For a TV channel, the advantage of making a big noise when launching a new show is that at least your viewers will bother to tune in - if only to see what the fuss is about. The Star World publicity blitz with Karan Johar for Australian series Packed To The Rafters, was so unrelenting, there was no choice but to watch it. But I'm glad I did because it was warm and funny, light-hearted yet serious - a nice, feel-good, enjoyable watch. The interesting thing is that Packed To The Rafters is a family-themed series - not a genre in which we lag behind. And yet.
Here's what it's about. Julia and David have been married for 25 years and their three grown-up children have now left the nest. So the happy couple is finally on their own - and loving it. They're looking forward to having the house to themselves and to enjoying their freedom. But then one by one, for various reasons, the children (and Julia's father) move back home and begin living in what we in India would call a joint family. But of course it's not like our joint families. The cultural dissonances are stark.
When Julia and David's married son Nathan tells them that he wants to move in with his wife, his parents are aghast. Their instant reaction is a categorical "No!" They finally agree only because David loses his job and Nathan has promised to pay them rent and they need the money.
From a desi perspective, this is as weird as not wanting your kids to marry and 'settle down.' Indian parents would turn cartwheels at the thought of their children staying with them, never mind if the 'children' are 30 years old or married or with kids of their own. As for taking rent from one's offspring, the very notion is bizarre.
On the other hand, when Julia and David's daughter Rachel runs home to escape from an abusive husband, she's welcomed with open arms. (I can imagine a cringe-making counter scenario in a desi soap: the daughter being told to go back).
The truth is that the Rafter family is loving and caring, despite their issues with each other. The show is a sweet microcosm of suburban life, a newly 'together again' family, their disappointments and successes. Once we too had our own version of this kind of soap: Hum Log. But now, unless family soaps have kidnappings and shootings, vamps and villains, they simply don't get made. Even if some serials do occasionally have episodes where you can savour the gentle ebb and flow of family life, they're too few and far between. Invariably, these enjoyable episodes will be followed by some senseless track. (Example: In Bade Achche Lagte Hain, our heroine pretended to be dead for her family for five years, while she lived secretly in Dubai. Seriously? The reasons offered were so silly, you almost wanted to hit Priya on the head with a blunt object. Oh wait, that could have led to an amnesia track).
Old, tired industry beliefs -- that stories can't move forward without a vamp or villain to create conflict, that slice-of-life doesn't work on TV, that you need to have high drama - are just that: old and tired beliefs.