New Delhi: Men have often taken the back seat when it comes to Indian television soaps - a patriarchal society notwithstanding. But not any more. A loverboy, a father, a flamboyant college student or just a common man - the portrayal of men has become as important as that of women on the small screen.
Producer Rajan Shahi, who is behind shows like "Sapna Baabul Ka...Bidaai", "Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai" and "Chand Chupa Badal Mein", says the change has emerged ever since the focus has shifted from "one woman and her dilemmas".
"Stories are no longer one-dimensional. All three of my shows are not just about one girl and her viewpoint. They are stories about people, families - the father, brother and their viewpoints," Shahi told reporters.
"Producers are no longer playing on just hero-heroines - they are playing on characters. Everybody is getting an equal balance. Father and brother play an equally important role and are given equal prominence," he adds.
Harshad Chopra`s role as a loverboy in "Chand Chupa Badal Mein", Anup Soni`s role as a father in "Balika Vadhu" or flamboyant college students in "Miley Jab Hum Tum" - the portrayal of men has undergone a sea change on television.
Until about five years back, Tulsi, Parvati, Prerna, Komolika and such iconic characters of the small screen hogged most of the limelight. Men were then considered supporting cast, barring a few lucky ones like Ronit Roy and Ram Kapoor, who became household names thanks to the success of their respective shows - "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" and "Kasamh Se".
Ronit, who is hosting a cookery game show these days, says he feels "great being a man in a woman`s world".
"At the advent of satellite TV, when shows like `Kyunki...` came, the target was the woman audience. The shows were purely made for women. It was like the Indian government - for women, by the women, of the women," he adds.
"Most producers were also women - Ekta Kapoor, Aruna Irani, Diya Singh. `Kyunki...` was about `saas-bahu`, not about Mihir Virani. `Kasauti Zindagi Kay` was about Prerna`s problems. The central character of every show would remain a woman, but at no point have I felt left out," the actor says.
"If you ask someone about Mihir Virani...they would know, ask about Rishabh Bajaj, they would know...Dharamraj Mayvanshi from `Bandini`...that also they would know...so at no point have I felt that my character has been eclipsed by a woman character," he adds.
Today male actors have become an integral part of scripts. In fact, SAB TV mustered up the courage to come up with "Papad Pol - Shahabuddin Rathod Ki Rangeen Duniya", in which the protagonist is just a common man, played by actor Swapnil Joshi.
Anooj Kapoor, business head of SAB TV, explains: "The idea of using a female protagonist is to involve the women. But the idea of an underdog, dark, very sweet, helpless man wins sympathy from everybody. So we decided to go ahead."
Joshi, 32, who has been in the industry for over two decades, says he hopes to see an upsurge in the number of male protagonists on the small screen. He believes many male actors developed a name for themselves only with reality shows.
"I`m very happy and overwhelmed to do a show where a man is the lead. When was the last time we saw a male protagonist in a mainstream Hindi television show? The numbers drastically went down," he says.
"When I did `Ramayan`, Ram was the central character, in `Shri Krishna`, Krishna was the main character. But when I did `Amanat`, it was a story of seven sisters," the actor says.
"The phase of female-centric shows began. `Des Mein Niklaa Hoga Chand` was about Pammi, and then the saas-bahu serials started. It was probably only when reality shows came in when actors started getting an identity," he says.
Citing an example he said: "Actor Ali Asgar was known as Kamal of `Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki` until he featured in `Comedy Circus`. He came to be known by his real name then. Reality TV gave men a name as actors. Hopefully, now we start a new trend so that males are taken as protagonists even more frequently," he adds.