Bob Dylan wrote a song that went 'The times they are a changing'. Indeed, they are. Especially, in the Hindi general entertainment programming space in India.
If you tune in to Colors at 7:30 pm and see a 'fly' buzzing on screen, don't get confused. Colors is not premiering the Bollywood horror thriller 'Makkhi'. The protagonist in the soap 'Sasural Simar Ka' - 'Simar' herself - has turned into a fly. It is a curse, of course.
'Sasural Simar Ka', produced by Rashmi Sharma Telefilms, has had a straight run of five years, during which time it has introduced several supernatural twists (read: bhoot, naagin, chudail).
Insects seem to be a popular theme at the moment; one of the antagonists in Balaji Telefilms' 'Naagin' (another show on Colors) will soon morph into a honey bee. 'Naagin' is currently, the top programme in the Hindi GEC genre.
It is easy to assume that the introduction of such 'special' characters and supernatural twists is the broadcaster's attempt at luring rural audiences. But, the fact is that supernatural gimmicks are equally, if not more popular, in urban India.
Sample this data from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India: During Week 15 and 18, Naagin fetched 16.4 million Impressions, of which 10.4 million were from the urban (HSM 4+) market. Around 5.9 million Impressions came from rural India.
For Sasural Simar Ka as well, the trend is quite similar, with 4.2 million Impressions garnered from urban India, while rural areas yielded around 1.9 million Impressions for the show. The show garnered a cumulative rating of 6.1 million Impressions during the same period.
Overall, BARC India measures 153.5 million TV households of which 77.5 million are in urban India and 76 million are in rural India. BARC India Bar-o-meters are now present in 22,000 TV households.
A senior member of Rashmi Sharma Productions informs us that the decision to introduce a fly in Sasural Simar Ka was taken after a thorough brainstorming session. The move, though, was not meant to counter the bee track in 'Naagin', the spokesperson clarifies.
"We finalised on a 'makkhi' (fly) since it was never done before on TV," asserts the official.
The fly is an animation-based character. The visual effects (VFX) involved are an expensive affair, we learn. "The cost per episode will go up by at least 40 per cent", informs the official, adding further, "The animators and visual effects experts working on the track have earlier worked on many big budget blockbusters."
Our sources in the production house of 'Sasural Simar Ka' inform us that the cost per episode lies within the Rs 7-8 lakh bracket. The fly twist takes the figure well beyond the Rs 10 lakh mark.
"When you know you are doing something different, taking such a risk is worth it. Cost is not an issue when we are doing something as exquisite as this. We are pioneers when it comes to characterisation," says the spokesperson, claiming it was the 'Naagin' track in this show that gave the channel the idea to create an entire show based on the same theme.
Besides the cost involved, the introduction of a supernatural track brings with it other challenges, too. "Creating an animation-led character and 'masking' its movements is time consuming. This is a daily show. We cannot lose the creative aspect, nor delay. The writer plays a vital role in ensuring creativity and continuity, which are maintained despite these challenges," explains the spokesperson.
"The time that the 'makkhi' spends on screen in each episode depends on the amount of time the animation experts take to create that much screen time for the 'makkhi'. These are factors that we have to keep in mind when we are writing a track like this. But, at the same time, we need to keep the story alive and make it better every day for people to stay glued to it," says the writer of the show.
Snake, housefly, mongoose, honeybee... what next? An entire show with a fly as the protagonist?
We won't be surprised.