The death of Indian TV serials and why Ekta Kapoor must be polished off
When I think of growing up, my memories are inextricably linked to the shows on TV that I had lunch or dinner with. Barring a short phase where I watched cartoons with lunch, my life revolved around being up to date with the latest episodes of TV shows. I remember Shreeman Shrimati, Kartavya, Dekh Bhai Dekh, Just Mohabbat, Ghar Ek Mandir, Ek Mahal Ho Sapnon Ka, Banegi Apni Baat, Hum Paanch, etc.
I think back and try to mathematically deduce what went wrong with Indian TV serial programming over the years. How and why did Indian TV manage to give up on its end consumers- and become like political parties- all of whom can be painted with the same brush. Corrupt, staid, rigid and boring.
Perhaps our idea of TV was different then (ten years ago)- programming options were limited. There were four channels then- you had to watch what they showed. Yet I must say that even today when I happen to catch an old TV program I find it remarkably entertaining. Half of that I attribute to nostalgia but the other half I have to attribute to a superiority of content. Today’s TV shows are all about formulae- good woman, good man, vamp and mother in law plus some drum bashing and irritating close up shots of the characters’ faces.
The greatest achievement for a TV show is to get its viewers hooked… so hooked that they will take sick leaves, cancel doctors’ appointments, etc. to catch it. But getting people hooked on to a sequential show (in which you need to watch from the first or the second episode to understand the show completely or alternately watch at least two to three episodes to get the hang of the story) is tough. In today’s TV business, when you are competing with western channels and news it makes more sense to reproduce a saas bahu format that sells, plug in half decent eye-candies (the kind on Big Boss these days) and package it in the same old mediocre hindi GEC TV show format. Because taking on the westerners on content will take too much monetary and creative brawn.
Building a fanbase for a show takes time, money, effort and good writers: all of which Indian TV programming desperately lacks. There is no dearth of talent in this country but I think most of it is getting sucked up into non TV (Bollywood/ films) or worse, getting MBAs and becoming corporate stooges. The TV serial business stooges have now become like media planners in advertising- pushing out mechanical, almost identical media plans for one brand after the other. Identical serials for one channel after the other. Identical saas bahu sagas.
Notice the shows that do extremely well on Indian TV today. Kapil Sharma’s eponymous show, Big Boss, KBC, et al. They are all shows that you needn’t catch every episode of. That is why Ekta Kapoor has ensured our TV shows have come to. We (and by we, I mean my generation) have simply lost faith in the capacity of hindi TV programming to entertain. My generation has lost faith in hindi TV so much that they believe that they needn’t really catch every episode because even if you switch on one week or one month down the line, the story will still be there. Or even if the story has changed, the show will still exist, refusing to end- going through generation leaps, facial transplants and actor retrenchments.
The great thing about great stories is that they end. Great movies, great books are great because in the end there is, in magical terms, a prestige- a final act that blows your mind away. Think here of the final scene from Hurt Locker with Xhibit’s Where’s Bin Laden playing and adrenaline junkie Jeremy Renner walking off into the dust of Iraq.
Mind. Frigging. Blown.
The greatest failure of Indian TV storytelling today is that it is not designed to end. It is designed to continue, making money for listed production houses, selling advertising space for the channel, ensuring the corporate stooge earns his salary. With everything now monetized, with there being far too many consultants and MBAs, every TV serial is now more a potential cash cow than a source of entertainment for you and me.
It’s not like the good old days. When TV was fun and games.
– Vaibhav Anand
Vaibhav Anand is a 2008 passout from Delhi College of Engineering and a 2010 MBA passout from FMS, Delhi. He is currently working for a Multinational Bank in Delhi. Vaibhav is also the author of the bestselling “If God Went To B-School”. You can reach out to him through Twitter at his handle @vaibrainmaker.