Fortunately — or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) — I was out of the country during most of the Anna Hazare drama. But I believe news channels showed viewers nothing but Anna and friends all day and all night long. Even if World War III had broken out, it would have probably got only a passing mention (if that). So thank God nothing of the sort happened, else many of us might have been annihilated without ever finding out why.
I got home also to discover that Kaun Banega Crorepati's fifth edition (KBC 5) had opened on Sony to stratospheric ratings, helping push the channel up to the No. 2 position (Colors has slid to No. 3 and Zee has crumbled to No. 4. Don't even ask the fate of channels like Imagine; if current trends intensify, such channels might end up existing only in the imagination of their promoters). This also means that Amitabh Bachchan's show opened to better ratings than shows anchored by Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Priyanka Chopra… basically every other Bollywood star who's ever been on TV.
This was at once surprising and unsurprising. Surprising because KBC has been around for ten years — isn't there an element of fatigue by now? Aren't viewers weary of the show? Unsurprising because though it's no longer new, it's still a great show. And Amitabh on KBC has always been a class act.
I watched a couple of episodes and liked them very much. In today's reality show environment, everyone is so mean and nasty they could make Hindi TV serial vamps look like angels from heaven. But there are exceptions — and KBC is one of them. Amitabh's dignity and old-world courtesy, his flawless Hindi, all contribute to the show's strength. Also, this time round, KBC has some very unusual contestants from all over India, many of whom have intense back stories (which are shown to us through dramatic reconstructions. I'm not wild about such reconstructions, but they seem to be working here).
The other show that has helped Sony's upward climb is the runaway hit soap Bade Achche Lagte Hain in which a 40-plus business tycoon (played by Ram Kapoor) gets married to a 30-plus middle class working woman (Sakshi Tanwar). Hindi serials are quite fond of business tycoons who are always shown striding down office corridors with a phalanx of fawning sidekicks, barking out tycoon-type orders such as "Usko do crore ka cheque de do!" ("Give him a cheque of two crore!") But the working woman is a much rarer species. You can spot her only now and then in our serials. She is hugely outnumbered by the dense herd of women whose favourite accessory is either a pooja thali or a well-hidden (metaphorical) dagger.
Also, Bade Achche Lagte Hain has a relatively more 'real' air than the other serials which appear to exist in some mythical Serial Land where wearing makeup at all times is compulsory, sinister scheming is a national pastime and weeping a major virtue.
There is another working woman on the horizon — in Star Plus's new serial, Diya Aur Bati. The show, set in Rajasthan, is supposed to be about an ambitious girl who wants to become a civil servant. She gets married to a simple boy from a conservative family and he helps her realise her dream. I saw a couple of episodes and they seemed okay except for the (future) mother-in-law character who shrieks out all her dialogues. But it's early days yet, so let's wait and see. Hopefully, Serial Land will not claim this show as its own.