Finding Something to Watch Together Almost Twenty Years Later

The last show my parents and I enjoyed watching together consistently was Meendum Meendum Sirippu (roughly translates to Again and Again Laughter) on Sun TV, which aired every Sunday when I was growing up in Bangalore. Daddu would run to the nearby tiffin shop to pick up some dosa+idli+vada combo while I sat on my little blue swing in front of the TV, doing my best to avoid drinking the Horlicks that Ma was making. I don’t remember the details of that show from over twenty years ago but I have a framed memory of dunking my idli in a cup of steaming sambar, laughter erupting every few minutes.

Since then, we’ve promptly shown up to the theaters for all the latest Rajinikanth SUPER HIT movies even though they are essentially the same basic premise recycled in perpetuity (unfortunately oru thadava paata, nooru thadava paata maadiri doesn’t apply here*), we see the occasional matinee screenings of those entirely predictable thrillers, and enjoy available episodes of I Love Lucy here and there, but we stopped having a show that was routinely ours. The gradual lack of shared TV interests is of course natural and expected over time. As the catalyst, our move from Bangalore to LA in 2003 dramatically changed content that was available to us. American shows and characters didn’t land and so we watched Food Network and the news most of the time, treating them like educational content. By the time we got Dish network and characters that actually looked like us on the screen, I got busy with school, activities, and trying to be too cool for myself. The times Ma and I watched Kasam Se (a classic Hindi serial iykyk) were soon replaced by me watching That’s So Raven while my parents stressfully worked to keep life in a new country going. The ritual of weekend TV time over dosas felt farther than fourteen thousand km away.

By the time I moved out for college, my tastes were distinctly different from those of my parents and the list of things we enjoyed watching together kept shrinking. When I was home for the holidays, watching Tamil movies on Einthusan had high chances of ending in a fight because I was either on my phone the entire time or riled up about the premise of a man who simply looks at a woman, falls in love instantly, and wears her down into submission. My parents wanted a nostalgic, light comedy and I wanted to turn off the TV to analyze the snot out of every character arc and what it says about our society. My one Women’s Studies class made me an instant expert on all things and anyone who didn’t see my side aka the right side aka the only possible side there could be, needed some serious saving via pedantic lectures and judgy eyes.

Hey Ma and Daddu, bet you really missed your temperamental teenager who only said three words a day huh?

I found their Hindi serials and Tamil movies dated while they found my foreign-language zombie horror just plain strange to watch during dinner. We loved each other of course, but like oil and water, we learned to be in the same house, same room sometimes, and watch different things on different devices. That strategy worked when we were together only a few days at a time, spending the majority of it appreciating new scenery on vacation. But in March, I moved back in with my parents as a result of COVID. Initially I kept calling it ‘just a phase’ and ‘temporary’. After the four month mark, it became clear that we were far away from a vaccine and bore the responsibility of reducing the spread at an individual level due to the failure of a national response. So I finally unpacked all my boxes and started getting more involved with my parents’ interests and lives. The lovely thing about spending quantity time with people during quarantine is that time doesn’t feel like it’s a scarce resource. Protecting it by being picky about what’s on our shared screen wasn’t worth the effort anymore. So we started watching more TV together and through trial & error actually found a few surprising shows at the intersection of our taste Venn diagrams. The latest one that Ma discovered for us is Bandish Bandits, a Prime Video ten-episode show about the classic tension between tradition vs modern lives, told through musicians’ journeys.

Set in Rajasthan and Mumbai, the story follows Radhe (Ritwick Bhowmick) and Tamanna (Shreya Chaudhary) as they dedicate their lives to musical dreams. Radhe is the grandson of Panditji Rathod, famed singer and patriarch of his gharana (a tight-knit community of artists, in this case singers, who are influenced by the same guru to learn and pass down a specific style). Unsurprisingly, Radhe struggles to find his voice and freedom under the unflappably strict rule of his grandfather until he meets the popular performer, Tamanna. She represents the ‘millennial’ mindset to art – freedom of exploration and discovery, but lacking the practice of mastery. After some conflict, the two team up out of necessity and learn more about themselves through the process. It’s a standard, albeit corny, story given life through Hindustani music and stunning scenery.

Simplistic characters aside, my parents and I have found a show that’s a fun watch and gives each of us something different to like and consider. As Radhe, the hopeful male successor to the gharana, blindly follows the unhealthy discipline definition set by his guru and enforced through the rest of the family, I’m thinking about how the patriarchy stays powerful not only through its loudest manifestations, but also the silent followers of social convention at any cost. I’m also bringing this up with my parents, using the story as an entry ramp and listening to their thoughts. Daddu, a life-long singer and student of Hindustani classical music, gets excited about the original songs and shares stories about keeping up with his previous music gurus while balancing a hectic work schedule. As Ma looks up details about the actors, the filmed locations, and their outfits, I learn more about Jodhpur, its textile history, and her dreams of experiencing more parts of the world.

Bandish Bandits isn’t our favorite show by any measure and doesn’t replace the laughter of Sunday’s Meendum Meendum Sirippu – but it is providing common context for us to engage in better and better discussions. My parents and I might not see eye to eye on everything, but we’re starting to at least see some of the same things again. And I’ll be framing these memories too.
*The infamous line from Baasha, “Naan oru thadava sonna, nooru thadava sonna maadiri” (if I say it once, it’s as if I’m saying it a hundred times).

About Madhu

Madhu (she/her) is your go-to friend for TV + movie recommendations. She’s lived in Bangalore, Los Angeles, Durham, Seattle and is on the lookout for her next city. Whether it’s through dance, art or technology, Madhu loves creating and collaborating. These are a few of her favorite things – puns, potatoes, podcasts that can summarize everything under fifteen minutes, hot cheeto fries, that one scene in the Office with Michael, squirrels, and notes that start with “this made me think of you”. For more of her recommendations on diverse stories to watch, catch her at Watch in Progress

Instagram – @madhooligan

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