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Posted at: Oct 7, 2018, 2:08 AM; last updated: Oct 7, 2018, 2:08 AM (IST)

The box remains idiot

Overdramatic, unrelatable, repetitive... that's what millennials feel about the content on Hindi entertainment channels. No wonder, they are going digital

Nonika Singh

American comedian Fred Allen had once remarked, “Television is a medium because anything well done is rare.” Producers of Indian television must have taken it to heart because in our context it is even rarer. Other mediums like cinema are reinventing themselves according to changing times. Many films, even short films, are capturing and reflecting the reality we are living in. Web series are entering a realm hitherto unexplored. However, television continues to live up to its pseudonym, the idiot box. Not only is its content caught in a time-warp, worse, it seems to be going back in time.

The number of channels is growing at an exponential speed, the offerings across are humongous and variety seemingly seems diverse. New serials are being announced every other day. The change, it seems, is in the air or in rather the air waves. However, with so much change happening, the only thing that has not changed  is the content. To put it mildly, it refuses to evolve with a cussedness that is as laughable as it is serious. No wonder even actors, who earn their bread and butter from the small screen, are only too willing to write its epitaph.

Actor Sushant Singh unequivocally states that television will eventually die. While it may sound a little premature as millions of couch potatoes remain hooked to it, signs of decay are showing. Mohan Kapur is quite blunt in assessing the medium. “Creativity on television is shackled by TRPs. It is all a game of numbers,” says the man who gave us a fairly sensible Saanp Seedi, while trying to analyse and understand how the rot started. 

The question, however, is whether these numbers exist. If dipstick surveys are to be believed, urban metro millennials are no longer watching television and certainly not these ever-running soap operas. An average educated urban millennial finds these serials a boring if not an excruciating experience. Even a fairly high-ranking serial Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala that began on a fresh note refuses to shed time-tested inertia that grips TV soaps in vice-like grip. What could have been an emotionally charged tale of father-daughter is caught in the same semantics that have been driving our serials since ages. The only difference now is that children act like conniving grown-ups. If logic is a full blown casualty, repetition is yet another bane... Come Rakhi, Holi, Diwali, Janamasthmi, Ganesh Chaturthi  or Navratras and all serials across channels will be busy celebrating the same festival and in a similar fashion, too.

Think original — that’s something our TV content producers certainly do not do. One mythological serial works on one channel and suddenly there is spate of similar ones at other channels. One historical serial clicks and history becomes makers' favourite subject across the spectrum. As for supernatural, the success of Naagin has not only opened doors for a third season of this hit supernatural series, but the ghostly apparitions hover all across the channels. Kapoor can't believe that the show, Savitri Devi College & Hospital, of which he is an integral part, began as a hospital show but now has a ghost in it. He almost snarls; “It’s as if the whole nation has become retarded.” 

But seriously who is to be blamed? It is not as if experiments have not been done. Anurag Kashyap forayed into television as a creative director in Yudh starring no less than Amitabh Bachchan. Yet the show garnered only 2 per cent of the TRPs.  Actor Ayub Khan feels, “Ultimately, it all boils down to commerce. Business interests, and not creative considerations, drive the content on television. Even if you and me don’t know who is watching nonsensical serials, somebody is watching these for sure." 

On the face of it, there appears to be a clear switch. More fictional content is now being dovetailed to suit small-town sensibilities. The changing flavour of even popular shows such as KBC and Bigg Boss are proof of the new audience base, the channels are tapping into.

Raj Nayak, COO Viacom and  formerhead of Colors, however, refuses to buy the argument that youth are ditching television. According to him, one-third of total TV viewership comes from the youth even today. And he sees no reason to feel perturbed. While data says that India is the fastest growing internet nation in the world, Nayak doesn't see it happening at the cost of TV viewership. Quoting the latest Broadcast India 2018 Survey, he points out that total number of homes with TV  have grown by 7.5 per cent in the country leading to 12 per cent increase in viewership.

“Cinema changed because TV appeared as an alternative. After television became the undisputed king, complacency set in,” adds Ayub Khan. Now with digital platforms providing tough competition, Khan can sense a churning. 

However, the point is — have TV honchos begun to feel the heat? Channels are certainly not impervious to the challenge the web world of entertainment is posing. The speed with which they are launching digital portals is a pointer. Even Nayak’s own elevation as Viacom head suggests things are moving in the digital direction. However, TV channels see web as a market and not as a direct threat that will impinge upon their numbers. Experts have consistently insisted that India "is and, not or" market, implying both digital and television will coexist to the advantage of each other.

Nayak doesn't even see a demarcation line between web and television. “If 24 with Anil Kapoor ran on Voot or Netflix first, it would have been referred to as digital content and if Sacred Games was telecast on Colors first, you would have said it is TV content.” 

Whether increasing penetration of this over-the-top content will prove to be a friend or foe, Madhurima Tuli, a filmmaker, deems that if television is not on its way out, it certainly will be relegated to being a secondary medium of entertainment. “It’s not as if channel owners are not aware of the downslide, only they lack the imagination to turn the tide. Unlike cinema where rejection/ acceptance is clearly writ on box office figures, there is no fool-proof formula to know which way the cookie is crumbling on television and that the numbers are not in their favour,” adds Tuli.

Besides TV’s revenue model as against cinema’s is different. Producers like Preety Ali, who began their creative innings with television, prophesise, “Ultimately, television will be reduced to news, sports and live programmes. Fictional will move to digital.” 

Real stakeholders refuse to believe this. “Because there are no fixed rules in entertainment business,” believes Nayak. 

When will the game begin to change, we don’t know. What we know for sure is that a Game of Thrones will never happen on Indian television for a long, long time. That it desperately needs to change is a unanimous opinion of the insiders and close watchers of the industry. The writing is on the wall or shall we say on smart TV screens.

Some serials just won't let go; never-ending storyline and even reappearing characters. In Yeh Hai Mohabbatein when the character of a child actor grows up, the kid comes back as neighbour's daughter. The initial love story of an infertile woman, too, gets trapped in regular manoeuvrings. — Nimita Taneja, lawyer

Our serials have seemingly undergone a makeover; there is more gloss and glamour. Heroines support the latest fashion. But scratch the surface and it's the same saas-bahu saga. It takes aeons for hero and heroine to consummate their love and their prem kahani is always in the unfinished stage. — Radhika Mohan,  advertising professional

Business interests, and not creative considerations, drive the content on television. — Ayub Khan, Actor


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