That’s my reaction every time I sit down in front of my telly, to witness the great happenings in the Indian entertainment scene. A minute into surfing through the channels, I realise that there is a never-ending melodramatic cringe saga in store.
The Indian small screen is a huge business, which produces over a thousand shows each year, ranging over different languages, genres and caters to different kinds of audiences as well. It has come a long way from the DoorDarshan days, when the only programmes to be shown were news shows and a couple of artsy soap operas, to today, when there are movies, sports, soap operas, cookery shows, reality shows and much more. However, with this wide ranging variety, questions about the quality and content also arise.
BR Chopra’s Ramayana would echo through the lanes of the eighties’ India. With the nineties, came shows like Hum Paanch and with the advent of the 21st century, came reality shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati. However, it’s been quite a while since such shows made an appearance on television sets in India. Today, however, Indian TV is dominated by saas-bahu melodrama, with a generous dose of black magic and spirits.
We all have criticized the content shown on Indian TV, especially shows in the Hindi language, citing how they are regressive and promote child marriage, sexism and what not. They are often targeted to be flimsy, superficial and unauthentic. But do we ever take a step back to understand why such programmes are created in the first place, and why do their TRPs break all records?
There are two main points of view, which seek to provide an explanation for the unjustifiable content on our TV screens.
As the producers and the great minds behind today’s popular shows explain the situation:
India has been seeing its fair share of struggle in all areas since forever. The independence and the partition, the wars with China and Pakistan, the major shift from an agrarian, closed economy to a globalised one, the droughts and floods, corruption, terror attacks et al have all had an impact on the content shown to the Indian audiences in the name of entertainment.
The realities of life have been harsh for every individual, and for the nation at large. This often leads to a need for an ‘escapist’ form of entertainment. After all, why would a person already struggling to have three square meals a day want to watch a show that shows him struggles of life, for the sake of being entertained? The melodrama and the black magic help take one’s mind off the dismal lives they lead. As most of India’s 1.3 billion people hail from middle, lower and lower-middle class households, seeing their own problems being recreated on screen.
However, the audiences’ opinion on this is slightly different and being a part of the audience who cringes every time she turns on the TV, here’s a little something for the show-runners.
Comedy has come down from the slapstick humour in Sarabhai vs Sarabhai to the sexist and body-shaming jokes by cross-dressed men in The Kapil Sharma Show. Talent shows are not about talent anymore, but about sob stories. There was a time, when Indian television shows portrayed women in progressive shades, when programmes were way ahead of their times, and yet the audience accepted them with maturity. But where did we go wrong?
The Indian TV industry has embroiled itself in a vicious cycle of catering to the audience. Producers seem to have forgotten that the audience is mature enough to appreciate realist and relatable shows just the way it did a couple of decades ago. Massy TV shows have been shown as the way to go by the producers, while the masses want to see beyond the flimsy content.
The situation is quite dismal, but that doesn’t take away the fact that things can be changed for the better. Producers themselves need to start creating content that compels the audience to think, and challenge societal norms. This won’t happen overnight, but it will all be worthwhile.