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Monday, July 25, 2016

The Harsh Truth About Stuff on Indian TV and Why It Won’t Change

If there’s one thing desi social media loves to moan about, it’s the death of good content on television. If you happen to be a netizen (which you are, or you wouldn’t be reading this piece right now) you, too, are part of the bandwagon of moaners.
You moan about how good the content of the Doordarshan era was. How shows once had a limited lifespan with concrete story lines, that did not beat around several bushes before getting to the point, and the variety of intelligent programming the not-so-idiot box used to offer. Then you harp on about how today’s TV is all about garish clothes, pumped up make-up, deafening background score, illogical plot lines, yada yada yada. And you hark back on nostalgia, hoping for it to come back, or for things to change. Well, here’s the truth. Indian TV content is not changing. Not in the near future at least. And definitely not the way you wish for it to. Sounds whatever? Well, let me take you back to the golden era of TV, to give you a narration. After all, we prefer linear tales. So, we began in the Doordarshan era, which brought TV sets to our drawing rooms, and shows that were the results of eclectic programming. Why not? After all, the viewership was mostly limited to middle class and upper middle class, who could afford a television set. As soon as the wheels of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation started turning India, the dawn of cable TV brought in a wave of channels, from Zee to Star. In the beginning, cable shows continued their progressive streak along with the DD ones, and we got shows like Shanti, Tara or Banegi Apni Baat.

As the new millennium came knocking, Sooraj Barjatya, after his monster hit Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994), delivered another joint family saga, titled Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999), with a star-studded cast. The reworking of the Indian epic The Ramayana in Barjatya style, planted a new seed in Star TV programming, which launched Amitabh Bachchan, the megastar as a game show host, followed by Ekta Kapoor’s Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, which cooked up such a buffet that could serve every single member of a joint family. This volley of shows had a single minded focus, and their gamble paid off. Kapoor’s K shows became such massive hits that they pioneered the much derided saas-bahu trend, which basically signifies why every single TV producer followed suit to pocket TRPs. By now, TV as a hardware was no longer the expensive trophy. It became cheaper and cheaper and the lower-middle class as well as the poorer sections of society rushed to buy television sets to clock in their own hours of entertainment. No need to run to the neighbours’ house, begging to be allowed to watch their favourite TV soaps. And this section of society, which didn’t matter earlier, became an audience base of primary importance. The penetration of TV into smaller towns and villages became so deep that it created a new demographic that was way, way bigger than the audience base that DD and early cable TV catered to. And this base is still growing. TV is a medium that runs on TRPs, which in turn lures advertisements. Now when smaller towns started tuning in, soaps started spelling things out, nuance went into exile, but channels were euphoric because it brought TRPs home.

This demand became the sole driver of the GECs. So you know, a cheap detergent powder got precedence over fancy bath fittings, affordability over luxury. Intelligent, progressive programming got overpowered by ideas that catered mostly to parivaar, sanskaar, and parampara. Female protagonists started as weaklings on their long walk to freedom with morals intact in almost every second show. With TRPs and revenue coming in, channels stretched finite story lines to infinity and beyond, and juiced every single pore of the characters. Thousand episodes have now become a child’s play. Higher TRPs mean bigger budgets for soaps, with more and more extravagant and multiple shaadis and sangams of various shows. This change in demographic and content impacted TV shows in more ways than one. Most importantly, TV shows are nowadays based on extensive research, hell-bent on giving the audience exactly what it wants. Before a show is green lit, audio pilots are made to test reactions, which can change the course of the show. Being realistic about the reach of literacy and liberal ideas in our country, you can imagine what most reactions would be. To give you an example, a show on Life OK titled Dil Se Di Dua... Saubhagyavati Bhava?, which depicted a husband resorting to domestic violence against his wife, mostly garnered reactions in favour of the husband. So what if he thrashes her? He still loves her.

Conclusion: The larger Indian mass still preferred a patriarchal narrative. So much so that when the makers tried to wean off the abusive husband and brought in a nicer, non-obsessive man, a protector for the said ‘saubhagyavati’ woman, the show’s ratings tanked. If the recent success of Naagin, and the buzz around the upcoming Brahmrakshas are anything to go by, creatures of the beyond have caught the viewers’ fancy, and will be served piping hot as long as they bring in the numbers.

To add to the woes of those in TV programming, a majority of the Indian youth has switched over to watching content online, unless a big cricket match is on. Major GECs now are concerned about losing the youth as an audience. So attempts are being made to launch edgy content. But if and when TRPs don’t show up, channels take the safe route. Channel V’s abandonment of fiction is clear proof of that. So, you see, my dear readers, you have become redundant. You belong to the English speaking tiny mass of viewers that is a drop in the ever growing immeasurable ocean of the great Indian family. While the nostalgia of DD days gets you chatting on social media, the TV content you’ll really be consuming will mostly arrive from foreign shores. In the race of demand and supply, you’ve become a bystander who can bark and scream but can’t halt the traffic. It seems this trend is going to continue, because TV as a hardware is going deeper into the interiors, and the viewership mass that you don’t belong to, is going to balloon even more. And the vicious cycle will continue. As someone wise once said, in the grander scheme of things, we do not matter. Our tweeting twats have yet to realise this.
(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)

Source and credit:- http://www.thequint.com/entertainment/2016/07/23/heres-why-indian-tv-channels-are-no-longer-trying-to-impress-you-and-me-with-their-shows-and-plot-lines 
Forwarded By:- Shri. Jainender Nigam, PB NewsDesk, prasarbharati.newsdeskgmail.com

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