Monisha Sarabhai is the worst embodiment of middle class on Indian television
I like Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai. I have always admired shows of Aatish Kapadia, be it Jasuben Jayantilal Joshi ki Joint Family, Khichdi or Baa Bahoo aur Baby. His characters are quirky, witty, and often insightful to a point. Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai in its first season was a delight with jokes aimed at adults, running gags and deconstructed the joint family trope that Ekta Kapoor famously exploited in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki.
Season 2 of Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai is shorter than the first but there are some noticeable changes. There are multiple story arcs running throughout the show, like Maya Sarabhai’s disapproval of her son Rosesh’s love interest, Jasmine; the tiff between Indravadan Sarabhai and his son Sahil over Arnab, his grandson. The dialogues are geared more towards adult viewers (I doubt if the show aired on broadcast TV, the old but always hilarious joke about the planet Uranus would have made the cut) and the show features “in-your-face” product placements.
Some changes are good, some are not, but the worst element of the new season is the character of Monisha Sarabhai. The first season made fun of upper class by always comparing it to the middle class. This meant that there were always going to be jokes about the middle class. Monisha married into upper class but she always remain rooted to her middle class upbringing. Like anyone brought up in a middle-class household, she liked to save money. She liked to bargain, she would argue with the vegetable vendor and she liked the super discounts at mall, so much so that she was willing to travel to USA for it. These were her quirks in Season 1. In Season 2, these quirks make her the worst.
The most widely known running gag in the show is the one in which Maya starts ranting about Monisha’s habits, which is basically a joke on middle class habits. The gag is almost in every episode and it seems tired by now, but Monisha does some pretty middle class things, like making a pillow cover out of old clothes or exchanging old clothes for utensils. And it’s okay to save some money whenever possible, sometimes it’s beneficial. But this time, it’s too far.
In the first scene of Season 2, we see the Sarabhai family in a bus, which can fall anytime over a cliff. The driver is nowhere to be seen, and everyone is scared, Indravadan more so because of Madhu fufa. The reason they are in this situation is because Monisha chose a drunk driver without license to save some money. Saving money is okay, but this is downright idiotic and dangerous.
This is not the only instance in the show. She makes tissue papers out of her kid’s drawing book, makes kettle covers with her husband’s old underwear, uses DVD player to flatten chapati and store paapad. One could say that Monisha had always been an idiot (remember the episode in which her actions caused Maya to lose her voice?), but then the question rises: why couldn’t the creative team have written a better character than Monisha to represent the middle class India?
She is the worst embodiment of the middle class. She may value money but the way she does it makes her a miser, which could be represented as saying that people belonging to middle class households are misers. When you transition to the upper class from the middle class, you can afford to indulge in luxury. You may not want to waste money but you certainly don’t skip on essentials. Especially when there is a defunct electrical item that may fall off the ceiling at any time and you refuse to pay the electrician to save money. This action is typical of every mill owner in 70s and 80s Hindi films who would rather pay the bonus than carry out the necessary repairs.
Maybe I’m reading a bit too much, but it’s worrying nonetheless. Middle class India is barely represented on Indian films and television and most of the time the nature and the problems shown are superficial, like being conservative or being really helpless against the system. The last show that I can remember about the proper representation of the middle class India is Ladies Express that used to air a few years back on Sony. Before that there was Office Office or Ye Jo Hai Zindagi that comes to my mind.
Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai is nothing without idiosyncrasies of its characters. They are annoying (Rosesh, Dushyant, Madhu fufa), childish (Indravadan), vain (Maya) and their traits make the show enjoyable. Much of Maya’s vain is fuelled by Monisha’s middle class belonging, and most of it is funny. But it’s too much this time. Monisha Sarabhai has to change, for her sake and for the better representation of the middle class.
Update: The show’s name is Ladies Special, not Ladies Express. I apologize for the error.