Dateline: Oct 10

This week Dateline reporter Calliste Weitenberg goes behind the scenes of controversial Indian TV shows which are debunking myths surrounding sex, marital rape and acid attacks.

“Sex, Lies and Soap Opera” asks can these new directors change old attitudes?

India is alongside the world’s top economies, but not long ago it was labelled the worst in which to be a female*. Now, a new form of “edutainment” television is breaking down cultural barriers and tackling some of the country’s biggest taboos.

Dateline meets famous Bollywood director Feroz Abbas Khan on set of his new web series Court of Sex. Feroz is trying to tackle entrenched male points of view that see many women marginalised in India today and break the powerful grip of India’s conservative patriarchy.

“The whole idea for entertainment education is to change behaviour – behaviour towards some social norms and behaviour to those things that are regressive – and reassure them a more progressive way that they could emulate into their lives,” Feroz tells Dateline.

“Topics that are not discussed openly, we want to bring that into open, we want to do it in a space where normally there is a silence.

“It could just be a kind of a spark. It could ignite something in the minds and hearts of the people so that there is a chain reaction to it. I believe that we are just a catalyst.”

Court of Sex is a spinoff of one of the world’s most watched television programs Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon or I, A Woman, Can Achieve Anything. Reaching an audience of more than 400 million people, the series hopes to empower women through its main protagonist, Dr Sneha.

In a tiny village in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, twenty two year old Ladvaka Kushwaha is the first girl to make it to college.

“After watching Dr Sneha, I felt strong thinking that I could do what she did. If she can come from a small place and become a doctor, then if I work as hard as Dr Sneha I can also become something,” Ladvaka tells Dateline.

“Just like her family, my family didn’t want me to study. In the program the character of Dr Sneha had to struggle a lot and had many difficulties. She had to fight for herself. So I explained to my parents how much a girl can achieve. And with her family’s support she can do much more.”

Ladvaka has faced threats from some in her village – for shunning the traditional responsibilities of a girl. But even though the village may not be ready for change, her biggest supporter is now her dad – thanks to a soap opera.

Not everyone feels empowered though. Men’s groups are rallying across the country trying to undo the work programs like Court of Sex are trying to achieve. Some blame progressive TV shows for turning society against men and say the programs encourage too many rights and freedoms.

Dateline investigates whether soap operas can create genuine social change in a deeply conservative society.

Tuesday 10 October at 9.30pm on SBS.

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