Watch out, producers!

Debarati Palit Singh
Saturday, 29 July 2017

Pehredaar Piya Ki, the new TV show has brought the content on Indian television back in discussion. How long to go before channels and producers start giving responsible content, asks Debarati Palit Singh

Popular actor and host Karan Wahi surprised everyone a few days ago by posting a long message against Sony TV’s newly launched show — Pehredaar Piya Ki. In his post, Karan said, “Dear producer and channel, I understand we can’t make shows like How I Met Your Mother and Friends, and honestly I don’t expect us to do so, but for the love of god and for the reason we all got in this industry, please don’t sell me stupidity in the name of content which gives TRP because honestly, no one is watching this.” Soon after Karan shared his views, social media users took off on the show.

For those wondering what’s the fuss about, Pehredaar Piya Ki, a Shashi Sumeet Productions offering, is about the heir of a royal family whose life is under constant threat. Instead of hiring bodyguards, the family decides to get him married to a girl older to him, so that she can become his protector. Since the show has started, the makers have tried to establish the nine-year-old boy’s fascination for the 18-year-old girl.

During the launch of the show, Sumeet Mittal, producer of the show, had said, “This is the story of a girl who has all the freedom to take her decisions. It’s a unique bonding and unseen friendship.”

But the audience is in no mood to buy this logic. In fact, a section of the audience has even filed a petition against the show. The petition ‘Stop romanticisation and normalisation of child marriages!’ states that the show is trying to promote child marriage. A large number of people, especially from urban areas, have joined the petition.

Those close to the production house say that the audience is being harsh on the makers. An actor working in another show produced by the production house, says, “Shashi Sumeet Productions has made some really good shows in the past. We just need to give them some time... if they have thought about the story, there must be some logic behind it.”

And it’s not just Pehredaar…. Some people have lodged a complaint at the National Consumer Complaint Forum to pull the plug on Zee TV’s KumKum Bhagya. They have alleged that the makers keep playing with the same story track. This brings us to the whole debate on Indian TV content and how it’s been regressive, illogical and non-experimental.

FOR WHOM IS THE SHOW GOING ON?
One wonders for whom these shows are made. For, a majority of the urban population has moved away from fiction shows. Youngsters have taken to live online streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, HotStar etc in a big way because the soap operas don’t interest them. Of course, there is a sizable urban population which still watches TV but that’s for cookery, travel and shopping shows, some even for the devotional content.

The reasons urban Indians are turning away from the soaps are many. They dislike that the shows promote polygamy — some of the heroes have two wives, like &TV’s Agnifera, Ankit Gera; the lead girls in their early 20s in these serials do not have any career goals; they are just ready to get married, for example Rajshri Productions’ show on Colors TV  — Ek Shringaar — Swabhimaan. It is about two topper sisters with high paying jobs. Soon after their marriage though, the story starts revolving around their roles as homemakers and how both of them stand against each other for the sake of the family. So these shows start on a promising note but down the line, end up being like the others.

Another grouse is that the characters are not strong, especially women. Producer Ekta Kapoor, however, begs to differ. “Agreed, there’s a lack of relatability because the problems faced by urban women are different from those of the women in shows but our women are strong. They do deal with serious issues. Just because they wear sarees, people do not take them seriously,” she says.
  
NUMBERS SPEAK
So if the urban audience is shunning these shows, why do they run? The reason is, in spite of getting flak from a section of the audience, most of these shows get high TRPs. KumKum Bhagya happens to be the top show on television currently. Ye Hai Mohabbatein, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Agnifera, Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi, Sasural Simar Ka — all these soaps have been getting decent TRPs and that too when they have introduced witches, naagins and magic.

SO WHAT ARE PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT?
Actress Ridhi Dogra of Zee TV’s Woh Apna Sa believes that producers are making exactly the kind of shows that are being consumed by the audience. “The audience has the power to reject a show if they find it boring or regressive. In the last few years, we have seen many shows going off air within two months of their launch. If people find some content unsuitable for viewing, they should simply reject it.”

TV producer and actor Raghu Ram, however, feels that the Indian audience is regressive in nature and therefore likes regressive content. “We as a society believe that a woman who covers her head is virtuous and the one who is earning money is bad. We reward regressive not just in India but globally.”
   
WHEN DID IT ALL START?
Ironically, some 20-25 years ago, the audience got to see many progressive TV shows like Buniyaad, Shanti but as the society evolved, the content on TV has deteriorated. One expects films and television to portray current trends and issues but sadly they have failed to do so. Popular actor, director and producer J D Majethia explains why. “If you look closely, you will realise that 25 years ago, only the affluent could afford television and therefore the shows were made keeping them in mind. But today, television has penetrated every nook and corner of the country. Anyone and everyone has a cable connection today, so shows are being made keeping the masses in mind. No one thinks about the classes anymore,” he says.

Sharing similar thoughts, Karanveer Mehra who is currently seen in Sab TV’s TV, Biwi aur Main, says that the shift has happened because those who watched television two and a half decades ago now watch films. “A certain class of audience used to watch TV back in the ’80s but after the boom of multiplexes, they have shifted to cinema,” he says, adding that those living in urban areas have various forms of entertainment unlike those living in Tier II and III cities or rural India. “We are no more dependent on television because we can go out for dinner, movies, go clubbing or partying, but those living in Tier II or III cities are completely dependent on television for entertainment. These shows cater to them,” adds Karan.

RADICAL CONTENT DOESN’T WORK
It’s not that production houses haven’t attempted making experimental and progressive shows on TV. But most of these shows had to go off air because of low TRPs. Anurag Kashyap’s Yudh starring Amitabh Bachchan, Sonali Bendre-starrer Ajeeb Daastaan Hai Yeh, Tamanna, Dahleez, Sumit Samhal Lega —were unusual but they did not get the audience which they deserved. 

This deters production houses and channels from experimenting. Says Ekta Kapoor, “It’s not that we do not see progressive shows on television. There are several serious issues that have been dealt with in serials, including crimes against women and so on.”

But she adds that the moment shows talk about sexual freedom of women or some edgy situation, people get uncomfortable. “I gather that’s because everyone at home is watching the show. I have to respect the fact that television reaches every household and it becomes a bigger responsibility for us not to make our audience uncomfortable,” she says.

IS THERE A WAY OUT?
Makers believe that at the end of the day, it’s a TRP game and the medium is meant for entertainment. Shows that draw maximum eyeballs and numbers are on air for several years in spite of running out of storyline. As producer Benaifer Kohli puts it, “TV is for entertainment and relaxation. We are not here to give moral science lecture or teach something. Let’s keep it that way.”

Majethia feels, “It’s hard to run away from TRPs because that’s what counts. We judge the success of a show by its rating and not content.”

But Riddhi opines that makers have to take a middle path and create content that’s entertaining and logical.

One hopes that happens soon. It’s time production houses and channels went beyond sangeet, shaadi, saas bahu and started airing responsible content. There’s still a large section of society that gets affected, even influenced by TV shows.

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