A strange thing happened in the Hindi general entertainment channel world in the past few weeks: Sony's Crime Patrol climbed to the No 1 position for a while. So why was this strange? Here's why. Is Crime Patrol a family drama? No. (Well, with a name like Crime Patrol, it's hardly likely). Do the women in it wear makeup so thick you'd have to scrape it off with a shovel? No. Does everyone live in fake-looking houses with massive dining tables where the entire family gathers for all their meals? No. (The houses look fake because they are fake. As for the dining tables, well, they're often the setting for all the drama.)
No, Crime Patrol is a fictionalised show based on true crime stories and the investigations thereafter. It is anchored well by TV actor Anup Soni. The stories can be quite disturbing and the depiction has a gritty, realistic, hard-hitting feel. Nothing is prettified. But clearly plenty of people find it gripping and addictive enough to make it their preferred viewing choice. Sony's other crime show, the long-running CID, is popular too. But that is pure fiction; not in the same league as Crime Patrol and sometimes very difficult to take seriously.
In the latest ratings figures, Crime Patrol has slipped from the No 1 slot, but it's still at No 3. My limited point is this: It's good to see a show so different from soaps and serials do so well in the cutthroat ratings race. It proves that there is space for all kinds of programming, if only TV executives were brave enough to go out there and sincerely invest in other genres. The top slot in the latest ratings incidentally was reserved for the Star Parivaar Awards on Star Plus, which, interestingly, did better than even film award functions. There's a simple lesson in that: yes, we are a Bollywood-mad country, but perhaps we love our TV characters even more passionately. Many viewers don't know the names of the actors and actresses who play their roles but identify so deeply with the characters that they – the characters I mean – become part of viewers' lives. That's the power of TV. And that's why in the Star Parivaar Awards, all the TV stars come ‘in character' and are referred to by the screen names throughout.
I don't know if I'm in a minority here, but I've always found Sach Ka Saamna compelling to watch. The show is now back on Life OK after a shaky start (when it tired to become a show with a – don't laugh — anti-corruption angle, with guests being asked how many times they had given or taken bribes, etc. At the end of the show there was some kind of anti-graft oath too. I guess they thought that if KBC could do a Slumdog Millionaire with such spectacular success, why couldn't Sach Ka Saamna do an Anna Hazare with equal success? But, of course, it couldn't). Anyhow, the show is back with its usual shocking, disturbing personal questions. Why anyone would want to come on national TV and confess to having had one-night stands (actress Nigar Khan) or to being sexually abused by their father (a guest called Hemlata) is beyond comprehension. Is it money? Revenge? Fame? Or rather, notoriety? Or do some people just lie? Is it a setup? I don't know. In normal circumstances the show should evoke revulsion. But I think the reason that doesn't happen is because host Rajeev Khandelwal is so good: He's matter of fact yet empathetic. And he never looks like he's getting any pleasure from uncovering these deep and dark secrets.