India has the world’s third largest TV watching audience – not surprising since we do have a large population. But what is more mind-boggling is that in 2009 we expect to have 700 channels on the satellite cable network, and that the reach of this network is upto 75 million households.
Television is obviously the main source of entertainment for these households. It has a tremendous influence on their thought processes and on how they look at the world. Before the advent of private channels in the 1990s, content was controlled by government bureaucrats, and except for a few shows, most were banal and insipid. However, with the proliferation of channels and the shows being broadcast, control ceased to exist and controversies about the content began to raise their head.
Let us look at some of the content which we feel is inappropriate or irrelevant or incongruous. The shows may be very popular and may have high TRP ratings, but quite often there seems to be a disconnect between what they show and what is right.
Rakhi Ka Swayamvar is the most glaring example of this absurd scenario. The entire series is based on her very public search for a husband. The vicarious pleasure that the audience is getting from watching grown men being rejected on various grounds, seems to be the main reason why this serial is popular. But surely, there is a sanctity to marriage, and this entire theme seems to be making a mockery of the process of choosing a life partner.
Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao is the Hindi version of I’m a Celebrity – Get me Out of here. A group of celebrities have been asked to live in the jungles and go through various physical challenging contests to win “food credits”. Strange and bizarre as it is, this show has been very popular in its English version. Once again we question the relevance of the theme of this show. Are we showing their ability to cope with strange circumstances, or are we trying to prove that people will go through anything for the monetary compensation?
Reality shows – there are so many of them now that we are beginning to lose track of the count. Chote Miyan ( a children’s comedy show); Sa Re Ga Ma Líl Champs ( a children’s music contest) India’s Got Talent ( A multi-talent show) are just a few among them. They have contests ranging from small children trying to be grown up comedians, and mothers dancing to Hindi film item songs. We do not object to talent contests, they have brought forth some great singers, what we feel is inappropriate is the showcasing of the contestants. Music and talent seems to have taken a back seat as they are transformed into presentable and marketable commodities. As they get closer to the finals, they change their looks and wardrobes and at some point we forget the reason why they were there in the first place.
Another reality show which we find highly inappropriate is Sach Ka Saamna. We agree that the contestants choose to bare their souls on television willingly and in the hope of winning a lot of money, but surely there must be a mental cost to this. The trauma that their family and friends seem to be going through while sitting there, is anything really worth that price?
Family dramas are the mainstay of all our channels. Beginning with Hum Log and Buniyaad, where simplicity was the keynote, to Khandaan which laid the groundwork for scheming families and complicated stories. The advent of Bold And Beautiful only cemented this storyline further and the K serials took this to amazing new heights. The complications in each family, the conspiracies and devious plots and sub-plots had the audiences hooked for years to come.
Here again, we question the basic premise of the serials. Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani, Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kasauti Zindagi Ki were immensely popular primetime fare but a woman was a woman’s worst enemy in most of the stories. The villainous woman is always dressed in pant or noodle strap blouses, the good woman is always in a sari and heavy jewellery. Surely such generalisations are harming the modern woman’s image more than anything else? An incongruous set of large drawing rooms, curving staircases and enormous gardens, do they exist in reality? Surely these kinds of homes are inappropriate in the present day scenario, after all most of our audience comes from semi urban and rural areas. There seems to be a major disconnect with the reality of their lives.
The serials are beginning to change their environments now. The new shows are showcasing the traditions and scenes from the villages and semi urban areas of states such as Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan. The emphasis seems to have shifted to region based stories, showing their customs and folklore. Balika Vadhu has gained immense popularity due to its different story, but somehow they manage to highlight child marriage without really dealing with the harmful aspects of it. There has to be a greater emphasis on how to prevent this from happening so often, and less prominence to families with young girls as daughter-in-laws.
Shree is another show which highlights and perpetuates superstitions. We are sure that in the end the villains will all be defeated, but by then we will have introduced our audience to a lot more myths and folklore which may influence their thought processes at some time.
Fortunately with the saturation of khandaani serials, the audience is beginning to ask for and get serials with different themes to them. Bandini, Na Aana Is Desh Lado, Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo are among the many women oriented serials. We hope that they will continue with their basic premise of trying to improve the life of the girl-child, and we hope that they will not become so long that the original theme will get lost in the mire of plots and sub-plots.