Even Ekta Kapoor, the reigning soap queen who had channels vying for her soaps all along, had a bit of a shakeout last year when Star TV took the bold step of dropping three of Kapoor’s shows which had been running for the last seven years. The drama queen has finally moved away from saas-bahu stereotypes and gotten ‘real’. Her two month-old show Bairi Piya on Colors is about the farmer suicides in Maharashtra.
Most soaps today record an average TRP of two or less; very few go beyond three. And to think it was the same audience that once recorded a staggering TRP of 22 when Mihir (of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) died. So have the TV soap stars of yore reached their expiry dates?
Mona Singh, who had the nation holding its breath for the unveiling of her glamourous avatar in Jassi Jaisi koi Nahi saw the writing on the wall. Post Jassi… she consciously reinvented herself to host TV shows, do reality shows (Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa), turn anchor and emcee at events and try her hand at films (she stars in the upcoming 3 Idiots and Lakshman Rekha). Singh has an interesting theory for the demise of the soap superstars: it happened because of the economic downturn, she says. “Since budgets were slashed, channels and production houses started looking for fresh faces who were obviously paid less than the superstars,” she explains. “But I hope it all changes—it is reassuring to see familiar faces on TV on your favourite soaps,” she says.
Amarr Upadhyay, who played the ill-fated Mihir in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, believes the cost-cutting mission will backfire on channels, as the ‘fresh faces’ may not necessarily spin TRP magic. “Balika Vadhu has high TRPs not because of Avika Gaur (as child-bride Anandi) who, technically has an author-backed role, but because of Surekha Sikri (as Daadisa, the heartless grandmother) who has a great fan following and has been around since the days of Banegi Apni Baat. Take Sikri away and I bet the TRPs will drop. In the same way, Bidaai is doing well only because of Alok Nath” (who plays Prakash Chand, the ‘mamaji’ in it)
Ultimately, believes Upadhyay, “Producers will have to come back to the big names, the stars.” Upadhyay, who is also turning producer, is hoping to rope in a few big names on television to ensure the success of his shows. “I’m not here to start an acting school, so with due respect, I can’t risk using fresh faces. I will still need a big name for my show to pull in the audience,” he says. It’s just like in the movies, he explains: “A Salman Khan or Sanjay Dutt ensure a good opening. The power of the storyline to hold the audience comes in much later.”
However, Ronit Roy, who turned TV superstar with his role as Mr Bajaj in Kasauti Zindagi Ki, and has had a good run in Bandini, (one of the few soaps enjoying high ratings), rubbishes the theory. “Reality shows are too flash-in-the-pan. Unless it is a Kaun Banega Crorepati or a Bigg Boss, a reality show doesn’t go beyond 13 episodes. But Bandini has done 180 shows. In terms of fan following, the response I’ve got for my role as Mahiyavanshi in Bandini is far greater than what I got as Bajaj in Kasauti Zindagi Ki or Mihir in Kyunki…’ he insists. I have a bigger male fan following now than ever before,” he insists.
Media analyst and author of The Indian Media Business, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar says, “Among a 500 million plus audience,
different people like different things…may be a new audience is evolving that likes reality shows. But does that mean people have stopped watching soaps? No,” she says.
Roy also claims that, since viewership is far more spread out now, given that there are six General Entertainment Channels (GECs) instead of two earlier, “You can’t compare today’s numbers with those of, say, eight years ago, because the variables have changed so much.”
“The reason I choose to do only one soap at a time, as opposed to three and four earlier is because, like television, I have evolved too in the last 10 years — I have a wife and kids, and need to spend time with them,” he says.
Soap queen Ekta Kapoor sums it up. “Good soaps still run. And Colors is doing most of them. But the popularity of any brand or TV show (except for a few deviations) is that it also has to work with the urban populace to get overall brand value and appeal. The urban viewer doesn’t care for soaps any more, limiting the appeal of the show and the actor. TV soaps will not be able to cut across viewers any more due to extremely diverse tastes and the polarisation of the audience,” says Kapoor.