Many people ask this question, specially the Indian Youth, that why cant the indian television have their own version of “House of Cards” or a ”Broad-church” or a “Succession”. Why does our Indian Television Programs have to be regressive and appalling in nature? Why the subjects we meddle into are not diverse. These problems do not have a straightforward solution. They cannot be objectively answered. We cannot recklessly put the blame on the producers or writers or even the distributors. One needs to observe the intricate system in order to understand why a show where a shape shifting snake transforms into a girl to take revenge is still being made in 21st century.
Golden Era of Indian Television
Indian Television Programs weren’t always retrogressive in nature. We had the likes of Shyam Benegal, who made the 1986 Doordarshan serial called “Yatra“. The show derived its content from the diverse Indian culture. The filmmaker also made the historical drama, “Bharat Ek Khoj’ which was an adaptation of the “Discovery of India”, written by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1986, director and actor Shankar Nag made the very popular series called “Malgudi days,” based on the short stories of the celebrated writer R.K Narayan. In 1995 A Mouthful of Sky became the first English production in India. Written by Ashok banker, the show appealed to sensibilities of urban India. Then there were television programs like “Mungerilal ke Haseen Sapne” and “Waghle ki Duniya” among many others, where the content had such an innate inventiveness and authenticity.
Liberalization and its Effect on Indian Television
In 1991 the economy of India was opened to the world. As almost every policy decision, this one too had its own set of pros and cons. Media groups started exploring the possibilities of making profit through investing in the diverse Indian market and posed a tough competition to the existing broadcasters, which in this case was Doordarshan. They brought with them new ideas and immense capital to back those ideas. There was a mad rush to generate the maximum “Television Rating Points” popularly known as TRP. And in that rush the most important factor was not the quality of the content but how it can increase the viewership of a specific channel.
In the early 2000s there came a soap opera on Indian Television that amassed a gargantuan fan following. It was called “Kyuki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”, and was produced by Balaji Telefilms. The Indian audience connected with the family drama and the show became a huge success overnight. Though the show did have progressive angles and an eventful story-line, but it started a trend of pouring in excessive amounts of melodrama and altering the content based on the viewership. So what might have been an innovative concept became a product, an entity that was to be sold, in its later stages. The creative decisions were not left up to the director or the writer, but it merely supplied to the demand of the Indian market.
It marked the beginning of a plague that would enwrap the creative thought process and determine the quality of content in the Indian Soap Operas and reality Television Programs in future.
Entertainment Devoid of Profundity
The eminent film maker Jean-Luc Godard talked about this very aspect in an interview with Dick Cavett. He talked about the fact that somebody has to stop this mad and inconsequential cycle. He says that Television is producing viewers not Television Programs. He feels that it is the responsibility of intellectuals like him to put an embargo on this whole façade.
I strongly disagree to the fact that to get entertained or even stay engrossed, one has to create senseless and ignorant content. There are many aspects that contribute to this adverse state of affairs in the Indian Television. Firstly the number of episodes that the creators are expected to produce would eventually lead to a substandard quality. The creators tone down the pace intentionally, just so that they can meet the requirement of producing 200 episodes on a yearly basis. Secondly the writers and the technicians are not given any significance. In the same fashion it does not matter how proficiently an actor is delivering his performance. What’s important is how fond the people are of his physical demeanor. The protagonist is expected to play the stereotype without getting too much into the complexities of things or applying his own intellect. The television targets a particular class of people who keep the television set on while doing some house hold chore. They would keep having a conversation while keeping an ear out for the soap opera running in the background. This gives the distributors and media houses to telecast a shoddily made program with some ably marketed gimmicks.
The viewers, the creators and the distributors are coparceners in creating this redundant culture where television has just become a business prospect, suppressing the craft in ways that it would be extremely hard to restore the balance between art and commerce once again.
One thing is certain that the change will have to come from the side of the creators as well as the viewers. I understand the fact that post independence we were surrounded with a lot of difficulties and hardships as an underdeveloped nation. We didn’t know how to sustain ourselves. Our systems were failing, we didn’t have food to eat, we were surrounded by distrusting neighbors on all the sides and hence we found an escape from the reality when we watched a larger than life cinematic paradise. But when television came we didn’t have any such excuse and so the credit of producing regressive content goes completely to us. The creators have to accept that there is a lack of new concepts and plot points, or maybe they are too scared to dwell into a new concept and hence are relying on the age old formula, and the writers are not given the freedom to express themselves. The viewers too need to change their perspective and most importantly stop frenzying over the physical appearance of the performers rather than look into more cerebral aspects.
Everything that is problematic can lead us to a better understanding about ourselves. I know it takes time to change perceptions created over the years. I know it takes time to mend a system. But I am a believer in sanguine uncertainties and I would like to believe that a change is round the corner.
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