Indian television

‘Sasural Simar Ka’ and a short history of humans turning into animals

Dogs, cats, flies and goats – humans have turned into them all.

On air since 2011, supernatural soap opera Sasural Simar Ka has been sending the internet into a tizzy over the last few days as one of the lead characters, as a result of a curse from a wandering sage, was turned into a fly. The show began life as a normal soap with a focus on women's improvement but over the course of its 1500+ episodes has jumped far over the shark.

The idea is not entirely original. In 2012, SS Rajamouli’s Telugu movie Eega told the story of two lovers, one of whom is murdered and reincarnated as a fly so he can take revenge on his killer and protect his girlfriend. Much earlier, in 1987, came The Fly, a remake of a 1958 film of the same name, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who has discovered teleportation. Since the film was before the CGI movement in modern cinema, it is also notable for its use of plastic, rubber and real materials in creating the transformation scene, creating an effect that is all too real.

These tales can be traced back to Franz Kafka’s acclaimed novella The Metamorphosis, which begins with the now classic opening line, “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect,” although what that insect was is a matter of debate.

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The trailer of ‘Eega’.

Indian sitcoms, however, are not really as outlandish as they seem to be. In a classic case of truth being stranger than fiction, here is a video from the Dr Phil show about a man who eats dog food and puts on an outfit to make him look like an oversized Shih Tzu. Dr Phil exclusively deals with some of the strangest people in the United States of America. Whether they are real or not is a debate for another day.

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The man who tried to be a dog on ‘Dr Phil’.

Humans are not merely turned into insects. Manimal was a short-lived American television series that run for eight episodes in 1983. The show featured Dr Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale) as a crimefighting shape-shifter who could turn himself into any animal that he chose. A few of the animals he transformed into, over the show's run, was a hawk, a panther and a snake.

In the acclaimed anime series Full Metal Alchemist, one of the best episodes explores the relationship between science and human experiments. A failure to create talking animals leads a scientists to do a perverse fusion between his daughter and his dog to create a chimera.

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‘Full Metal Alchemist’.

But these transformations always do not need a fantastic setting on television.

In the latest season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show often described as “Seinfeld on crack”, as one of the characters steadily turns into a cat (with the help of expensive cosmetic surgery), it is suggested to her, “You should go full cat and wear humans on your sweatshirt.” She will not be referred to as woman in court which the judge agrees to do while her ex-husband files an application to stop paying alimony because, let’s face it, why should a human being pay alimony to a cat?

Pop culture always takes influence from the real, in one way or another. Sometimes it could also happen the other way round. Whatever be the case, this brings us to subject of one Thomas Thwaites.

Thwaites, who has previously spoken about how he made a toaster from scratch, told The Daily Mail that he was interested in the idea of transhumanism, but also believed that not everyone in the future would want to become a cyborg. Some might use these advantages in technology to “devolve” because the stress of being a human being is sometimes too great.

Chronicling his experiences in GoatMan: How I Took a Break from Being Human, Thwaites spent a year constructing prosthetics that would help him live and walk like a goat, studying goat behaviour, and also built an artificial stomach so he could eat grass. He then convinced a farmer in the Swiss Alps to let him become part of his herd where he spent three days living like a goat in a herd and a further three days living alone.

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The trailer of the book ‘GoatMan: How I Took a Break from Being Human’.

Earlier this year, a Norwegian woman called Nano claimed to have been a cat her whole life. In the video below, Nano, who wears cat ears and a tail, says, “I was born in the wrong species. I have been a cat all my life.” She indulges in cat-like behaviour including hissing at dogs, walking on all fours and sleeping on the sink or the windowsill.

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Nano the human feline.

Whether or not the video is satire, it was uploaded in the comedy section of YouTube. It raised some important questions. “Why is she walking on two feet?” “How can she speak Norwegian and give interviews?” And, most importantly, “What does she think of the cat memes on the internet?”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.