Sometimes looking for a silver lining is futile because there just isn't enough silver. Searching for interesting, watchable serials on the Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) is a bit like that - there just aren't any. Or rather (to be absolutely fair and square), there are so few that you can count them on the fingers of one hand (and you'd still have fingers to spare).
It's time for a reality check.
For several months now, everyone (including me) has been desperately clutching at straws to prove that the GEC space is changing but the truth is it's not. We've gone hoarse saying that saas-bahu shows have disappeared from our screens but they haven't. We've been saying that all those over-the-top female vamps who were the heartbeat of Ekta Kapoor shows have gone but they haven't. About the only thing that has happened is that a few shows have tried to be 'different.' A couple have worked. But most haven't because being different doesn't equal being interesting.
There are too many channels and too many shows, so I can't write about every single one (though I wish I could because I have watched pretty much all of them and there's a lot to say about each one). But let's start with the leading channel, Star Plus and its top two shows, Diya Aur Bati Hum and Saathiya Saath Nibhana.
In both, the mother-in-law is alive and kicking and screaming. Diya… was supposed to reflect Star Plus's 'nayi soch' tagline and tell us the story of an educated girl's dream of becoming an IPS officer and how her rustic but supportive husband helps her in fulfilling her dream. Reality: It's about a self-righteous, supine girl with a saas from hell (mother-in-law's standard expression is pursed lips combined with big, round eyes starting from their sockets; if her eyes grew any bigger or rounder, they would be in danger of falling out). The 'supportive' husband who, till date, had never opened his mouth before his family, has finally decided to do so, except that it's in 'support' of his mother! That is so nice of him.
In both, the vamp is alive and well and plotting: Though Star Plus made much of the fact that the female lead (Gopi) in its serial, Saathiya… went to school (and the adult literacy programme in the country was never the same again), the truth is somewhat different. The real story of Saathiya… is not about Gopi's growth into an educated and confident young woman, it is about how the vamp does everything in her power to wreck Gopi's life and marriage and succeeds almost every time. How entertaining is that!
Just being 'different' is not enough. Iss Pyaar Ko Kyaa Naam Doon, a Mills and Boon-style love story on Star Plus, was 'different' and interesting. Now that it's ceased to be a love story and instead turned into a comedy for under-eights (do I hear howls of protest from under-eights?), it's still 'different' I suppose. But interesting?
About the only show that seems as if it might buck the trend is Sajda Tere Pyaar Ka, about a young girl who gets roped in for a dangerous mission to capture a criminal mastermind. But let's not celebrate too soon, the show has just started and there's enough time for its producers to convert it into something else altogether.
And finally. Star Plus's other best rated show after Saathiya.. and Diya… is Ek Hazaron Mein Meri Behna Hai, which definitely has a younger, livelier vibe than the other shows. But even here there is a bad mother-in-law. Sigh.
Next week: the other channels.