Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Indian serials

The Impact of serials/ soap operas on Indian households

Picture this scenario. Its 10pm and in the Gupta household Mrs. Gupta is shedding copious tears watching Parvati struggle with her difficult life. Parvati is not her relative or friend, far from it she is not even a real life person. She is a character from a popular soap opera, which runs on one of the most successful television channels today.

4 years back when ‘Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi’ and ‘Kahaani ghar ghar ki’ was launched on Star plus, history was created. The TRPs skyrocketed. Star Plus became the no.1 Hindi channel in India and Balaji Telefilms got registered on Indian stock exchange. Scheming mothers-in-law and innocent daughters-in-law seemed to be the rage. The popularity of these saas- bahu sagas was so high that Tulsi; the female protagonist in ‘Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi’ went ahead and became a political figure. This could probably be an example of the fact as to how much Indian serials influence their viewers.

Today the characters of Indian serials have become an integral part of the viewer’s life. What is it that attracts the Indian viewers towards them with such strong intensity? The reasons are plenty.
Where some women feel that they identify themselves with the characters and hence empathize with them, for some its just drama and excitement in their otherwise dull life. Again for some others its just interesting coffee conversation and pure entertainment. Whatever might be the reason today these serials are minting money and the channels and production houses are making profits.

The real viewers of most of these serials are not the urban households but the semi-urban and rural households were the pace of life is slow and TV provides the main entertainment. Over there these serials even dictate the fashion and influence the mind set of many youngsters.

What about the long-term impact of these serials? Since these serials influence the viewers so much do they not have a social responsibility towards their viewers? There is no doubting the fact that some of these serials show women in a derogatory light. The main protagonist is always the ever suffering, sacrificing woman who has to face various trials and tribulations. Some of these serials are the kind, which have the thought pattern of the dark ages. One serial on Zee TV is about a girl who has trouble getting married because she is dark in complexion. In my view such serials should be banned as they are in bad taste and in the guise of Indian traditionality such wrong thought processes are legitimized.

One serial, which came out and tried to do some thing different, was ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin’. She was this bold, bubbly and brainy girl. Within a year of being launched in the television serial `Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin' (There's no one like Jassi), plain Jane Jassi seems to be well on her way to becoming an icon for Indian womanhood.
Six months after the serial `Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin' was launched in 2003, Sony TV's TRP ratings in the general entertainment category rose from 8.5 to 26 per cent.
However as the serial moved ahead it fell into the same trap. Jassi was transformed in to this beautiful glamorous model and the serial had a pretty predictable ending.

In the words of some of the viewers, this is what is selling in the name of entertainment today:
“All the serials are just getting too long. I watch three serials on Zee TV and all three are the same. They are going nowhere. Every one just cries and the situation is always bad. All three serial had many chance to make things fine and end the serial but no, instead they went for a generation leap”.
“ Fantasy wow! People are brought back from the graveyard! Dramatization and analogy what should I say about that. The Prima Donnas are always crying. Guys are distinctly uncomfortable in soppy-weepy scenes but have to do their job! All the mothers are generally clad in Swarowski sprinkled saris, and dote devotedly on sons, who can do no wrong! Really the serial makers think viewers have no intelligence”.
Indian serials first began with the introduction of television sets in Indian homes. The first soap opera on state run Doordarshan channel (the only TV channel that existed at that point of time), was ‘Hum log’. A story of a family comprising of 3 generations. It was urban, it was middle class and it was new, and till today it, along with ‘Buniyaad’ is considered among the best-made serials on Indian Television.
Then came the era of mythological serials. ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharata’ craze swept the nation. The traffic used to lessen on street at the time these serials used to run.
Even with the advent of cable TV, things weren’t so bad. Some of the earlier serials on Star Plus such as ‘Saans’ and ‘Kora Kagaaz’ broke the mould and gained artistic as well as commercial success. Some earlier serials on Zee TV such as ‘Taara’ and ‘Banegi apni baat’ also had the same privileged fate, but now things are different.
Indian serials now are often stereotypical both in storyline and in characters. The ideals of the quintessential Indian family are often given fanatical attention and the lines are written in grand, melodramatic tones. Balaji telefilms have been frowned upon for repeating the same storyline with different characters and sets. However this is the trend being followed by most of the serials and production houses today.
It could either be the lack of original ideas or the lure of going for the tried and tested formula. Also a standard feature is now is 20 year jump. However the only change that happens is that newer faces come in. the storyline remains the same.
Production houses need to be innovative and should also start respecting the intelligence of the viewers. They are not just there for pure entertainmen, television is a huge influencer and has maximum penetration and reach. It’s a powerful tool for spreading postive message and motivating the citizens. If regressive ideas are shown on television in the name of entertainment, it might have a huge negative impact on young, impressionable minds. After all they are also influencing a 16 year old girl sitting in some remote corner of the country. It’s a huge responsibility and its about time it was taken seriously.


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