afaqs!

Points of View: Are GECs a Reformed Lot Now?

By Sangeeta Tanwar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | July 01, 2009
The penetration of Cable and Satellite beyond Tier I and tier II cities has made broadcasters look at subjects reflecting the aspirations and values of small-town Indians

Lately, television viewers have seen a spate of shows dealing with social issues. Are general entertainment channels eyeing ratings, or is this a 'movement'?

Vivek Bahl, senior creative director, STAR Plus

The changing profile of core GEC viewers -- which is tilting towards smaller towns -- made it natural that themes will begin reflecting the concerns they face today and can relate to. That said, at STAR, we are cautious while approaching any issue. So, whether we take up the issue of the older generation getting marginalised (Santaan), or discrimination based on skin tone (Bidaai) or caste (Mitwa), we ensure that the right message gets across.

& #BANNER1 & #I would say that I am disappointed by how the premise and issue have been dealt with in a show like Balika Vadhu, for instance. While it has great characters and storytelling, somewhere, the writers and the channel have forgotten that it's still a child-bride who is caught in a situation, where she's been forced to give up her parents' house and live the life of a housewife. Instead, she is shown easily slipping into the role of a 'bahu', cooking for and serving people… happy to see her parents once in a while.

It goes completely against what the show set out to say. It is almost as if the strong premise was used to sell the show only. That is something we at STAR would never allow our shows to get into.

Sevanti Ninan, editor, thehoot.org

It was Colors that took the risk of doing things differently, with successful shows such as Balika Vadhu and Uttaran. It inspired others to attempt something similar.

Some of the programmes, which have debuted with a strong social message, appear to have become regular soap operas over a period of time. The channel and the production house, in their bid to sustain viewer interest, introduce various formulaic elements with lots of twists and turns. A case in point is Colors' Na Aana Is Desh Laado, where the young crusader marries into the family of the woman who promotes foeticide.

After watching 'saas-bahu' dramas for close to a decade, the audience was ready for a change. Society, too, is increasingly open to more inclusive themes. Uttaran, for instance, is about the sharp class divide within every Indian home.

Even a few years back, serials such as Saat Phere -- Saloni Ka Safar on Zee TV delved into the stigma of dark skin in the marriage market. Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin was a hit, when it began portraying a regular middle-class family. For two decades, Doordarshan raised developmental issues with shows such as Hum Log.

Pintoo Guha, producer, Film Farm (producer of serial, Uttaran, for Colors)

The success of Balika Vadhu on Colors -- and a deluge of similar shows on other networks -- makes the phenomenon appear bigger than it actually is.

In the past, too, we have had shows focussing on girls (daughters), for instance. Ghar Ek Sapna on Sahara One and Ghar Ki Laxmi Betiyaan on Zee TV were stories of joys, failures and hardships faced by girls.

As TV expands beyond Tier I and Tier II cities, plots have become more realistic. They showcase issues that resonate with small-town viewers. That's why we get to see relatable characters who, for instance, are seen engaged in money-talk revolving around Rs 5-25 lakh instead of Rs 2,500-Rs 5,000 crore.

Realism has seeped into most of the shows, because stakeholders have to include cultural nuances appealing to small-town viewers, in order to keep them glued to the channel. It does not matter whether a serial is child, women or grandparent centric. The plot has to be interesting. But how many social issues can the industry dish out in its attempt to attract and sustain viewers' interest?

(Points of View (POV) is a regular column which carries opinions of industry professionals on a current topic of discussion in the advertising, media and marketing industry.)