Telefutura TV showcasing Indian culture on Brazilian soap opera

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Miami, FL: Beginning October 5 at 9.00 p.m., Spanish channel Telefutura of Univision is going to telecast a soap opera Passage to India – two worlds … one destiny with close-captions in English.

The soap opera showcasing Indian culture and the love story between a Dalit boy and an upper-caste girl is causing a stir in Brazil. Written by celebrated telenovela author Gloria Perez, Caminho das Indias – roughly translated as A Passage to India – is being shown from Mondays to Saturdays on Brazil’s largest TV channel (TV Globo) and has become the latest mania in the country. Caminho das Índias, rolled across Brazilian TV screens over 200 times last year, six days a week at 8:00 p.m. Caminho is the latest hit novela (soap opera) from TV Globo, by far Brazil’s most famous and popular novella producer and in no small part responsible for making TV soaps the global phenomenon they are today. Even by Globo’s lofty standards, the series was a huge success. Just to give viewers an idea, the grand finale is estimated to have had over 90 percent viewership among Globo’s 120 million viewers.

Reaching record audience rates, with an average 35 percent of viewers tuning into the soap, Caminho das Indias tells the story of forbidden love between Maya Meetha, an upper caste girl from Rajasthan, and Bahuan, a successful businessman educated in the US, who hides from society his Dalit status. Bahuan was raised by Shankar, a Brahmin, and, therefore, is able to cover up his caste status. Hoping to marry their daughter with a Brahmin, Maya’s parents, who had already found the ideal husband for her, however, accept to meet Bahuan.

The plot, which could well make for a traditional Bollywood movie, is grabbing the attention of Brazilians and helping foster curiosity about Indian caste system, customs and even fashion. Documen-taries about India, its culture and its people are dominating Brazilian TV programming. Even the country’s most prominent women’s magazines are full of Indian-influenced fashion. The soap opera also has several Bollywood songs like Jai Ho, Bidi Jala ke, Kajra re kajra re, etc. The script also carries words like dekho, chalo, bhagwaan ke liye, and other snippets of Hindi.

Although India is being celebrated in Brazil, the way the soap opera is portraying its culture has divided opinions both amongst Brazilians as well as Indians living in Brazil. For B.S. Prakash, ambassador of India in Brazil, Caminho das Indias is a way of introducing an unknown and complex culture to Brazilian society.

“In the political and economic arenas,  relations between Brazil and India are very strong, with both countries being considered emerging powers,” says Prakash. “However, when it comes to the cultural aspects, Brazilians know very little about India. I think the soap opera is a way of making Brazilians curious about our country.”

Alisha Parikh, an exchange student from Ahmedabad, living in Sao Paulo, also highlights the growing interest the Brazilians are showing towards India. “I am really glad that Brazilians are so interested in Indian culture and traditions,” she says. “The telesoap gives an insight into our culture and our lifestyle.”

The Indian ambassador in Brazil recognizes that there are some aspects of Indian culture and society that are not being shown as they are. “In the telesoap, for instance, they do not explain the differences between North and South India. They blend it all together,” he says. However, Prakash stresses that one has to take into account the difficulty of portraying such a complex culture. Moreover, he adds that critics must understand that Caminho das Indias is an entertainment show and, therefore, it serves its purpose.

Udaya Jayanthi, a senior researcher at the Brazilian National Space Research Institute and a consultant for the telesoap on religious, social and cultural issues, agrees. “Critics should consider that this is a telenovela, classified as fiction, and not a documentary. Therefore, the author can exercise her poetic liberty,” he says.

Jayanthi explains that even when such liberty is exercised, the author pens it with great care and consideration.

Perez and her team indeed cared to make the story look as realistic as possible, having spent about a month filming in Jaipur and Agra with the actors as well as in Varanasi, Mumbai and Jodhpur just to capture images that will be used as a background in scenes later recorded in Brazil.

Apart from the month spent in India, the soap also hired consultants of Indian origin, like Jayanthi, to organize workshops in which religious beliefs (especially Hinduism), social status and cultural habits are discussed and taught to both the crew and the cast. “Oriental people behave and see the world from a very different perspective than Brazilians. Without the workshops and the help of the consultants, we wouldn’t be able to show India in such a great way,” says Marcos Schechtman, the telesoap’s director.

Whether or not India is being portrayed as it should be, the fact is that Caminho das Indias is a great success, at least in viewership terms, and that it will help bring the two cultures closer together.

The soap opera telecast by Telefutura local stations as follow – Chicago WXFT-TV 60, Dallas-Fort Worth KSTR-TV, Houston KFTH-TV, Durham WTNC-LP, Miami WAMI-TV, Tampa WFTT-TV 50, Orlando WOTF-TV 43, New York WFUT-TV, New England WUTF-TV 66, Philadephia WFPA-CA, Washington DC WMDO-TV 47. For other cities please visit www.univision.com India.

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