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Is this the advent of a new soap era?

Balika Vadhu (a story about a child bride), has already become the second most watched serial, writes Poonam Saxena.

tv Updated: Sep 30, 2008 19:01 IST
Hindustan Times

Last week, Sony telecast a Sonu Nigam concert in London (An Evening In London). The concert was a tribute to Mohammad Rafi, and Sonu sang — very well — many of the singer’s memorable numbers (as well as a few of the not-somemorable ones). But the really interesting part of the concert was that Sonu was accompanied — not by his musicians from Mumbai — but by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I almost did a double take, seeing all the solemn-faced Brits industriously playing music for songs like Chaahe koi mujhe junglee kahe on their violins and cellos. It was also good to see a film event that wasn’t an award function crammed with dance performances. And Sonu did nothing more than just sing; there was no frenzied dancing or leaping around the stage in an attempt to pump up the energy levels.

And I did another double take when I recently watched a few episodes of the serial, Balika Vadhu (Colors). This show — about a child bride — has already become the second most watched serial in the country. The reason I was so astonished was because the show has none of the giddy camerawork, demented special effects (zoomin zoom-out, fifty times) or weird scores one normally associates with saas-bahu serials.

Because yes, Balika Vadhu is a saas-bahu serial, never mind that the bahu is a sweet little child (the saas is a sour old crone). The camera actually stays still on people’s faces, allowing the viewer to absorb their expressions. Highly charged scenes and dialogues are played out either in silence or with some muted sad singing in the background. But a more traditional setting (an orthodox Rajasthani household) or story (child marriage) would be hard to find. Also, at the end of every episode there are little homilies that appear on the screen (rough translation of one: “To improve the lot of women in families, women themselves should come forth”). But it’s a change — a welcome change — from the suffocating Ekta Kapoor school of serial-making, which, as we all know, has been a template for producers and directors for almost eight years now.

I’m praying for the day we can put an RIP plaque over the Balaji genre of television fiction. The other big show on Colors, Bigg Boss, seems to be surviving on the presence of Rahul Mahajan (since this column is being filed before the show’s telecast on Friday night, I don’t know if he’s been evicted or not). Frolicking in the pool with (is-she-his-girlfriend-or-not) Payal Rohatgi, telling the housemates about his father’s last moments, or simply hanging around the house (he’s in almost every alternate frame), Rahul is omnipresent. Not surprising because the format of the show lends itself very easily to unmitigated tedium. After a while, you begin feeling quite enervated, watching the housemates flopping from one sofa to another, constantly eating or drinking, and engaged in mostly desultory conversation. Perhaps that’s why the channel keeps introducing new elements in the show (the entry of Diana Hayden, Abhishek Bachchan dropping into the house, Farah Khan and Sajid Khan talking about the show and the housemates).

Without artificially-created pick-me-ups, Bigg Boss is perilously close to being Bigg Bore. And finally. Amidst all the yawn-inducing stuff on entertainment channels, there are a couple of shows that are frequently worth watching. This week, my vote goes to the long-running Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai (Star One). In case you still haven’t seen this comedy, watch it — for the sheer pleasure of seeing accomplished actors like Ratna Pathak Shah and Satish Shah, if nothing else.