My grandmother has always had a habit of regularly following several Hindi/Bengali soap operas. In the many times that I’ve learned to tolerate them I’ve come across a few integral trends, which if carefully followed, could enable one to write their very own drama. The following are some glaring attributes of some of the most popular ones (or the ones that my grandmother watches). More than actual writing, this covers the cinematography aspect of the series as well.
- The wives of the household are always ornately dressed and you will find them in the same state of being whether asleep, or at work. They wear too much make-up and often, the background soundtrack attempts to cover up for their actual lack of expression. So, you need something loud to moan in the background while the pretty wronged wife feels misused. Also, they must never be seen working, even though the story may claim they are fully qualified.
- Their is a lot of unnecessary weeping. In the event of a medical emergency or a loss, people will much rather cry than do the call for the doctor/inform the authorities. Inevitably, when the doctor is called, the health condition is fatal. Common symptoms of this unknown/rare/fatal disease always include a lot of dramatic fainting. Also, the weeping must not damage the layers of carefully applied make-up. As a show of stoicism, only one tear will be shed per character.
- During dramatic or shocking moments, you must provide a close-up of every character’s face at least three times in succession with a resounding crash. This is to indicate that everyone is surprised. If the female characters of the room are unable to deal with the consequences, they will undoubtedly drop glass/ceramic objects on the floor and shed the solitary tear. This clip must also be repeated three times, in order to impress upon the audience just how deep the emotional impact is.
- For your story to be popular, you must have several marriages and an occasional visit to the court/police station or hospital. The secondary cast at these venues (nurses, officers, etc.) must remain very expressionless so that the empathy with the primary characters is heightened. Often, the secondary cast must be brusque/busy/doing normal things with their life, while the primary characters are too busy feeling offended or contemplative. It is absolutely necessary that none of the characters do anything relevant or productive.
- When there is a conniving mother in law, there must always be a saintly wife who tolerates inhuman behavior as a daily regime and vice versa. Misbehavior is rampant, but nobody speaks up because it will offend their dignity relative to other families in that community.
- All male members of the household besides the patriarch and the youngster in love are redundant additions to the family. They may be exposed/revealed/created only during discussions in which the patriarch expresses displeasure at the philandering ways of the youth and must now find some way of distributing his legacy.
- Cheesy romance scenes are a necessity. There need not actually be any flirting. Just lots of moments when one character is gripping on to the other for dear life against the backdrop of a soul-stirring love song. The audience will inevitably infer that this is out of passion and not out of any survival instinct.
- Antagonists of your story have to be shown in moments when they are thinking to themselves. This involves several scenes where they are smirking to themselves in an empty room, while the actor/actress reads out sections of his/her script. You must note that there isn’t any strategic planning. They will merely think things like, “I hate her and now I’m going to make her pay” several times.
- Due to their poor planning, antagonists often do not prepare for contingencies when defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory. Also, their short-sighted methods lead to no achievable goals. For example, why would you perpetually choose to be a menace in your sister’s life, when that translates to the disgrace of you own family? But antagonists are people who believe in the present. Long-term concerns do not bother them. This means that your “nasty” characters have to be predominantly stupid or selfish, rather than actually evil.
- In the event of a profound disgrace, elderly members of the family are allowed to denounce the wives of the household of their status. Legal termination of the matrimony is often not required, and if so, should span over several episodes that map the noble quest to acquire the papers from the necessary authority and back. A scene or two involving crying over their own signatures on the paper may be inserted at will.
- Former wives (see above) may also be asked to leave the residence. Such moments in the story usually occupy an entire episode which will show the stately procession of the misunderstood wife from the top of the stairs to the door. Again, the usual rubric must be applied. One solitary non-make-up-smudging tear, whose descent must be carefully followed by the camera, several close-ups of shocked members of the family, some heavy sneering on behalf of the perpetrators and the slow walk across the house. During these departures, the character will not be allowed to carry his/her personal belongings like a toothbrush or a spare change of clothes or even documentation to secure better housing. A large door of the mansion will be shut upon the poor girl’s sad face.
- It is the duty of the good wives to be religious at all times and be regular with the prayer routines. However, in every family, there must exist at least one bigoted/over-zealous/over-pious character who will go forth to cause tensions in the household all the while chanting divine names. I am yet to understand what is the point of these characters, but they exist.
- The protagonists must never rest in peace. When one problem has been dealt with, another must immediately come their way. This is the only way to prolong a series’ life beyond 500 episodes.
- In the course of events, the children of the family will grow up and have children of their own. This involves just replacing the child actors with adult ones, with the same immaturity. Their previously young parents are now allowed to be shown with only one gray streak in their hair and the grandparents of the family will look the same as they did a few decades ago. In fact, they may even live long enough to see their n+3 generation. During this while, the same family feuds and jealousies must continue.
- Perfectly editable moments must be included in the cinematography. For example, an entire episode can be devoted to a wife getting anxious while sitting in a swanky car en-route to a destination. This requires her to simply tell the poor overworked chauffeur to “drive faster” and attempt to make phone calls which do not get received. A background track that has several violins repeatedly building up to a climax is necessary. Nothing that contributes to the development of the story must happen in these scenes.
- There are traffic problems, weather problems, vehicle problems only on important days. You cannot have episodes where the family car gets only a minor scratch or an insured dent. Also, the occupant of the car (besides the hardy chauffeur) must either die or lose their memory or something drastic. Characters must survive impossible odds such a death or two, complete amnesia or even being replaced by a clone of themselves from somewhere. These events must be kept secret in order for the household to function normally.
I’m sure there are several more which skipped my attention. But please feel free to add your own.