The mere mention of the word Naagin conjures the image of actress Sridevi swaying to the tune of the popular song 'Main Naagin Tu Sapera' from the 1980's Hindi film Nagina. Two decades later, that 'top-of-the-mind' recall seems to have been replaced by an 'Ichchhadhari naagin' (a female snake who can change her form at will). For television audiences, at least. And, that is thanks to Naagin, the weekend fiction show from Colors.
During its launch on November 1, 2015, Manisha Sharma the channel's programming head had said that 'Naagin' is a mystical thriller incorporating a dramatic twist at every corner to add an element of thrill and excitement which will keep viewers engaged. The show is being viewed by the audiences as a thriller, with an opulent fantasy and gripping storyline, coupled with some good chemistry between the lead pair. Naagin is led by television actress Mouni Roy's character Shivanya while actor Arjun Bijlani plays the male lead. Roy is a known face on the small screen having appeared in shows like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Devon Ke Dev-Mahadev, and the celebrity talent show Jhalak Dikhkhla Jaa.
Raj Nayak, chief executive officer of Colors, says, "We have to fill in a one-hour slot on weekends as per our FPC. It was our programming head's idea to attempt a weekend fiction show. She has wanted to do Naagin for almost a year before we launched the show. Once we decided on the strategy that we will do a one-hour fiction show on the weekend, we took the decision to go ahead with Naagin."
Nayak says that the concept of Naagin had always been a winning formula. "All naagin movies have done well in the past. This compounded with the casting, the story-telling, the execution, the graphics, the production values, and the time slot put together, along with television czarina Ekta Kapoor's magic touch captured the imagination of the viewers," he says.
Talking about returning to Indian folklore with this show, Ekta Kapoor, head of Balaji Telefilms, and the show's producer, says, "I believe that a story-teller should be able to present his/her viewers with a convincing storyline which is not only substantial but also creates an overall thrilling experience. Since childhood, I have always been fascinated with such stories and if you dig deeper, tales like these turn out to be really interesting and entertaining."
When asked about the limited number of episodes that the show will air, Kapoor says, "As far as the thought behind creating a finite series is concerned, this was my answer to those who keep complaining about the indefinite continuity of fiction shows on television."
In October last year, BARC India, for the first time, released rural-inclusive TV viewership data, with the rural segments comprising 30 per cent of the total 22,000 metres deployed by the company. A quick look at the programming trend in GEC will show a slew of new shows with supernatural plots and snake themes. Post Naagin's success, are we looking at a programming trend that's here to stay?
Nayak says, "The success of Naagin may spiral other shows in similar space. There was this myth that weekend fiction shows don't work and I think our programming team has broken that myth. Abroad, you have shows such as Vampire Diaries and Werewolf. Naagin is an Indian version of a show in similar space.
Zee Network's &TV (AndTV) recently launched a show titled Adhuri Kahaani Hamari, which also centres around a snake woman, while Zee TV's Neeli Chatri Waale also had a track with a naagin.
But, this is of course, not the first time that television shows have been based on our fanged friends. There have been shows based on snakes earlier too - Naaginn - Waadon Ki Agniparikshaa, the Zee TV soap on snake family politics which was aired in 2007, and the Colors' well-known show Sasural Simar Ka which had brought in the snake woman as well. Experts feel that it was the popularity of this particular track that sowed the seed for Naagin.
Producer Sunjoy Waddhwa, chief managing director, Sphereorigins, says shows like Naagin work well in weekend slots. "Channels may be experimenting in this genre, and the shows are doing fairly well. But, it is yet to be seen if themes like these have got merit in mainstream daily programming. I personally see more of these shows working as a sub-plot and not the main plot," he says.
Naagin's viewers -- urban or rural?
"Television these days caters to small cities, and stories like these have always been popular amongst them. But, Naagin, as an exception, has received love from audiences across the nation," says show producer Ekta Kapoor.
Naagin is touted to be a sort of a myth-buster when it comes to certain assumptions in the 'what the rural segment would like' context. Currently, the statistics show it to be slightly more popular among urban audiences, but this could change as we go forward.
Divya Radhakrishnan, managing director, Helios Media, says, "For rural appeal, the name of the game is how easily available your content is to them and therefore, the platform on which you are serving it to them. It may not necessarily have to do with the willingness of the rural consumer to pay to view the channel, but the sheer capability of the service provider (largely cable) to make the channels available. Increase in the rural sample size to reflect the true universe base (which is equivalent to urban) is when the real picture will emerge."
Radhakrishnan further adds, "Naagin isn't the top-rated show in the rural market (it is at No. 10) as against in a mega city like Delhi where it ranks at No.1, with a rating of 8 (cs4+). Rural TV viewing has exactly followed the pattern of its FMCG consumption, in the sense that it's the strength of distribution that goes to help a product sell in the villages. Hence, you see the success of Zee Anmol which is on the Free Dish FTA platform. The shows there that the rural audiences are watching are standard GEC soaps like Choti Bahu and Sapne Suhane Ladakpan Ke.
Most networks have free-to-air channel rights now showing previously aired content from their flagship channels. Experts feel that the success of new shows like Naagin could determine how FTA channels invest in fresh content in the next phase, and will drive perception and better understanding of the difference in fresh and repeat content for the mainly rural FTA audience.