Radhika Subhedar is the protagonist in Zee Marathi’s latest offering, Mazya Navryachi Bayko. She is the no-nonsense housewife everybody adores. She hails from Nagpur, and therein lies my objection.
The show, whose title translates to My Husband's Wife, uses the done-to-death concept of a married man juggling his wife and girlfriend. The husband, Gurunath aka Gary, is played by Abhijeet Khandkekar. He is the ambitious, upwardly mobile, sophisticated professional who appears to be stuck in an unwilling marriage with Radhika (Anita Date-Kelkar), and showers his love on his paramour, Shanaya (Rasika Sunil).
The reason for this shift in affections is not clear to me. But the way the characters are etched, a sharp contrast is visible between the traditional, textbook housewife Radhika and the “modern”, attention seeking, English-speaking brat, Shanaya. And what accentuates this difference is Radhika’s peculiar dialect.
The city of Nagpur lies in the Vidarbha region in the eastern part of Maharashtra. The region has its own culture, cuisine, and yes, dialect, called Varhadi. Why am I dwelling on this so much?
Because the people of Nagpur and the rest of Vidarbha, have a history of being perceived as backward, uncouth, and not “Maharashtrian” enough, by our urbane brethren of western Maharashtra. Marathi pop culture is defined by trends in the self-proclaimed cultural capital, Pune, and the capital for all other purposes, Mumbai. No other city (oh yes there are more) even appears in the picture, let alone influence it in any way.
Radhika’s Hindi-laced “incorrect” Marathi is both a source of distinction and hilarity for loyal Marathi audiences. Or so the showmakers seem to think.
Not all is offensive with the character. Her affable demeanour and pragmatism are very endearing, and some would even say, a nod to the Nagpurian generosity of spirit. My question however, is why the brains behind the show use the Nagpur background to juxtapose her against the uber-suave Shanaya? Does it not perpetrate the very stereotype that we have time and again struggled to destroy?
Nagpur is a city, folks. And it is as cosmopolitan and as literate as Mumbai is. We speak many different languages, Varhadi included. It is one of the oldest variants of Marathi. It is the dialect that connects us to our roots, and it is symbolic of the culture we share with our neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. A dialect spoken by a third of Maharashtra’s population cannot possibly be “wrong” or “backward”, and we do not appreciate it being portrayed that way.
A still from Nishani Daava Angtha. blogspot
It is not just this series that has been guilty of misrepresenting Vidarbha. Even in films like Taani (2013) and Nishani Dava Angtha (2009), set in this part of the state, forget casting local artists to enhance the authenticity- the actors don’t even go to the trouble of getting the accent right. Every portrayal sounds like a mockery of Varhadi. It is not amusing.
We laud the story writers for creating a fiery character in Radhika who, in spite of being miles from the city of her birth, displays her heritage proudly. We also acknowledge the brilliant move of creating a Nagpurian character to attract viewership from a primarily Hindi-watching segment of the population.
All we ask for is some prudence on the part of the showmakers. Draw a page out of another primetime soap, Kahe Diya Pardes, which features a bilingual cast, and showcases a love story without caricaturing either the Hindi- or Marathi-speaking populace.
All we ask for is some sensitivity. We’re not barbarians, you know. Nobody is.
Title image: marathistars