Marriage is a notable institution that has stood the test of time. Yet, it isn’t immune to the social changes that come with a changing world. As many oppressive and unjust practices in our society are withering away, the way we understand marriage too is evolving.
Though Indian television has never shied away from discussing marriage, family, and relationships, realistic portrayals of family life are still scarce. The new ALTBalaji web series aims to bring these under-represented aspects of married life to the forefront. “The Married Woman”, based on an acclaimed novel by Manju Kapur, is an unconventional love story between two women, set at a time of social unrest and communal strains: Astha, the obedient daughter and wife whose marriage was arranged by her parents, and Peeplika, the misfit artist who chose her destiny herself.
An Insider’s Perspective
Astha is celebrating 11 years of marriage with her husband, Hemant. However, instead of appreciation and love, Astha is struggling to suppress a growing dissatisfaction about her stale marriage. Astha’s husband, Hemant, is a narcissistic man who sees her as someone beneath him, if not insignificant.
While most Indian shows take monogamy as a given and the norm, “The Married Woman” presents a different kind of marriage through Peeplika and Aijaz. As a married couple, Aijaz and Peeplika are not threatened by natural fascinations and attraction outside of marriage.
Hemant, on the other hand, is often seen dictating to his wife who to keep away from and who to keep around. He is an ambitious and opportunistic man with financial stability and social standing. He stays true to his conservative roots in spite of a liberal Western education. Despite being a decent man, Hemant falls short as a husband precisely because of his own bias. He is a domineering husband who looks down on Astha and treats her as inferior. He expects Astha to stay loyal to him even though she is barely appreciated or noticed at home. The homemaker/breadwinner dichotomy is deeply etched in his mind. As a husband, that makes Hemant beyond redemption.
Marriage Of Minds
Meeting an empathetic and sensitive man like Aijaz changes Astha’s perception of love and attraction. The fascination and infatuation she develops towards Aijaz changes the course of her marriage, which eventually culminates in an intense relationship with his wife, Peeplika.
In contrast to her own, the marriage between Aijaz and Peeplika is a revelation for Astha, and one that ends up upsetting the status quo. While Astha is attracted to the revolutionary thinker, artist, and activist in Aijaz, Peeplika is initially a perplexing character for Astha. As a woman who marches to the beat of her own drum, Peeplika is everything that Astha was trained not to be.
To be truly seen and understood by someone is entirely new for Astha, who is troubled by her feelings for another woman. Peeplika, who is grieving the loss of her husband and struggling to come to terms with his absence, recognizes Astha as someone who also loved Aijaz in her own way. The two women are initially brought together by their shared love for Aijaz. They find comfort in each other in the face of his untimely death.
The direct contrast between Astha’s and Peeplika’s marriages is not a coincidence. It calls attention to the fact that there is more than one type of marriage. As Peeplika points out, a loving relationship between two consenting adults need not conform to society’s mandates, be it about gender, religion, caste, or class. In the process, “The Married Woman” also manages to call out the culture that turns a blind eye to sexual deviations of men and cries foul at the slightest hint of infidelity by a woman.
Domestic inequality is a widespread issue that most of us still refuse to acknowledge. Astha’s unhappy marriage and subordination are enabled by people who she calls family, be it her husband’s parents or her own. It further points out how our society has normalized gender inequality within a marriage. “The Married Woman” is a worthy watch for anyone who has an appetite for gripping tales of love and passion. It is a beautiful visualization of a novel that examined homoerotic love way before it was in popular discourse.
“The Married Woman” is available for streaming on ALTBalaji this Women’s Day. The show features a brilliant cast, including popular actors like Ridhi Dogra, Imaad Shah, Monica Dogra, Suhaas Ahuja, and Ayesha Raza.
What do you think about marriage and gender roles? Let us know in the comments.