seem that the general entertainment channel heads have been bitten by the nostalgia bug. We already have a new avatar of the Ramayan running on NDTV Imagine. STAR Plus plans to launch the Mahabharat in a few months. Sahara One reran GP Sippy's Buniyaad on prime time in 2006. Are there more Doordarshan style nostalgia trips in the offing? More importantly, what is setting off this trend?
Some 20 years ago, when the Ramayan was first aired on Doordarshan, it garnered an unheard of viewership. Both the Ramayan and the Mahabharat set new benchmarks in viewership for Indian television, benchmarks that still hold. With so many new channels being launched today, one of the biggest challenges for channel heads is to churn out content that is different. Sameer Nair, who heads NDTV Imagine, met the challenge by bringing back the Ramayan; his strategy was simple - try and replicate the earlier success of the mythological series.
The question now is whether the trend will restrict itself to mythology or extend to other Doordarshan successes such as Hum Log and Nukkad?
Lynn de Souza, director, Lintas Media Group, is quite cheerful at the prospect. She says, "Mythological sagas are huge hits because they provide perfect entertainment by combining drama, romance and action. But there's no reason why family dramas such as Buniyaad can't make a comeback as well. These serials, along with my personal favourite, Nukkad, were all about promoting family values and propagating solidarity and harmony for the community as a whole." De Souza says the old soaps should be revived with the same enthusiasm with which the mythological epics are being brought back.
However, there are other media planners who think differently. Kajal Malik, vice-president, Interactions, says, "Mythological epics are making an appearance because they hold universal values. But soaps and dailies were never timeless. So, they cannot make a comeback even in a refurbished format. Hum Log and Buniyaad were excellent, but if similar work was to be reproduced complete with the charm and innocence of the Doordarshan era, then the sets and ambience of a bygone era would not go down well with today's evolved audience." The new Ramayan has been redone in tune with modern times, claims its producer.
Malik points to a research survey report by Starcom, which claims that viewers are no longer interested in watching long drawn out family dramas. It's time now to cash in on game shows, reality shows and, maybe, time tested epic stories.
While STAR Plus has made public its plan to bring back the Mahabharat, Uday Shankar, chief executive officer, STAR India, dismisses speculation that other oldies will make a comeback too. Says he, "At present, STAR Plus does not have any specific plans to bring back old shows. Along with the Mahabharat, STAR has a long list of other shows coming on air in the near future."
Shankar reveals that STAR is in talks with Siddhartha Kak of Surabhi fame. Shankar explains that STAR has shared a fruitful relationship with Kak for years and it is natural for both to be discussing future projects. But that does not mean Surabhi is making a comeback, he stresses.
Kak was also reluctant to talk about remaking Surabhi or any other similar show. He says, "We are working on something, but it's too premature to talk about any significant plan or association of a serious nature with STAR at this point of time."
However, media planners do feel there is scope for a re-entry of older content in a new format. Mitra offers a perspective: "Take a look at cinema to understand the dynamics that would drive content on the small screen. During recent times, films such as Lagaan, Rang De Basanti and Chak De! India have all advocated a fresh value system, a new courage, a new optimism in terms of emotional well-being and injected a new kind of patriotism in viewers. Similarly, entertainment channels do have a golden chance to bring back the social dramas and soaps of the past to inspire a new generation with the warm, positive value system of the past as reflected in, say, Buniyaad or Hum Log."