Let's start at the very beginning. On July 17, Sony began airing Pehredaar Piya Ki – a show that incited massive outrage because of its storyline that revolved around a 9-year-old boy marrying an 18-year-old woman.
A week into the show's debut, the anger shifted to a particular plot point that showed the child becoming an obsessive stalker after he first meets her.
And then there was the latest PPK outrage cycle, which revolved around a creepy "honeymoon episode". Again, anger that seemed totally justified based on the evidence from the promos.
We're now a month and almost 20 episodes into the show, and people are legit asking for it to be taken off air. There are over 1,00,000 signatures on this single Change.org petition alone:
Now, here's the thing. As long as a cause claims to be fighting against something regressive, I'll retweet, share, and sign any petition you send my way – no questions asked, no research done.
But having recently raged against the people who vandalised Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati sets because they felt the movie will be offensive (without having even watched it), this petition just didn't sit right.
Like, how can I in good conscience claim "freedom of speech and expression" the next time a Lipstick Under My Burkha is fighting the censor board, if I ask for a primetime soap to be banned without watching a single episode?
And that, kids, is why my YouTube history can now attest that I've watched Sony's entire playlist of every Pehredaar Piya Ki episode that has aired to date.
It has to be said, a lot of smart people (people admittedly smarter than I am) have called for action against the show. You can read some of the arguments here and here.
So, having read all the outrage, followed all the tweets, and watched all the episodes, here's a short summary of how I now feel:
• Yes, Pehredaar Piya Ki is, without a doubt, an awful show.
• Yes, it is regressive (in the same misogynistic ways all Indian soaps are regressive).
• Yes, its plot pivots around a 9-year-old kid married to an adult woman, which is weird, and stupid, and totally unnecessary to the story tbh.
• Yes, the child does have a weird and completely inappropriate crush on her, and that should come with a disclaimer for any parents or kids watching the show.
• No, I don't think the show glorifies child marriage or depicts a romantic or sexual relationship between an adult and a child.
• No, I don't think it should be banned.
(I would like to say that context is everything, and if the show goes anywhere inappropriate in the future, I'm willing to take back everything I've said here. I just don't think it has yet.)
But hey, you should get to decide your nuanced take on this for yourself, so let me break the show down for you:
These two are the queen and king of a Rajput palace that also doubles up as a very successful luxury hotel. The other family members wanna kill them and take over the business.
This li'l creep is their son, Prince Ratan. Annoying AF, but he's barely in the show.
The star of this jam is Diya. She's the daughter of the king's BFF. Prince Ratan fawns over her in the same way that any 9-year-old fawns over a new toy.
Diya is fond of him too, but she only cares for him in a big sister-nanny kinda way. Not ONCE does the show actually romanticise her feelings for him.
In episode three, Diya puts her own life at risk to save Ratan from imminent death, after he stupidly falls over a ledge.
Also in episode three, the royal SUV is bombed (presumably by the evil family) in this ultra hilarious action set piece. The queen dies, and the king gets fatally wounded.
Seeing as to how Diya laid everything on the line to save Prince Ratan, the king asks his BFF for an impossible favour to protect his son's inheritance from said evil fam – for Diya to marry Ratan, become the royal princess, and shield him till he can look out for himself.
Her dad obviously refuses, but Diya is an easily guilted soul. She breaks off her engagement to the guy she likes, and agrees to marry and look out for the newly orphaned child prince.
The next dozen or so episodes deal with Diya moving into the royal palace and, in true Indian soap opera fashion, being emotionally tortured by her in-laws.
(A special mention, at this point, to my personal favourite of these torture tactics – when Diya's dad gets invited to stay at the royal palace for a function, and is sent a bill for ₹1,00,000 as room charges the following morning.)
Passive aggressive goals.
TL;DR – Diya is nothing but a glorified bodyguard to the kid. The Kevin Costner to his Whitney Houston. The Brienne to his Stark.
Anyway, coming back. Not one of the characters treats the "marriage" as anything but a front. Not Diya, not her dad, not even the evil fam. The only person who does is the 9-year-old, and even he treats it with all the seriousness of playing "Doctor Doctor".
So, while Diya does dutifully honour all the traditions and responsibilities of being the new princess, the child marriage angle is nothing but a cheap marketing gimmick.
So was all the anger misplaced? Well, yes and no. There's no doubt that Prince Ratan was stalking her in the opening episode, and she laughs it off as a cutesy thing.
The petition also mentions the boy "caressing" the woman. And yes, there are a couple of scenes that linger uncomfortably. There's no denying that this is creepy:
In fact, the way in which the kid's crush on Diya is depicted on screen at any time is appalling, to say the least.
Is it appalling enough to ban, though? Not in my opinion. At no point does any character encourage his behaviour. In fact, almost every episode has a scene where someone explicitly mentions that he is a child with no concept of adult relationships.
So what was the "honeymoon episode", you ask? Just another laughably dumb evil in-law prank. They set up the royal bedroom like the honeymoon suite, in an effort to embarrass and humiliate Diya about her situation.
The most problematic aspects of the show, in fact, are the casually regressive and misogynistic throwaway scenes that plague all Indian TV shows. Like when the prince asks Diya not to drink tea because she'll become dark-skinned.
Having said all that, I do think that child marriage is not a subject that should be on air at 8:30 p.m, even as casually and lazily written as it is here. A later time slot, stronger disclaimers, and firing the entire marketing team should be given some serious consideration.
But hey, that's just like my opinion, man. All I'm saying is, before you go asking for something to be banned, the least you can do is watch it yourself. (But don't. It's a godawful show.)