Are Hindi fiction shows an intellectual embarrassment?

By Anindita Sarkar , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | November 21, 2011
Television in India is still looked down upon to a large extent. While movies help the viewer display of an intellectual image, the viewer-content association with the locally-produced fiction shows on television is somewhat frowned upon. We explore.

Post a one-liner review of the latest movie on Facebook. Or perhaps, read the controversial Tweets on the latest season of Sex In The City ... cool. But, discuss Balika Vadhu and Pavitra Rishta with your buddies across the social networking platforms ... just too uncool. At least, for the intellectual class it is, to even discuss these television serials, not just on the social networking sites, but even at lunch tables.

When it comes to the latest multiplex release, be it domestic or an international one, or even international shows such as Sex In The City and F.R.I.E.N.D.S. beamed to Indian tele-audiences, almost all will sit together to appreciate or bash that latest craft, and how! There will be posts on Twitter handles, while the FB pages may just go berserk with statements, remarks, comments, and even debates from viewers.

And yet, despite these very audiences duly contributing to the overall viewership of top Hindi fictions on television across the Hindi genre, given that India Hindi fiction is one of the most-watched genres in the country, not many will openly declare that they do so. Consider this: According to TAM (C&S4+HSM), almost 20 per cent of the overall viewership for the Hindi GEC genre comes from the SEC A audience.

So, why is it that Indian serials and soaps are considered uncool enough not to be discussed in social circles, and therefore not extended to lunch tables and social networking platforms?

Worried about social image

Many note that the primary reason for exhibiting such reluctance to discuss is the fact that such audiences are worried and conscious about their social image that is being displayed through discussions and the social world outside, to their own demographic profile. Is it because fictions are primarily targeted towards women at home (read housewives, or the non-working class). And, the shows depict the above-mentioned category of women, along with the culture they belong to.

"At least, the SEC A audience does not want to be associated with television in their social and virtual circles, as it may for those who watch these serials translate into a non-active social life with enough time to spare, and may even be jobless," says Jamnadas Majethia, chairperson and managing director, Hats Off Productions.

"Also, fiction in India means mass, and such viewers would rather belong to the 'class' segment," he adds.

A top channel head also makes an interesting comment on conditions of anonymity. He says, "We associate with people who work until 10 at night. Where is the time to watch such shows which primarily occupy the 8-10 pm slot?"

No star value

In a country where Shah Rukh Khan and Rajnikanth are treated no less than God, television completely lacks in star appeal. It's rare for a television actor to become a rage in this country. And, with so much clutter, not all faces are remembered as well.

"Television is more of a habit, while movies are passion points. To watch and discuss international shows such Dexter or Sex In The City is considered cool," says Anita Karnik, principal partner, Invention, Mindshare.

Read my new 'status update'

As far as the social platforms are concerned, it's also about the 'status update'. There is a certain amount of snobbery attached to what one watches.

"Furthermore, anything written and used as a status update is expected to generate and regenerate remarks. So, if it's local fiction, not everyone on that page may be able to relate to what is being written," says Karnik.

Just passive viewing

However, while the language barrier, too, can play a significant role in influencing people to not accept or discuss their favourite fictions on Facebook or Twitter, there are many who actually do not watch such shows. And, others are passive viewers at home with just one television availability.

Paritosh Joshi, chief executive officer, STAR CJ Alive, says that people only tend to see things through self-selection. For example, while on Twitter, one can selectively choose whom to follow, a Facebook page is more about friends and buddies. "And, the case maybe that the people who are followed, tagged, or added as friends by a certain segment, do not actually watch such shows on TV."


However, even as the acceptance is almost nil, there are sub-segments of the fiction genre that do find space in the socio-virtual world, say experts.

Jagdeep Kapoor, chairman and managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, cites the examples of shows such as Bade Achche Lagte Hai on Sony, and Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashmah on Sab TV. He says, "While there is hesitation to affirm one's association with TV, and even more with the Saas-Bahu fictions, upscale and progressive shows such as Bade Achche Lagte Hai can be discussed easily. And, while people are selective in talking about the serious fiction they watch, fiction that falls into the fun genre such as Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashmah can be discussed easily and frankly."

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