baha gets award from edu min
Baha gets award from Education Minister for her brilliant results at the Higher Secondary Exams.

Star Jalsha’s mega serial Ishti Kutum recently bagged several awards at the Star Jalsha Parivaar Awards 2013, including Best Show. A total of 9 out of 17 awards have been won in the mainstream award categories by the show. The leading pair Archi-Baha both got two awards each, which is a record of sorts, Archi is Best Son and Best Husband, Baha Best Daughter and Best Wife, Mun got Best Sister, Dibyojyoti Majumdar Best Father, Dhriti Best Brother and more.

This was a well-deserved success. The show is phenomenal and has created a dent in the universe, or at least in the Bengali small screen entertainment world.

I am an ardent follower of Ishti Kutum and have been writing analytical articles about the story and its characters on this blog for quite some time now. I also run a fan page for the show’s leading male protagonist Archisman Mukherjee on Facebook.

So what exactly is so special about this show that got a hard core feminist like me to not only love a plot involving one man two women theme but also worship the man who is guilty of no less than Bigamy? To understand this, I revisited some of the past episodes of the show and realized that it was the character of Archi that primarily got my attention, and convinced me that the show was leagues apart from the small screen popular culture.

For those uninitiated, you can read the Ishti Kutum Story So Far . Essentially, Ishti Kutum is the story of Baha, an eighteen year old poor tribal village girl born to a single mother, without a father’s identity. By some chance of fate and force she is married to Archi a city based honest and daring journalist, eleven years elder to her, belonging to a middle class joint Brahmin family with moderate values, and already in a seven year long relationship with Mun, a professor and daughter of city based rich and influential artist Dibyojyoti Majumdar who also happens to be Baha’s biological father.

First, a father who never acknowledged her or her mother’s identity and now a husband who rejected the marriage and moved on to marry his long term girlfriend in Baha’s presence – Baha’s fate was supposed to be sealed with pain and misery. But destiny had different plans. Soon, two major things happened, Baha turned out to be a brilliant student having received 89% marks in the Higher Secondary exams and Archi fell in love with her for her amazing qualities and decided to accept her as his wife giving her social recognition and due legal rights. In addition, he also decided to enable Baha with education so that she can rise so high up on the social ladder that one day the rich city people would bow down before her, and she’d be able to avenge the injustices done to her mother by the city man.

Ishti Kutum started in October 2011 and June 2012 was the time around which I got hooked to the show and was stamped as a passionate follower by friends and family. Before that I was following the story only in bits and pieces. The episode that completely floored me and won me forever was the ‘Jamai Shoshti‘ episode, where Archi and Baha were coming back from the Majumdar home and stopped over at a park to have a talk. The precise moment was in the taxi when Baha said sobbingly, “mur to ar sabar samne sindur to parar adhikar to lai, keu jodi kichu jiggesh to karek, kono diner ligge to kichu bolte parbok lai” (It’s not like I have the right to wear the sindur in front of everybody, if anybody ask anything, I won’t be able to say anything you know) and immediately a restless and worried Archi passionately pulled her close and said, “parbe baha parbe, ekdin thik parbe” (You will have Baha, one day you will) followed by internal monologue “ei bhabe dui naukaye pa diye amar moto chele beshi din cholte parbe na, seta ami besh bujhte parchi” (A man like me cannot carry on too far riding two boats, I can understand this well)

The episode got over and I was still staring at the TV screen lost in Ishti Kutum world. What I just saw was phenomenal in popular culture. Until this point I found Baha mind-blowingly cute and lovable, the Palashboni village beautiful, Archisman handsome and admirable as a journalist, Mukherjees extremely fun and realistic and Majumdars a deep contrast to Mukherjees, but I had dismissed the story as yet another victim-glorified, misery mongering sad story of an abala naari. Star Plus’s saas bahu serials had infested my minds and I couldn’t expect any better.

Specially, After Archi fell in love with Baha in Palashboni (during April-May) I was even more convinced that we were going to witness more boring tearjerkers of episodes in the forthcoming days. A miserable man in love unable to do anything about it owing to over bearing traditions and moral values – I thought this was the perfect plot to open the flood gates of tragedy and misery for Baha and the TRPs would rise with the tides of her tears. The hope that Baha would struggle alone, survive and make it big someday was also not exciting. A lone woman’s struggle we have seen.

Archi teaches Economics to Baha, the night before her 12th boards exams.
Archi teaches Economics to Baha, the night before her 12th boards exams.

It was the unexpected from Archisman which made all the difference to the story.

Not even in my rarest of rare imagination did I expect Archi to ever realize that ‘riding two boats’ is NOT done, that he made a terrible mistake by marrying Mun and should now find some way to rectify it causing minimum damage to everybody involved.

In the soap opera world women are supposed to be in misery, men are supposed to sympathize with them or oppress them but NEVER move a finger to bring any change. I thought the character of Archi won’t be any different and Baha would simply spend her life being a maid to her own half-sister dealing with insults and oppressions inducing audience’s tears.

But wow Archisman was something else. And that made all the difference, one massive dent in the story and another on the soap opera culture in Bengali Television. The story then moved on to show the first intimate moments between Archi and Baha, Baha’s brilliant results, Palashboni love of Archi-Baha with its people, ‘pagla haati’ incident, Baha’s college admission, and finally the ‘sindur’ incident. All through these incidents the story portrayed Archi as an upright honest man who was not ready to let another woman live in absence of her rights, who was not afraid to face the consequences of his mistake.

Archi’s role in Baha’s empowerment:

Ishti Kutum is Baha’s story, and Archi’s is anchor that holds it together. He is the pole star that determines the direction of the story. The first major change in the story happened because Archi fell in love with Baha. From then till date Baha has taken several exits from Archi’s life and thereby from the plot which was being built for her higher education, career and social development of entire Palashboni village.

Baha has been forever guilt ridden unable to accept herself as the woman for whom Archi broke up with Mun. Due to immaturity Baha didn’t realize ‘riding two boats’ was not possible, sharing the man with another woman was not possible, loving two women is not possible. So she made Archi promise that he won’t stop loving Mun.

If Archi forever kept this silly promise Baha’s story would not have progressed. But it was Archi’s determination to recognize Baha as his wife, “je jatobar muchiye debe (sindur) ami tato bar poriye debo” (Whoever would wipe off that sindur whatever number of times, I would put that again on you) that led Mun to make an issue out of it and eventually things went out of control and led to complete break down of Archi Mun’s relationship.

Thus, another big change in the story due to Archi’s actions.

Again and again Baha tries to put an end to her progress and Archi brings her back on track. In the most recent episode dated 18-Mar-2013 it was noticed that Baha has finally realized her rights and have been able to free herself from the guilt slightly. But, her realization would have yielded no result if Archi didn’t back her up by making a few things clear to Mun. If he kept silent at the moment when Baha spoke up, Baha’s attempt to assert her right would have been futile.

Archi blesses Baha and wishes her all the success in life on her first day to college.
Archi blesses Baha and wishes her all the success in life on her first day to college.

Archi have thus become the core of Baha’s story and her life, he is the ultimate embodiment of friend, mentor, father, mother and a lover. He is the one who is behind her to watch her back.

What Archi and Ishti Kutum did for Bengali small screen entertainment:

Mid 2012, Star Jalsha rolled its Chalo Paltai (Let’s Change) theme and made changes to bring in stronger women characters and their male supporters in many of its shows one after the other. Suddenly, Tapur and Tupur turned tables and the rival sisters sat on the same side leaving aside their rivalry taking up issues with their respective men. Tapur’s husband stood by her side against his mother during the birth of their child, reminding us of Archi. The success formula of ‘Palashboni’s struggle and development’ was replicated by the Ratul and Payel’s story. While Archi was the first city man who showered much love on the villagers Payel was the first city girl to do the same. Ratul being her husband who is an award winning scientist who lives in the village and works for its development. In another show ‘Anchal’ the insignificant hero suddenly stood up for the leading female protagonist. Another male protagonist was seen taking care of a woman reduced to a vegetable state after a failed suicide attempt.

There are probably more instances of history created by Archisman Mukherjee that are beyond the television. Perhaps in our lives. (I’ll update this space with the changes that has come post Ishti Kutum on other channels like Etv Bangla, Zee Bangla)

Funnily enough, the precise actions that led the audience to love and respect Archisman so much, and created such historic changes, reduced him to the world’s greatest sinner in some people’s eyes. If the public reaction on Facebook is to be taken with any seriousness, there are people who would go to the extent of demanding death for Archi for the wrong he did to Mun. For many viewers, Mun’s personal loss, a broken relationship, a grand social marriage that was rendered illegal for being second – these have become far bigger issues than everything else in the Ishti Kutum story.

Actually it’s not funny, it’s sad and scary.