Sunday, July 17, 2016

Your Vampires, Our Snakes


Image from here

Scare them. Shock them. Keep them guessing. Television producers are on the top of the game. If you flip television channels, you will come across believe-it-or-nuts soaps where the titular character turns into a housefly. If this does not make you goggle eyed, the hero turning into a mongoose man will. Welcome to supernatural genre which is forcibly absurd, largely superstitious, shoddily animated and overtly religious in nature.
You might think that a country known for snake charmers would be more kindly disposed to shows where the protagonist is a vengeful snake woman. But city slickers are lampooning the onslaught of naagins and dayans in their living rooms. Urban folks may say that these serials are regressive and that they cannot identify with such ridiculous fantasy. But we know that success is the only truth. What sells must be popular.

Little surprise then that television producers including soap sultana Ekta Kapoor are cooking melodrama with dark shades of fantasy. After all, how many house hold dramas can the audiences endure? The dutiful bahu sorted all her domestic problems. She now knows that the laptops are not to be washed with soap and water. The malevolent matriarch has tormented the household members by poisoning enough milk glasses. The innocent child-bride has conveyed the right messages for more than eight years. As has the gutsy widow who opts for re-marriage. So, what’s next?

Themes of love and revenge now play via mythical characters with religious overtones. More than a twists of the plot, the twist of a character makes for riveting viewing. If it was the evil sister-in-law who was creating impediments, it is now her evil double. If it was plastic surgery that created twists, vardaan (boon) and shrap(curse) are more effective.
And yet, most tried and tested formulas endure. The titular characters continue to be black and white, with little scope for grey. The sanskaari bahu always wins over the evil other woman. The grass grows faster than the story and one engagement ceremony is stretched over several weeks. Thanks to re-incarnation, popular characters enter and exit depending on their dates and popularity. Dressed in faux-ethnic ensembles, women continue to live in garish homes, wear hideous wigs and oversized bindis. Above all, the drama continues to play itself out with every eyebrow twitch, lip tremble, pupil dilation and nostril flare in full camera glare. Up-close and in-your-face.

If you are cerebral viewer of Friends, House of Cards or Breaking Bad, you will perhaps shake your head in disbelief to know that Indian soap stars are household names in many countries. Balika Vadhu is running in more than 15 countries in almost equal number of languages. Frankly, you have no right to sneer if you are spending more time on your laptop and less time on television. Why should producers care for net savvy audiences who prefer Netflix over Colors, Star or Zee?
Other than saas-bahu overkill, the serial producers blame the genre shift on the popularity of fantasies like the Game of Thrones, The Conjuring, The Twilight Saga and Pottermania. Many ancient stories, as in Bahubali, are being told with modern camera effects. You have your fantasies, we have our folklore. You love your vampires, we love our snakes. All good? No. Not really. The unfortunate part is that scary can be engrossing, fantasy can pack a punch and sci-fi can be compelling but most desi soaps prove nothing of the above. When the promo of a desi soap imitated the Game of Thrones it ended up being laughing stock on social media.

And those who yearn for good old Ye Jo Hai Jindagi, Hasratein, Dekh Bhai Dekh or Sarabhai versus Sarabhai, keep dreaming. In the age of technology and Pokemons, there is no place for simplicity. Because there is no Ekta Kapoor without the viewer. Also because it is not Ekta who enjoys watching a possessed bride headbanging on her wedding night. It is her audience.
Anil Kapoor can try his best with 24, but it is not easy to beat the TRPs of the vampires, dayans and shaitans. Go get your Netflix. 



40 comments:

  1. Frankly, I stopped watching TV long time ago. Could never really figure which bugged me more - the screeching news channels, self righteous anchors,melodramatic reality shows or the never ending soaps. I am happy with the memories of 80s Doordarshan. such regressive stuff they telecast when there are many more inspiring stories in the country.

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    1. Most urban women are not watching this regressive stuff. I was hugely surprised while watching some of them only write this piece for a magazine.

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  2. I miss the good old days of yeh joh hai zindagi and Sarabhai. What they show today is such trash and yet trash is what sells these days !

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    1. Those based on an extra marital affair like Hasratein were also more engrossing and realistic than the ones we see today.

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  3. Hehehe true that! I laughed continuously :D

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  4. I don't know why the soap makers select such weird themes,the very promos or titles are a put-off.
    After Sarabhai 'May I come in madam' is a joy yo watch.
    Fatmagul has a pertinent theme.With so many rapes happening in India,nobody has dared to analyse the aftermath in our daily soaps,I wonder why.

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    1. You have a valid point Indu. It's a sensitive subject and no ones interested in soft serious stuff. They are happy to skim the surface and indulge in escapist trash.

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  5. No wonder those silly soap operas are turning into caricatures to an irritating level.Where has all our good content gone..Sarabhai, Dekh Bhai Dekh or Banegi Apni Baat, Buniyaad. Those days of simplicity are gone with the wind. India TV is in a sad and pitiful state.

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    1. That is because we are not watching soaps, rural folks who love escapist sagas are.

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  6. ROFL ... this is a hillarious read. I saw Naagin during my last visit to India. Ohh dear! everyone was hooked... from young to old... it was bizzare ... and since it was totally utterly ridiculous they were watching it. I heard about the housefly one in one of the articles... but game of thrones... oh dear oh dear :D :D We watch Byomkesh Bakshi and Shrimaan Srimathi on youtube ... I tried finding Captain Vyom but there was just one episode available. About that up close and in your face point ... I wonder what happens when a huge zit appears on the main characters face... I wonder if they will express through the tremor inside the zit. :P

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    1. Hey ... it would be great if you get your twitter button configured to add your handle :) Easier to share.

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    2. Thank you Rajalakshmi for reading and sharing. I have Shareaholic plugin for sharing on to twitter and Facebook. Wonder why it didn't work.

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  7. I am so totally out of touch with Indian serials. Haven't watched a single one in ages. I only watch American soaps or even re-runs of some of them. I don't know who watches the crap they dole out daily. I mean, I do know. My mil watches a few. I think elders watch it out of boredom. Surely the younger crowd and even middle-aged folks like us steer clear of it.

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    1. I had to watch a few to write an article for a magazine. And I was totally shocked.

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  8. That housefly has become so very famous :-D. It's amazing how mindless serials find such a large and dedicated audience. I think it's just a lazy approach to making soaps. I mean why waste time and money on research and story (in something like 24) when you can simply throw in a weird fantasy - people turning into flies and snakes - easier, isn't it?

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    1. You are right Tulika, it's a lazy approach to dish out escapist trash.

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  9. I curse myself each time now and it will continue for next 8 months because like a IDIOT i subscribed and took a contract for 12 months to have indian channels WHAT A MISTAKE.. such stupid serials, and the worst is there is a tv channel here which has NO INKLING of timing, the tv guide has different things mentioned and on air is completely different.. also a serial will be running and suddenly that would stop and another will start leaving things in the middle ..

    I thought I will watch anil kapoor's 24 thinking it just might be half as good as the original 24 .. first of all it comes at least 3 or 4 times a day.. so my recording completley buggered, As the indian channel does not understand the concept of new episodes..

    It is a PAIN watching Indian channels I wish they get banned .. sorry do I sound HARSH :)

    Bikram's

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    1. You are right. I enjoyed watching season one of 24 and look forward to season2. But season one did not get encouraging TRPs. Most people in cities watch Netflix or reruns on English channels.

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  11. Finally, I get to read what I had been suspecting for a while now. I am a fly that is twitching its forelegs even as my hind legs type this comment. The other day, my maid turned into a cockroach and the rickety chowkidars turned into beetle-dungs. Then my colleagues turned into toads. Please don't mistake me, something cosmic in scale and repercussions is underway here. Tell me please, is it just me or the cumulative IQ of the serials that has fallen below the ground into gutters and is digging further?

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    1. Haha, I guess they are catering to rural women who love this escapist trash. I don't know of anyone who watches this stuff. Not even my mom or her friends.

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  12. Honestly we have the most regressive serials on TV! I had done a piece on the same: Are you being entertained? Alka, you've got to see the stuff they dole out in the name of kids' entertainment...absolute disasters! I suspect a sabotage in the making to undermine Indian IQ!

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    1. I missed reading your piece Kala. I guess they are catering to rural women in small towns. But it's getting mindless and ridiculous day by day.

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  13. I have actually given up,on watching TV serials.
    Last I watches was VEERA and after that one I do,watch is WAARIS..
    Rest all,is same heavy jewellery ,screaming mom in law,a Dayan.......

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  14. Its drama, drama and more drama....The characters are either sparkling white or dark and evil...Absolutely No shades of gray!

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  15. Well written. Truly TRP's rule the day and if that's what people want, then that's what they shall have, said the serial rulers. The age of 'Darpan', 'Byomkesh Bakshi', 'Ek Kahani' are truly over.. Sigh.

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    1. Sometimes one wonders who watches them? But then, they know better.

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  16. It is funny and sad at the same time. Creativity is long dead. If the ratings of 24 start flagging, I'm sure Anil Kapoor will be seen chasing an Icchadhari Nagin in a large serpent bindi out to destroy Lok Sabha with her evil prakop as the clock counts down to zero.
    Zero. Much like the state of Indian TV.

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    1. Sad part is that it's getting worse instead of getting better. Lack of writers and creativity, yes.

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  17. I read the news about a character turning into a housefly. It was amusing and sad at the same time. But if the TRPs are good, who cares about quality right?

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  18. At least we can claim to have been part of Television's achhe din!

    Don't relate to the exaggerated drama and garish sets of the current crop of serials. It's been ages since I watched a Hindi soap.

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