While some sociologists and political scientists would argue that the predominance of women in television programming reflects the rise of Hindu ideology, the truth may be more prosaic. Cable television has been moving out. From urban educated English-speaking households to Hindi-speaking households. Analysts argue while the earlier serials were a response to the urban working class woman, who exulted in her new-found freedom, the present crop is a response to the shifting of viewership to more traditional backgrounds.
Indeed. After liberalisation in 1991, a new class of women has emerged. A class of women, who have a lot of spending power, but are, at the same time, conservative in lifestyle and attitudes. Such women, though usually not independent earners, have a major influence on household spending. The majority of such women are educated in the regional language, are predominately regional language speaking, and affluent. The rash of bahu-centered television serials is aimed at appealing to such women. "I would see it as a reinforcement of values," says Sinh Wala of In House.
"This class (of women) is fairly affluent, comfortable with the local language, and aspires to the lifestyle of English-speaking Indians. Their exposure levels are very high, and they would be shopping at Shopper's Stop or Ebony for the latest fashion, but their attitudes remain conservative," evaluates Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director of the Mumbai-based Samsika Marketing Consultants. And characters like Tulsi appeal to this generation, a generation that Jagdeep calls the "HoP" generation - the "out of home but with permission generation". Women of this generation would like more freedom, but within tradition. Exactly the kind of woman that a Tulsi would appeal to. After all, television serials have to make some money. For a niche channel, perhaps, such things would not matter. "We are unisex," pithily comments Alex Kuruvilla, managing director, MTV India.
Broadcast policy also has a major role to play. Many of the earlier serials like Udaan were a product of Doordarshan's policy of encouraging programmes that gave the cause of women's empowerment a boost. DD, being a monopoly, did not have to look around for money, but today, advertising revenue is the name of the game. And, then, despite the anger of the feminists, irreverent women characters do command a sizeable audience - characters like Shanti (in Shanti) or Tara (in Tara).
If the feminists are up in arms, there are others who are breathing a sigh of relief. For example, advertisers. Earlier there was the dichotomy that while most programming was family oriented or male oriented, most of the purchase decisions - especially in lower value goods like toothpaste, soap etc - were completely in the hands of the women. So advertisements had to be crafted for the whole audience, while the target was the woman. Now, with so many women on TV, in more ways than one, that appeal is direct.
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