How much of a role does 'authenticity of content' and gritty, issue-driven 'reality' play in the success of fiction on Indian television?
This is a question that Sony Entertainment Television (SET) hopes to answer with its new medical fraternity-centric serial, Dhadkan, which goes on air starting today. And in the process, SET also hopes to steal a march over STAR, both in terms of the quality of programming content and primetime viewership.
Sony's Dhadkan doesn't really take STAR Plus' Sanjivani head-on, actually. Dhadkan airs Monday to Wednesday in the 8.30-pm-to-9.00-pm slot, whereas Sanjivani runs only on Tuesdays, 9 pm. But content-wise there's enough cannon fodder, as both serials deal with the lives of medical professionals. Of course, Sony insists that Dhadkan - produced by Jeetu Chawla, and directed by Umesh Padalkar - is a more hard-hitting serial, along the lines of the hugely popular ER that ran on NBC. Of course, ER took on really bold issues pertaining to the American healthcare system - euthanasia, teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, underpaid public healthcare professionals, the lack of adequate healthcare for the poor…
Whether or not Dhadkan does the same, 'authenticity' appears to be the key attribute in Dhadkan's pitch. Sony says that the producers of Dhadkan have gone to great lengths to make the serial look authentic. The equipment used on the sets is real medical equipment, and the team had an expert panel of doctors to advise it on perfect settings, props, situations, and the like. What, in effect, Sony hopes to achieve by this is make Sanjivani look very 'candy floss'. "Dhadkan is authentic, and moreover, we are three times a week - so we have an advantage," says a combative Kunal Dasgupta, chief executive officer, SET. "The choice is between an authentic and a frivolous show."
However, media analysts point out that Sony faces an uphill task. STAR took the first-mover advantage by launching Sanjivani first, and now Sony has to win over audiences. And given the fact that only the most hardcore healthcare fans would want to watch both serials, the two will have to battle it out, especially on Wednesdays. "Ultimately, the success of the serials will depend on the audience, who will have to choose between Dhadkan and Sanjivani," admits Nachiket Pantvaidya, vice-president, programming and production, SET.
Is Dhadkan's authenticity enough of a trump card over Sanjivani? After all, even if Sanjivani is, indeed, treading the formulaic boy-meets-girl path, it can't be denied that the formula finds favour among Indian television audiences. And beyond a point, do audiences really care for authenticity? "As long as the story is on, with its twists and turns, the Indian viewer has traditionally not bothered much about the nitty-gritty," points out a Mumbai-based senior media planner. "And Indian audiences tend to be much more relationship oriented."
Of course, it would be foolhardy to assume that just because Indian audiences are comfortable with the present fare, it's best to stick to the tried and tested. "Look at KBC, for example… it was completely new," says Ashish Bhasin, president, Initiative Media. "The Indian viewer is loyal to a programme and not a channel. And ultimately what will count is how the new programmes gel with the psyche of the audience." Sony is certainly banking on the viewer's need to see something different.
Dhadkan might be trying to do an ER - perhaps a watered down version - but the moot point is, will such a show succeed in India? Are Indian audiences prepared to watch the kind of hard-hitting, issue-driven television programming that made ER a success? In the pre-satellite television days, there were serials - liberally funded by a government keen to promote social issues - that dealt with serious issues like women's empowerment and rural upliftment. Shanti is, in fact, one such example. But today, television programming is based solely on market considerations.
And the market seems to demand family drama. Although dubbed as being 'reactionary' by feminist, serials such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (KSBKBT) and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki (KGGK) have been ruling the charts, months on end. Going by INTAM figures for the week January 14-22 (on a base of all C&S households in 29 cities, and in the 4+ age group), KSBKBT, on Wednesday, January 16, had an overall channel share of 33.06 - that is, an estimated 3,734,000 viewers. This, despite the fact that the serial runs in the 10.30-pm-to-11-pm slot. Of course, nothing out of the ordinary for KSBKBT - going by anecdotes, in many houses, women brew coffee to stay awake.
Sony's reason for launching Dhadkan in the 8.30 slot has also to do with its aim of adding half an hour to its claimed hold on the 9.00-pm-to-10-pm slot (Sony claims that it has seen its ratings rise by 30 percent in this slot). Which is why the channel is launching a second serial, Hubahu, (Thursday, 8.30 pm) in the same slot. "These shows are part of our strategy to consolidate our position in the 8.30 to 9.00 slot, four nights a week, Mondays to Thursdays," says Pantvaidya.
Incidentally, Hubahu, the story of twins who swap places and live one another's lives, is produced by Milind Soman and Parvati Gopalan, and directed by Nupur Asthana. "The show deals with the basic human desire to step into somebody else's shoes, and the difficulty of stepping out," says Anupama Mandloi, director, on-air programming, SET. Hubahu is pitted against STAR Plus' Kasautii Zindagii Kay, which has TVR ratings that hover around the 5 mark.
But will all this be enough to unsettle STAR? There's a window of opportunity, certainly. Although STAR is still reigning over primetime, it is also more vulnerable than it has been in a long time. It has to fill in the gap that KBC earlier comfortably slouched over, five days a week. It has launched a slew of new programmes in that slot, but none of the new programmes have evoked the kind of sustained frenzy that KBC did. For example, its latest show, Kamzor Kadii Kaun (Tuesdays, 9 pm), after initially crossing a TVR of five, has gone down to being the 18th in STAR Plus' Top 20 shows, with a TVR rating of 4.8 for the week January 14-22, according to INTAM figures based on an audience of all C&S homes in the age group, 4+. More importantly, in the target group, C&S/Female/15-44 Yrs/Sec ABC Market: Hindi Speaking Markets - crucial to the media planner - the show does not make it into the Top 20 shows on STAR, after its initial programming success.Â© 2002 agencyfaqs!