Why television is at a critical crossroad

Opinion

 

By Shamita Harsh

Living in an apartment in Lajpat Nagar, Vedika Manchanda comes home from her nnight shift only to meet repeat telecasts on her rented television set. In a while commercials kick in and she manages to sit through them, waiting for some meaningful content to flash before her eyes as dawn breaks and the TV turns religious on her.

After working for hours in the web section of a reputed media house, she cannot tolerate the sight of another website and the television has very little to offer to her. Dejected, she returns to the internet to find some solace.

Few of us can recall the classic Doordarshan tune that was an admired piece of music and remind one of collective television viewing. Shows like Hum Log (1984) and Buniyaad (1986) marked the onset of the golden era of television. A sole detective show called Karamchand had made headlines for trying to stray from the mainstream.

Then the century took a turn with Kyunki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (2000) showing the happy family where a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law’s relationship was no different from that of a mother and her daughter. The social causes took foreground with shows like Balika Vadhu (2008) taking the industry by storm with its subject matter being as serious as child marriage.

The revolution in Indian television came with Ekta Kapoor, the woman who single-handedly changed the scale of operations of daily soaps. She brought a revolution in the aesthetics of a daily soap, making the sets grander and the plots larger than life.

Over the years creators changed, costumes changed, characters changed; the plots, those were pretty much similar; consumption and exposure to the media improved and after almost five and a half decades of experimentation, the industry now stands at a crossroads. It can choose to stick to original content or go with the borrowed ideas from overseas or better still sell the same old plot with new packaging. Sadly, the majority of the content creators are choosing the latter, much to the chagrin of its audience.

“It is impossible to package new content to fill the vast expanse of the 24/7 television. Makers are scared and they want to hoard a new set of eyes watching their show so they run lengthy recaps and have repetitive footage,” comments Ali Asgar, a renowned comedian, best known for the role of a quirky grandmother in Comedy Nights with Kapil.

India has the third largest television market in the world where the medium takes up half the pie of the media and entertainment industry in the country. However, of late the TV content simply unloads on the viewers with the television guide full of shows with sky-rocketing TRPs (Television rating points). “It’s all about the eyeballs now,” says Amit Behl, veteran theatre, television and film actor of the Indian Television industry.

 

Of show-biz and returns

The television industry does not seem to be doing that well, defaulting on payments and failing to make returns on investments.

“A credit with the production houses is easily delayed for six months. Actors are no longer paid on time because the producers themselves are running out of money. How long can this go on?” says Arbaaz Ali, veteran television and film actor.

Broadcasters have begun to bank on reality shows to do the branding of a channel as has been seen in the case of Big Boss that has become the baby of Colors TV channel.

Shirshti Arya, producer of the popular daily soap Reporters (Sony TV, 2015) says, “It’s a show business. At the end of the day you have to generate revenue. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.” Her show aired for a period of six months before being taken off-air. It was difficult to get approval for a show that did not have a mainstream household plot.

Contrary to popular belief that television is dying, the industry seems to be minting money just fine. Add to that the immense penetration of television which has reached the rate of 65% in the country. According to the Make in India study of the media and entertainment industry the penetration of television is expected to reach 72% by 2017 when you take into account the increase in the subscriptions to direct-to-home (DTH) connections.

 

Of representing Muslims and Mythology

There is an increased demand for mythological series and historical representation in the form of dramas. However, the continued dramatisation of these epics seems to be diluting facts, with historical TV shows looking more and more like daily soaps.

Twisted tales of young warriors falling in love, thrashing villains of foreign origins have skewed the viewing of mythological dramas. There has been a significant rise in the portrayal of Muslim characters in negative roles.

“Today’s kids have no knowledge of our history, of our rich culture and if the medium is responsible for creating awareness of the culture it should take the task seriously,” says Ali Asgar.

While Farhan Salaruddin, writer and producer of the industry who had produced the Muslim drama Beintehaa on Colors TV, disagrees: “I don’t think there is an adverse representation. There must be something in the pages of history, that the Mughal community must have done something to receive such flak. I hope they are not going overboard with fictionalising stories.”

 

Developing a new palette

It is easy to blame a channel but where exactly is this TRP (Television Rating Point) coming from? It is coming from the audiences. It is the age of consumerism. Indian daily soaps are consumed like the staple daal-chawal. It is like nicotine, it gives you a high. It’s a drug for the consumers which keeps them hooked to the point of addiction. Once the show finishes, people actually have withdrawal symptoms,” Amit Behl who is also the Joint Secretary of CINTAA (Cine and TV Artistes Association), observed.

Producers must know by now that the vicious circle of good characters becoming bad and bad becoming good only stretches daily soaps beyond the point of tolerance and a solution could be season-based shows. The Indian television industry can focus on diversifying and refining its audience in order to stay in the show-business.

“Anurag Kashyap’s films are working because they have an audience. That kind of audience is needed for Television. And instead of Television, I think there is a need for the audiences to develop a taste for new content.” says Farhan Salarhuddin

Can you pin-point a serial that you will watch 20 years from now? What the idiot box holds in the near future remains a mystery, but surely: “The Nation wants to know!”

2 comments

  • Very well conceived and written article that shows the real TV state in the country. Think of a break-less (without commercials) episode, match or even a news reading gives a sigh of relief but doubts whether it would be possible someday in India!

  • A lot said in a few words….thats the expertise u have.A walk down the TV era is truly portrayed n may there be many more additions to the excellence of work u r doing

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