With the buzz that shows like ‘Zee Cinestars Ki Khoj’, ‘Indian Idol’ and ‘Super Singer’ created, reality programming has finally been accepted in India. Programmers, however, have decided that it’s time to test this acceptance some more and have taken the genre a level ahead of studio and talent hunt formats. Arrive generation next of reality programming with shows like ‘Business Baazigar’, ‘Figure it Out’ and ‘Lakme Fashion House’.
‘Indian Idol’ and ‘Zee Cinestars Ki Khoj’ represented one kind of reality programming. An attempt at differentiation by Zee was seen in ‘Temptations 2004’, which traced the life of big screen stars on a concert tour. Zee again experimented with a new concept with ‘Business Baazigar’. Unlike the earlier attempts at luring the mass audience, this show looked at bringing in a select audience interested in entrepreneurship.
The next experiments to come on screen are STAROne’s ‘Figure it Out’, a programme on getting a set on people in shape in 100 days, and ‘Lakme Fashion House’ where reality in India is taken to a wired house with 25 remote cameras capturing extreme emotions on a larger scale.
Too many experiments but is the Indian audience ready? “It is important to keep probing to find out,” replies Deepak Segal, EVP, Content and Communication, STAR India. “Reality in India is still too hard a term. We cannot do 80 per cent of what is seen in the West, as sex and violence are taboo in the country. We have to have shows that conform to Indian tastes and preferences. With attempts like ‘Figure…’ and “Lakme…’, we have to gauge how much more the audience will accept.”
For Tarun Katial, Executive VP and Business Head, Sony Entertainment Television, reality comprises different levels. “There is the top-of-the-line that channels can use as drivers,” he says. “It’s the big idea, done on a big scale like ‘Big Brother’ and then there is middle of the line like ‘Extreme Makeover’. Then comes the third level, which is more experimental in nature. It isn’t something that captures the audience’s imagination but is fine for alternative programming.”
By and large, that is what reality continues to do for Indian television – being used as a differentiator. Samir Gupta, Director, FBC India, makers of Lakme Fashion House, states, “The growth of a genre which will be an alternative for soaps is inevitable. Reality is a welcome break from the clutter of straight fiction programming and is here to stay.”
A point Segal brings forth here is that beating soaps in India is still a difficult goal to achieve. He said, “In India, soaps have continually outdone reality as channel drivers. Reality is appealing to the younger, upwardly mobile audience but we are still in single TV households. Even in a reality show, the audience will look for linearity in story, characters they can relate to. This is the reason why we see deliberate attempts of planting drama even in the present reality shows on television. You still have to tell a story for the audience to come back, which is not very different from what we do for daily soaps.”
Reality doesn’t just interest mass channels but also music channels, which have constantly used the genre. Throwing more light on this, MTV’s Programming Chief, Cyrus Oshidar, says, “The focus of MTV now is on appointment viewing and reality TV works well to achieve this. With ‘Kitni Mast Hai Zindagi’, whose talent hunt had a reality pod, and ‘Roadies’ we're capturing eyeballs. Outrageous foreign shows like ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé’ seem to do well in India, so we're looking at MTV's global library for programmes that will be suitable.”
Evidently, reality yet doesn’t have a standard definition in India, which doesn’t restrict anyone from experimenting. “Reality is in its nascent stages but will mature. There would be many more formats, we would have more home-grown shows coming in and international players would look at India favourably enough to launch products here,” observes Katial.
But Segal presents another line of reasoning. “If the Indian market goes the consumerist way, where the viewers are dead bored sitting at home and would want to know what is happening in the neighbour’s home, that is when real reality will take off in India. Till then, it is still about selling dreams.”