A man turns into a tiger and goes for the kill. A nagin (shape-shifting snake) transforms into a woman, with perfect make-up, mind you, in the blink of an eye. A girl is wooed by a gorilla. Witches and ghosts live with mortals in the same house. A tantric curses a bahu to become a housefly. These are some examples of the kind of shows on Indian television today. While there may be serials that are family dramas or have the saas-bahu element, what’s raking in the ratings these days is the supernatural trend. What started as a passing fad two years ago refuses to fade away. What makes Indian viewers get hooked on to such shows and not find them regressive? How low can content on Indian television go?
No creativity, no thought
The state of television today can be blamed on the herd mentality of the shows’ makers, who don’t waste a moment to capture the hit ongoing trend. Producers and channels seem to be in a blind rush to jump on the supernatural bandwagon. The craze has increased since producer Ekta Kapoor’s weekend show, Nagin, became a TRP chartbuster. According to experts, the supernatural trend also works because instead of horrifying, the witches and nagins are beautiful women. The viewers don’t get scared.
Follow the rut
Time and again, it dawns on the members of the TV industry that there is a dearth of high-quality shows. But soon, any discussions about the topic take a back seat. They face the huge pressure of delivering numbers. Today, TV shows have to prove their mettle in a month or less. Grabbing eyeballs through sensationalism is the only solution to achieve that target.
Meanwhile, Ekta has often stated that India isn’t ready for a progressive show. “I don’t think urban audiences watch a lot of TV, whereas our target audience has grown up on a legacy that feeds on such stories,” she told HT Café earlier. She added, “The visual drama in shows like Nagin is new and appealing for the audience. Only urban viewers, who love the Twilight series and Game Of Thrones (GOT), feel a disconnect. You may have a dragon mother in GOT, but no one will watch that in India.”
It’s evident that TV show makers only seem to be getting increasingly serious about sticking to and taking the supernatural theme up a notch. Sasuraal Simar Ka (SSK) brought the icchadhari nagin track last year. Since then, the show has been going strong with various subplots about witches. Last month, they upped the quotient by turning the protagonist, Simar, into a housefly. Now, she is pregnant with a devil’s child.
But this trend peaked with Nagin, which recently ended show. It starred Mouni Roy as the shape-shifting snake who wanted to avenge the death of her parents. Currently, the Mona Singh-starrer, Kavach, is garnering high ratings. It is about a wife’s struggles to save her husband from a witch.
Since last year, numerous shows have followed suit. Adhuri Kahaani Hamari, for instance, was about rebirth, revenge, a nagin and a mani (a precious stone with powers). Vishkanya was a series about a woman with poisonous blood. The trend did not even spare reality TV. In the last season of Bigg Boss, contestants dressed up and scared each other in a task.
Even serials that aren’t based on the supernatural theme have used it in some capacity. In Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, Ishita (Divyanka Tripathi) was shown to be possessed. But after a few weeks, it was revealed that she was pretending all the time. In Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hai, Anita (Saumya Tandon) disguised herself as a ‘khooni dulhan’ (the ghost of a bride) to stop her landlord from selling the house she was renting from him. Such twists in the plot not only keep the viewers engaged, but cash in on the supernatural trend without delving into it.
When it comes to the ratings, Ekta has hit the bullseye. Ratings are the bottom line for a producer and a channel. With high ratings come advertisers, through which they producers and makers can rule the roost. Not everyone, however, is happy with these horror and occult shows. The Broadcasting Content Complaints Council issued an advisory to channels to exercise caution and restraint while airing such shows.
Also, in the past one year, there have been a number of shows that are based on the contemporary world. These are slice-of-life dramas like Reporters, Dahleez, Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi, Adaalat 2, Ishqbaaz, Tamanna and Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hai. But they haven’t grossed the ratings Nagin did, and that is why these shows don’t get talked about much.
A Vicious Circle
A senior producer, on condition of anonymity, says, “The urban youth are hooked on to American television. They watch these on various online platforms or download them. The younger generation doesn’t watch Indian TV shows at all. Women and kids in rural households are hooked to TV shows. Producers and broadcasters are simply catering to this demand. Channels want regressive themes as that helps them rake in advertisers. The audience suffers instead as they have no option but to watch the shows aired. It’s a vicious circle.”
A new low in the quality of television?
While many popular actors on television feel the medium is currently going through a sad phase and taking content backwards, very few are vocal about their views. Actor Ronit Roy agrees that the content is deteriorating. “What is happening on television today is very regressive. When I started doing TV, it was so exciting. Suddenly, it has become corrupt... It hurts me,” Ronit told IANS.
Experts believe the deterioration is not limited to bad content. These serials can have a deeper impact. The horror and occult tracks propagate superstition. But channels defend themselves with disclaimers on their shows, which claim that they aren’t doing so.
Abhinay Deo, who directed the TV show, 24, defends the Indian television industry. He feels that not all content is bad. “I think it’s unfair to say the content is low [grade]. While there are shows with nagins, there are shows like 24 too. It’s not as simple as saying that content is at an all-time low or high. I think we are in a transition period. In the next five years, content would have become better. We need to be patient,” he says. Abhinay feels India has a diverse audience, and that varied content serves different viewers. “Even in American shows, some are regressive and others are not,” says the director.
Alok Nath has a different opinion. The senior actor, who starred in the evergreen show, Buniyaad, among others, takes it with a pinch of salt, and says, “The content being consumed is directly related to the audience.” He adds, “Why just nagins? We will soon see aliens, monkeys, zebras and giraffes in the shows as well. At least actors get a chance to play such characters, which they wouldn’t otherwise,” says Nath sarcastically.
How long will this trend go on?
Mona is proud about not having done a saas bahu show. She had told HT Café earlier, “Currently, we are in the supernatural era and that’s working. The phase of saas-bahu sagas is fading and audiences want something else. While the werewolves and vampires work in the west, we work with naag, nagin, tantra, kala jaadu (black magic), etc,” adding, “TV shows have trends.”
Nath feels we can give better content to the audience. But he adds that “we have a disease of regression”. “The makers love to show women being oppressed, and the audience also loves watching these stories. I’m sorry to say, but a large portion of the audience that watches these shows are women. They make women cry and abuse in the shows and women audiences are glued to such plots. I don’t understand this syndrome,” he says. Nath also reckons that as most serials don’t run for years, and many end in 3-4 months, “producers and broadcasters are running scared and are worried about their business”.
He adds, “They have tried historical and mythological shows, and now have switched to animals. They are lazy and simply want to tap into the latest trend. We should ensure to teach the next generation something good. We have such rich literature and history. Why can’t we make better stories? Copy if you have to, but copy in a smart manner.”
The top six on the TRP charts:
Yeh Hai Mohabbatein
The Kapil Sharma Show
Saath Nibhaana Saathiya
Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah
- As per data provided by BARC India
Is anything else is working?
Family dramas like Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, Saath Nibhaana Saathiya, Kumkum Bhagya, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai are doing well at the ratings chart. Weekend comedy shows such as The Kapil Sharma Show and Comedy Nights Bachao garner good ratings. Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah has been running successfully since 2008.