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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pyaar Ki Yeh Ek Kahani: a spoiler-laden, snarky, and totally inappropriate discussion of Ekta Kapoor's teen vampire soap

Earlier this month, Temple, a good friend of Masala Zindabaddies and co-author of the blog Cinema Chaat, sat down with Beth to share her thoughts on Hindi-language TV's answer to Twilight. We apologize for the spoilers, but really, how can you talk about a soap opera beyond the first three episodes without giving something away? (And FYI, we're also many months behind what is currently happening on the show.)

For those who do not know the show, here's a basic overview. Piya Jaiswal, an orphan, enrolls at Mount College, where is she befriended by loud-mouth tomboy Misha Dobriyal, beloved by popular boy Kabir Rathod, and glared at but also frequently saved from certain death by secret vampire Abhay Raichand.

Kabir and Pia; Abhay and Piya.
Piya's colleagues all have complicated families. Misha's sister Panchi is engaged to Danish, and they both spend a lot of time hanging around the college drama club even though they've graduated. Danish is also Kabir's brother and works for Abhay's dad.

Panchi and Danish in front of one of the show's beloved-by-us horrible murals.
Rounding out the college cast are Tee (Tanushree), the local Poo character who comes complete with a crew of Mean Girl-esque slaves, and Tracker, the boy-crazy space cadet. More character information can be found on the show's official site here.


Temple: So Beth. You watch PKYEK over Skype with a friend in Singapore. How did you get yourself into that? And WHY—this is important—did you get me watching it too?

Beth: It's Amrita's fault. Pure and simple. One day we were chatting about the podcast and then things turned to TV, as they often do with us. She sent me a few links to clips of Abhay running, which of course are hilarious, and bits of dialogue, and somehow I was sunk. What's weird is that I do not care about vampires one way or the other. I haven't read or seen Twilight or any of the other vampire shows. I like Buffy, but.... I also hate daily soap operas. So I am not sure why this appeals at all. The teenagers help. I do like silly teen soaps. The OC, Degrassi, Gossip Girl, etc.

Temple: Aaaah I am almost the complete opposite: I hate teen soaps but I find the really bad vampire themed books films and TV amusing in how bad they can be. And I love a bit of terrible acting...and this show makes me feel like my Hindi is not that bad. Though I must leap into Hindi-speaking grandmother mode here and say the dialogue is such a Hinglish mess, and even their Hindi is a bit peculiar grammar wise at times ( I think) that I just don't know. Do the youth really say things like “my dil was telling me, yaar”?

Beth: I know I do.

Temple: The good thing is I can understand the words as well as the fabulous drama. Which moves, and I will steal a line from an old parody of Days of Our Lives, “like meatloaf through a straw.” Glaciers get there faster than Piya does. I made a friend watch the famous dance of love and as I was searching for the clip, she pointed at Abhay and said “So he's a vampire." Piya has been staring at him for 36 episodes I have watched and no such lightbulb moment.

Beth: WOW. Had you told your friend this was a vampire show?

Temple: I mentioned there were vampires but not who or any more detail. She saw a thumbnail and that's all it took.

Temple: Does anyone in India watch this? Do we know if its successful?

Beth: There is a forum that indicates it is, yes. Amrita sent me that when she first told me about the show—as an example of raving lunacy, I believe.

Temple: I can't judge. Australia gave the world Neighbours. And here we are, dedicating time and thought to this raving lunacy.

Beth: Exactly. I was thinking we both come from cultures with grand soap opera traditions that we ignore.

Temple: I used to watch some daytime soaps when I was at uni and avoiding actually going to uni. The great thing was you could miss months and months and still catch up within a couple of days. But I am resistant to the soap. I get bored if there is no character development or resolution if issues. So I think I am watching Pyaar Ki Yeh Ek Kahani as car-crash entertainment. It's so bad yet I cannot look away! Or I'd miss the fab interior designs.

Beth: SBIG is the only explanation I have.

Temple: As Greta once said, “the spirit of making do”! And I have to say, 20-odd minutes of terrible quality cheese can be just the thing to make me smile after a crappy day. Bless Ekta Kapoor. Lets just hope Jeetendra doesn't appear as a were-snake!

Beth: WHY is there a "not" in that sentence????

Temple: Oh Beth.... Jeetendra as a salsa-ing were-snake is not good. And you know he always has to salsa because he thinks he can.

set design

Beth: The sets are very special. The mansions in particular appeal to me. You know how I like filmi mansions.

Temple: Me too! Especially ones strewn with stuffed animals and objects.

Beth: That poor elephant...and the GOBLETS! THE GOBLETS! Opaque for a reason, I'm sure.

Temple: The fireplaces!

Beth: And the bar at Misha's house! That is quite a bar. We've seen lairs with less booze.

Temple: The light fittings are awesome. And the constantly changing candles chez Vampire. I am more amazed at the quantity of lights than the quality but someone has a serious lamp fetish.

Beth: ooh I hadn't noticed! Maybe they are sublimating the taste for human blood into lamps? As more socially acceptable?

Temple: That makes as much sense as anything else.

Beth: Why isn't Tee more concerned about the horrible state of computing at Mount College? I haven't seen that many beige computers since university IN THE MID 90s. No one on this campus has laptops, do they?

Temple: I think it is a licensing thing—they blur out the logos on all the cars and a few other things too so maybe no branding was licensed for use?

Beth: Perhaps it says something that no brand seems to want to be affiliated with this show?

Temple: Bingo! You must be right. I don't think I've even seen a packet of Lays....

Temple: How have we not discussed all the murals?

Beth: There is Jim Morrison! I don't know about Australia, but in the US there is a certain age after which you cannot be displaying Jim Morrison, and I believe that age is 22.

Misha is under that of course, but the very special huge graffiti style one in her's so precisely NOT rock 'n' roll.

Temple: I think that is universal—and is also one of those things that if you walked into a guy's house and saw Jim or Bob Marley it may be a relationship-altering moment. Oh god, Misha's bedroom mural—spray-paint 80s, pre hip hop.

Beth: There's Jimi Hendrix too, isn't there?

Temple: Oooh yes, I think so. And what about all the random wall art at Mount College? Did that school get great value for money from their art teacher or what?

Beth: Define "value."

Temple: “Cover every flat surface with something and your budget is INR320.”

Beth: SOLD. Perhaps that is what Panchi does all day long at the school. Before we leave sets, I feel like my love of the roof of the college [which has the name of the school on it in huge letters] indicates perhaps there is something wrong with me? Do schools do that? The school in Main Hoon Na does not, for example. That is my reference for filmed boarding schools in the mountains.

Temple: No—and yes, there is something wrong with you. But funny you mention MHN: I am fairly sure someone saw “Chale Jaise Hawaien” and decided that was the inspiration for the look of the very exclusive Mount College (with one teacher and nine students on a sprawling campus with only one classroom). The fees must be MASSIVE to keep it running and fund such a prestigious drama department.

Beth: Agree. Too bad the dancing is unspeakably worse than in that delightful song.

Temple: I think you meant to call it “dancing.”

the hero

Temple: Hmmm. I notice neither of us is mentioning Abhay.

Beth: He is SO UNLIKEABLE. He has no charisma whatsoever.

Temple: He is totally unappealing. Even if you like mean/bad/silent he is boring.

Beth: I don't really like Angel in Buffy either, but Angel at least has some spark and occasionally smiles. I do like how they direct that actor to position his head so that he is always looking up from under his brows. It adds to the sullenness.

Temple: I have a deep hatred of the Twilight-inspired sparkly Twu Wuv vampire so he is already on my bad side.

Beth: What IS the sexual attraction for women to vampires?

Temple: I think its a combination of things—penetration (biting) and the fact that females under the influence of vampires were allowed to be very sexual and even aggressive in exploiting men to fulfill their desires. And vampires are essentially inhuman and never going to make you cook dinner and pop out babies. It's all sex and power and no dishwashing.

Beth: All sex and no responsibility? You'd think I'd be all over that, but no.

Temple: One thing I notice in a lot of more recent genre fiction is that the emphasis has really shifted to vampires being amazing in bed, when earlier writers were quite explicit about the issues around lack of blood pressure and circulation

Beth: Rather. Yes, how is it that they manage?

Temple: Some authors try and get around it by saying the vampire feeds first; others just ignore the mechanics. But it seems to be OK for a 100-year-old pervert to creep into your room at night and watch you sleep if he is a vampire and your name is Bella. Maybe vampires are now a way of indulging in behaviors or fantasies that would not be as acceptable if it involved two people. But now we are getting onto another rant of mine about why heroines in many YA and genre books can only be strong and kick-arse if they have been horribly damaged in some way. So I will stop and go back. Maybe that why Abhay's pants are so tight—they are like support hose to keep the blood from pooling in his feet. Mr. Raichand has that very tight collar on his satiny shirts too.

Beth: I do like the pants-as-medical-device angle.

the heroine

Beth: Oooh I know something important we must mention: PIYA: WHY IS SHE SO DUMB?

Temple: Piya is meant to be at the college on a very special full scholarship, so I am baffled by her total stupidity. She probably gets the dumb from her father. How can he not realize that the girl called “Piya” who is the same age and name as his “dead” daughter is his daughter? Even his wife knows!

Beth: I really do not know.

Temple: The whole orphan thing is interesting as the very term is used in such a pejorative way when Tee and the Mean Girls talk against Piya.

Beth: They are SO HORRIBLE about that! There are so many things for teeangers to be awful about—why that one, I wonder?

Temple: I think orphan = bad luck or bad fate that you somehow brought on yourself and so also punished your parents by shortening their lives. I may be over-thinking this.

Beth: Orphans are so prominent in films that it is good for us to get our heads around the concept. Side note: why wasn't there a Bollywood Annie with Sridevi as Annie?

Temple: I hate singing orphans. I think there is more mileage to be had criticizing Piya's very frumpy skirt/scarf/singlet combos.

Beth: I am more concerned by her dopey facial expressions.

Temple: She has a a very pained “thinking” face because she is dumb and it hurts.

Beth: And it's so...weak.

Temple: You know she is supposed to be such a nice girl and yet she turns up at Panchi's engagement party wearing a strapless laced-back corset style blouse with her lengha. I don't know that that is appropriate orphan attire.

Beth: I was SO horrified by her turning up at the Raichand house with her birthday cake.

Temple: She makes some very strange choices. Her costume party tiara is THE worst tiara ever.

other characters

Beth: I am not sure why Panchi and Danish are so involved with the drama...both the drama club AND the interpersonal drama, though I gather I will learn soon about the latter.

Temple: Panchi and Danish don't have anything else to do, clearly. I wonder how Mr. Raichand feels about his employee never doing anything remotely like work?

Beth: Probably fine—lulls him into a stupor all the better for being munched on. I'm at the point where I really want Danish to be eaten.

Temple: I like to think Mr. Raichand is the vampire with standards and wouldn't gnaw on Danish. Mrs. Manshoulders [Temple's name for Mrs. Raichand], on the other hand.... She's hungry...sorry, THIRSTY.

The Raichands. The transparent drinking vessels indicate that they're at someone else's house.

Beth: Maybe she will sleep with him THEN vamp him? Double-vamp, so to speak? He does wear very tight shirts. Like he's the accountant at a gay bar.

Temple: No, it's unlikely she will seduce him first—she will just tear him apart like a roast chicken. She's on the verge of a breakdown already.

Beth: I would be too if I were responsible for Abhay.

Beth: In your opinion, who is the least annoying character?

Temple: Least annoying character is probably Kabir—all round good guy. He seems to have fewer neuroses than the rest.

Beth: Yes, I agree totally. There is no contest. Kabir seems like an actual nice and normal-ish person, given that he is a pampered 20-year-old.

costume design

Temple: Why doesn't Tee put some pants on? Why don't they all wear more? It's snowing, FFS. And Tracker and Tee are in micro shorts.

Beth: Actual snow or magical Abhay-inspired snow? And can you explain Misha's jean shorts?

Temple: No, no I can't. Apart from her clearly being the tomboy rebel. There is little sense to her mini vests and cutoffs, although I am thankful that the shorts are almost knee-length and not the traditional Daisy Dukes.

Beth: They're so unflattering. But at least they're not obscene.

Temple: Not like Abhay's padding.

Beth: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Why did you say that? Are you serious? You think there's crotch padding?

Temple: Well its very .....eye-catching. And yes, I think in some scenes they have padded—or else he has a career awaiting in a different kind of film industry.

Beth: Oh thanks for that.

Temple: Since the plot progresses at the pace of an elderly snail, I have lots of time to think “Codpiece? No.” As he minced around in too-tight jeans with his little bandy legs I was thinking "This? This is the hero?"

Beth: he needs go-go boots and a cape STAT. THAT is what heroes wear.


Temple: One thing that got my hopes up, as the writing is generally terrible, was the palaver around Misha's birthday party. It's the fallout from Kabir's letter. And many of the girls were given lines from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (“My first love is incomplete”) etc. and it showed signs of being a bit more filmi and pop-referential. And I thought “Maybe they were going for parody? Maybe this is actually cleverer than it seems?” But no.

Beth: You'd think someone who is spawn-of-Jeetendra would do more of that. It would be a huge—and I mean MASSIVE—coup if they could all of a sudden display that they were clever.

Temple: Yeah! And make viewing this fun for the right reasons.

Beth: I can only watch two episodes in a row. Then my brain revolts.

Temple: I feel a bit bad that I am so negative about young “actors”' who may think this is the path to a career. But they should all think of something else.

Beth: I agree, they are almost all completely terrible.

Temple: But what they have to work with doesn't help.

Beth: Not at all.

Temple: I am saddened by the poor writing as I think the idea could have been translated to something fun and interesting and melodramatic.

Beth: I agree—it could have been a lot better. Infinitely better. More clever, more biting (ha!), MUCH better production values.

the vampire issue

Temple: Has Amrita mentioned whether any of the so-called folklore or mythology in this show is at all Indian-inspired? Or is it all, as it seems to me, to be a pastiche of recent American films/TV that used their own mishmash of European vampire fiction as a basis?

Beth: I do not believe she has.

Temple: It seems very Twilight/Vampire Diaries (not that I have seen either) so I wonder why they decided this particular vampire style would be more successful. Was Twilight big?

Beth: Good question.

Temple: My friend Tina did her doctorate on the vampire in popular fiction, so we have discussed at length how often films/TV/books just make up their own rules which glamorize vampires and have nothing to do with the more messy and unappealing folkloric basis. I sent her a clip of this, and she would like to be in the show, preferably appearing as Queen Victoria in a flashback.

Beth: That's pretty fab! I would like to be Piya's sensible friend from her orphanage days who comes to visit and says "What the eff is with all these people? TRANSFER."

Temple: Perhaps I could be a teacher— one with a named subject and an expectation regarding homework. Or the person who walks by and says to the sex 'n' drugs girls “You might want to close the curtains.”

Beth: I know nothing of vampire lore. What are some of the key things the show is overlooking?

Temple: Most of what we see on film/TV nowadays is heavily based on Bram Stoker's Dracula rather than actual vampire legends. If you look at Stoker's rules: daylight is a no-no, vampires have to be invited into a home, they need to sleep in or with their native soil or soil from their grave, they can't abide religious symbols (crosses etc.—not sure how that translates to Hinduism)....

Beth: Too bad no one has hurled a trishul at Abhay yet.

Temple: So I think they have used the Twilight “Vampire Lite” version which is equally strange. I have a friend who refers to Edward Cullen as a "sparklepire" or "glittery marble cupcake Adonis." I don't know why that is so attractive, but it sells in spades, so go figure. I can't quite see Abhay winning the hearts and minds or other organs of legions of girls.

Beth: And Abhay has no glitter, no cupcake. He does seem to have wind machine powers on Piya, at least.

Temple: Abhay is going for package enhancement rather than glittery sparkle. I think I preferred him when he was an enigmatic blur.

Beth: He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Perhaps saving Piya is good?

Temple: Why? She is a Darwin Award waiting to happen.


Temple: Trucks, cliffs, lunatics, just falling over her own feet....

Beth: I was looking at your friend's academic vampire site ( and she suggests that vampires are used to discuss current social anxieties or conflicts etc. I cannot imagine this show actually has that much thought put into it. But if it DID, maybe it is about class and status, since Piya is nothing and Abhay is rich, yet both are outsiders.

Temple: I like her point that the vampire casts no reflection so we create our own image reflecting stuff back.

Beth: That seems so obvious now that she's said it!

Temple: I like vampire fiction and for a lot of the reasons Tina spells out. I was hoping this might have had a bit more to it, but I think its just rich boy arsehole vampire and poor orphan clumsy good-hearted girl, Romeo and Juliet, cliché cliché, cliché. But I am going to keep watching.

Beth: Of course. He really is an unredeemable jerk, isn't he?

Temple: Well, all the conflict and WTFery would vanish if he weren't, so I hope he keeps glowering. I mean, if he was halfway decent and Kabir seems decent, it wouldn't work as a supposed triangle, as it wouldn't matter which one Piya chose. You need the tension of good boy vs. bad choice to keep the drama. Not that they are doing so well, but it is kind of there.

Beth: I have never understood the attraction to the bad boy. I assume that's what he's supposed to be?

Temple: It's “other,” I think—the alternative to sensible, expected, comfortable, predictable.... What if you could not be the person everyone expects you to be? So I think bad boys are there because they usually are other choices you might make in your life. And lots of sex.

Beth: Do we think Abhay works as "other"?

Temple: I think his position in the drama means he should be “other”—and hell, he is a vampire—but the writing is off-track and they seem a bit muddled. He has been clear in some of his clench-jawed monologues about his feelings towards the humans.

some compliments...sort of

Beth: Here is one nice thing about the show, or at least the network: their online player thingy works REALLY well for me. I have had fewer problems with it than with Hulu or Netflix.[Update to post (5/30/2011): not long after this post was published, the Star TV online player stopped working in the United States, at least for this show. Not sure about other countries outside India. Good luck!

Temple: Is that a straw I see grasped in your hand?

Beth: Possibly, but also genuine appreciation for a company that has brought me hours

Temple: Yes, it is a very convenient way to watch this, and I appreciate the ease of navigation and the tiny plot precis on each clip. Have you noticed how often people are shocked? “Misha is shocked to learn...” and “Piya is shocked when...” and so on.

Beth: I had noticed that and assumed that it's standard lingo for soaps. If characters knew things already, we wouldn't have a show.

Temple: They should be in a constant state of exhaustion, all that flirting and shock. But they are never surprised or intrigued or curious or anything—just shocked.

Beth: "Shocked" is a good short word. "Curious" implies further thought.

Temple: It's so dramatic and, of course, nothing really happens.

Beth: Not a whit.

Temple: 36 episodes in and so far no vampire bloodsucking. Just an attempted murder or two.

Beth: I wonder if the show was promoted as vampire-ish in India? Did people know going in he would be a vampire?

Temple: I can't imagine you would keep watching a sub-standard school romance if there was no hook. And they have made 300 billion episodes, so either it was marketed or there were planted leaks about the next shocking revelation. Mrs. Manshoulders and Mr. Raichand were pretty obviously vampires or very committed goths from the get-go.

Beth: Yes, they are decidedly odd, and there is an ep fairly early on where her eyes do something weird.

Temple: As do Abhay's. It's a sign of the pyaas. There was a missed chance when none of the vampires came to the Halloween party as vampires. Danish did—fangs and all.

Beth: That's ironic.

Temple: So close but not quite. That's they real story of PKYEK. That and the production design that is clearly done on the cheap. I am always fascinated by what they spend their money on and what they skimp on.

Beth: Where do you think they DID put money? Abhay's guitar riff?

Temple: That, hair gel, lip gloss, wigs for Tracker, and lots of lamps and candles. They didn't spend it on the sets for Romeo and Juliet—that balcony looked more like a tennis umpire's chair.

Beth: Oh the balcony. I am weeping just thinking of it.

Temple: One vaguely interesting thing is Maya [Piya's roommate who is pregnant by Danish, who has been a colossal sh*t about it]. What do you think about how they portray her? She was always bruised from confrontations with her mystery man as she demanded he leave his rich girlfriend, though the bruises did seem to wash off. Piya as the morally upright perfect girl seems quite supportive and accepting of a lot of what Maya is going through. I was expecting Maya to be reviled rather than people blaming Abhay (wrongly) but even in some hospital scenes after she is attacked , there doesn't seem to be a sense of she deserved her troubles. So that was something a little unexpected. Yes, that is me grasping at straws now!

Temple: there is another semi-sensible reason I quite like watching it: I tend to watch a lot of vintage Hindi films and I know my taste tends towards the good old-fashioned masala so this is quite intriguing as I wonder what the youth and their parents are watching on telly and why—and whether this will eventually feed into films and the kinds of stories that will be up on the big screen.

Beth: If this is at the forefront of anything, I think we might as well just call it quits now.

Temple: Exactly! But I am well aware my taste in films is regarded by the kids at the DVD shop as hopelessly old-fashioned so who knows? At least it might mean poor old Tee can stop her chicken dance seduction!

Beth: I think Farah Khan will have a job for awhile, at least.

a few of Temple's favorites scenes

Temple: You won't have seen the flashbacks to 300 years ago yet?

Beth: No, not yet, and I am very excited about them. Historical costumes make everything better. As do roller skates, but that's a different topic.

Temple: Well, here is something that your inner historian will love: flamenco

Beth: Ooh, flamenco in the Himalayas in 1700?

Temple: Your idea of historical may differ from the producers'.

Beth: It usually does.

Temple: Sadly none of this lot have put their skates on. Yet. We can hope.

Beth: Skates would be yet another way for Piya to endanger herself—it's bound to happen.

Temple: Have you seen the school fete? It has a kissing booth, and a dunking booth, and a sad beaded bracelet stall. Guess who runs which of these for bonus points. I don't know how much money they could raise given there seem to be very few other students.

Beth: Oooh okay! Dunking is Kabir, since he is sporty-ish ?

Temple: Close....

Beth: Oh god, Misha?

Temple: YES.

Beth: Kissing is either Tee or Tracker.

Temple: Tee. Tracker helps Misha at the dunking booth.

Beth: ...and bracelets must be Piya?

Temple: YES. Piya and her fricking beads that she never makes or sells, but whatever.

Beth: "...but whatever" is an important tool to have in one's supplies if one is to watch this show

Temple: as is “or something.”

final thoughts

Temple: So we are no closer to knowing why this show exists and why we watch it!

Beth: We are not. Do you have any closing thoughts?

Temple: I have given you nothing to work with! Apart from knowing that you are not alone. And I am recruiting more, er , sufferers.

Beth: You brought in a PhD, for goodness's sake!

Temple: I so want Tina in PKYEK. In her turn as Queen Victoria recently, she spoke Hindi, so I say give me Ekta's email. I've got a proposal.... The “sparklepire” line comes from a lovely YA author, Zoe Marriott. We've done more research than anyone on the show.

Beth: That does not surprise me even a little bit. We've done more research than the whole crew of Veer. I'm used to it.

Temple: Imagine if the cast of PKYEK find this post!

Beth: Oh surely they know that they are involved with utter nonsense.

Temple: I think some of them might just be a bit serious.

Beth: Deary me.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Going to the Movies: CheeC

Friendly frequent commenter CheeC from Chennai talks about the importance of Rajnikanth on her film-going history, complete with firecrackers and standing-room-only films.

She also bravely recounts the traumatizing childhood experience of her first Hindi film, Shaan.

And in an appropriately filmi coincidence, CheeC, like our last participant Ramsu, also went to BITS and reminisces about movies there. Although it must be noted their taste in Malayalam movies is vastly different.

Available on iTunes, through subscription to our feed, or download here.

This story and all others will be collected at the series page, which is also linked on the left of the main site. We'd love to hear yours and hope to add a new each week, so send yours in! Submission requirements and instructions, as well as an overview of the project, are on the series page.