befallen them.
Set in this milieu, this is a tale of the mis-matched union of Rama and Mahadev--fondly addressed as Madhav at home--and his relentless efforts to educate his young wife and liberate her from the shackles of some of the oppressive practices of that era, passed off in the name of "tradition". Madhav is progressive in his outlook, committed to encourage and support his comrades in particular and the society in general; in doing away with some of these age-old customs. Caught between his loyalty to his father at home and his commitments towards social reforms outside, he marries Rama against his wishes, his conservative father forcing the wedlock barely a month after the passing away of Madhav's first wife. This is the father's way of nipping the possibility of Madhav marrying a widow --if he were permitted to follow his convictions--in the bud. Madhav has to face the ire of fellow reformists for not practising what he had been preaching, but he deals with it stoically; the pain making his resolve to educate his wife firmer.
This is an excellent story being adapted for the small screen beautifully. The little girl playing young Rama is doing a fabulous job. Not only does she have to carry herself in a 9-yard saree, she has to show a range of emotions mouthing lengthy lines in a somewhat archaic . A carefree girl one moment and a married woman the next moment...she alternates between these two identities effortlessly. Each and every actor in the large cast is giving a brilliant performance. The youth playing Madhav is very impressive in his hugely understated portrayal of the young scholar. He has fire within him, but he is restrained by his circumstances. Surely a superlative effort by this actor.
The makers of this series have taken some liberty with the script, obviously to make it more interesting and dramatic. But they know their limits and are careful enough not to make it melodramatic. Their imagination has added a lot of value to the screenplay. All the characters and all the inter-personal relationships--Rama's relationship and rapport with her mother deserves a special mention--have substance and look very real. Four widows are part of this story. We get to see them as women, as human beings. They too have a heart buried within the folds of their red saree, resigned though they are to lead a life full of denials.
The sets and the props present a picture of middle/upper middle class Brahmin households of that era. Especially of interest to me are the kitchens where most of the chores were performed sitting on the floor. Large, empty rooms with minimum furniture look good too. The floors are bare, sometimes covered with a dhurrie. Perhaps the floors should have been earthen, instead of being tiled with rectangular stones? Perhaps the costumes and the jewellery should have been more commonplace, instead of the impeccable wardrobe being sported by the cast? Well, television, as a medium has some limitations and some compulsions. So, these small things can be ignored in the interest of the larger picture. And what a promising picture that i