I’ve always thought Mahi Way did quite a few interesting, path-breaking things on Indian TV and got hooked to it with this episode where the heroine Mahi’s Daadi talks sexy and very gleefully describes her own eight-day honeymoon in a circuit house. I love the way it plays with the audience’s expectations of elderly behaviour (old lady mind you!) and effortlessly breaks the age stereotypes. The dialogue across two generations of women is easy, lovely, warm and affectionate. (Watch 4.12 onwards)
I especially love Mahi Way for bravely sporting an utterly flawed protagonist. Flaw, not as in a tragic, character trait, but as a crucial aspect of the heroine’s appearance. Mahi weighs 75 kg, hogs unashamedly and dresses clumsily in sacks. It’s not a cultivated, makeup-constructed flaw of an Ugly Betty or a Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, wherein you know for sure that a beautiful swan will eventually spring out of the ugly duckling that you’ve been introduced to in Episode 1. Mahi, at least in the first season, offers no such promise. And, will hopefully stay the same in season 2 (if and when that happens). She is the usual, normal (at times nonchalant, at others fretful and paranoid) fat with a capital F.
Under ordinary circumstances Mahi kind of podginess would have been deemed fit for Tun Tun and Manorama brand of comedy or Silk Smitha type of erotica. It’s a rarity to see the “irregular” as “regular”, to have her as THE heroine next door going through the usual professional angst, familial conflicts and relationship turmoil--falling for good-looking, superficial cads while ignoring the trusted confidante who understands her the most. In that she is no different from a woman with a normal BMI.
In an episode I missed earlier and happened to catch today on a rerun, Mahi did a most daring act—she got into swim-wear. The flab was hanging unflatteringly and she surely was unsure initially. But gingerly, matter-of-factly and then casually; she did it. And I felt the urge to clap, more so because she had a fit chick of a friend in the same frame for us to compare her unfairly to. Most of all I loved this scene because it didn’t titillate, nor was it corny or discomfiting in any manner. And I wondered why I didn’t cringe even once. Was it because it was written and directed by two intelligent women and played out by a third?
The list of ‘imperfections’ we hate is long and growing: dark complexion, pimples, surgery scars, burn marks, glasses, grey hair, no hair, wrinkles, sagging boobs, expanding waist, double chin, laugh lines, love handles, thunder thighs, excess weight of any kind…
No wonder our mainstream cinema and commercial TV are no different. We are all so used to seeing nice looking, in fact impossibly beautiful people (not just women, men too) on our screens, big or small. Our on-screen kisses are not sloppy, love is not gawky. As an audience we won’t seem to have it any other way. We do have films like Meri Soorat Teri Aankhen and Satyam Shivam Sundaram where a physical flaw turns the protagonists into objects of pity. We are judgemental about actors’ looks however ugly we ourselves might be. I myself have unjustly cracked snide ones on Kangana Ranaut’s makeup and Sameera Reddy’s stretch marks knowing fully well that even after using ample warpaint I’d never be able to match up to them on the looks scale. Ever. It’s a rare Om Puri, perhaps, who is able to make us transcend the parameters of physical beauty. And once in a way a few of us fall in love with Mahi Way.