The trailer for the new Hindi language drama Pehredaar Piya ki opens with a young woman in a bejeweled lehenga adjusting her earrings in an astoundingly opulent palace room and discreetly pulling a pistol out of a drawer while calling after someone named Ratan, possibly her husband.
You’d be forgiven for thinking–hoping?–that perhaps this is the teaser for some kind of high-fashion female revenge drama, a genre much once beloved by Bollywood. Alas, nope. It’s a trailer for happy child marriages, which becomes clear when 9-year-old Ratan sidles into the room to have his teenage bride Diya apply a teekha to his forehead.
Yes, somewhere, in a boardroom at Sony headquarters, an exec greenlit this production. Diya tears up when Ratan climbs on a stool to apply sindoor to her hair parting, as the voiceover booms, “Sony is bringing you a unique story, where time has entrusted her with watching over her husband!” Did anyone ask to be brought this story, Sony?
We are living in a bizarre world, to say the least, when the Film Censor Board wants to ban a movie trailer for the usage of the word “intercourse” but no one seems to take issue with an entire TV show premised on a relationship that is actually against Indian law, not to mention morally reprehensible. Despite being illegal on paper, child marriage continues to be an enormous social problem in India that disproportionately damages the lives of women and young girls. In fact, according to IndiaSpend, in 2011 almost 3.5 million boys were also married by Ratan’s age; you can bet almost all of them weren’t rich maharajas in waiting.
It’s also laughable to see Sony’s text disclaimer on the second promo stating “This program does not in any way promote child marriage,” while above a romanticized nighttime scene of a Karwa Chauth ritual plays out. The voiceover is even weirder here, marveling at the two stars staring lovingly into each other’s eyes, “For a broken star, the moon was chosen.” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounds pretty laudatory of child marriage to me.
If Sony is so eager to make TV shows about kids marrying kids and kids marrying adults, it would do better to portray them realistically: as a product and cause of patriarchy, sexual violence, poverty, the extremes of religious and cultural conservatism, and the robbed potential of millions of girls and boys.