Rakhi Sawant was looking for a match on air and boy, oh boy, Lord Ram was no where in contention!
We do believe that our values are strong enough to hold their own against all attacks, but television rating points (TRPs) have no respect for culture. Here, there is no established hierarchy and Gods get no extra marks. Look at ‘Ramayan’, NDTV Imagine’s showstopper till not very long ago. Imagine gambled very big on ‘Ramayan’ having brought mythologicals back into the limelight after a long exile. The show was an instant hit and gave Imagine a dream start with plus-50 GRPs, the highest then for a launch.
“The return of Ram” made headlines for weeks and Sameer Nair seemed to have pulled off a miracle by banking on a mythological. Imagine became the No. 4 channel in no time and seemed to have cracked the code. But ‘Ramayan’ lost its sting over time and a desperate Imagine dropped it. Nothing succeeds like success, and in TV, success breeds like rabbits. ‘Ramayan’s exit was as unheralded as its entry was trumpeted, but in that short span, ‘Ramayan’ spawned many clones and it was mythologicals season once again on TV.
Colors followed with ‘Jai Shri Krishna’ and hit pay dirt straight away. The little girl who played Lord Krishna catapulted the show into the top five for many weeks. However, what was initially cute, became extremely irritating. Over time, people got tired of her looking out of the frame for acting instructions from her mother and shaking her hands and head in exactly the same way for half-an-hour no matter what she said or did. The ratings dropped and Colors quickly did an Ekta (jumped a few years) and that was the last anybody heard of that serial as a big-grosser.
Ekta Kapoor joined the bandwagon, too. She came up with her K-hani Mahabharat Ki. It did so much haani (damage) to 9X that the channel has not shot another serial since!
So what started as a new and welcome trend of India going back to its roots, its culture, its religion, soon turned out to be just a season shift to deal with their boredom. As if that were not enough, Imagine did the unthinkable. It replaced ‘Ramayan’ with Rakhi (Ka Swayamvar). Imagine what happened. Actually, you don’t have to. The figures are out. ‘Rakhi Ka Swayamvar’ not only opened with figures much higher than the best that ‘Ramayan’ delivered during its lifetime, it’s grand finale shattered all records for non-fiction shows for the last two years. The two-hour-plus show garnered an average of 8.4 TRPs and peak ratings hit 10-plus (which is almost double the ratings for the nearest competitor that week). While ‘Ramayan’ went out in a whimper, ‘Rakhi…’, which replaced it, put Imagine firmly back in the race.
Not only that, almost at the same that Imagine launched ‘Rakhi…’, Colors launched ‘Swarg’, a modern-day interpretation of ‘Ramayan’. Have you heard of it or heard anybody discuss it? It sank without a trace in spite of the fact that it was launched by Colors, which is the best distributed channel in its space.
Throughout the IPL matches, Sony made a big deal about “badal rahe hain aap, badal rahe hain hum” and launched a slew of “life-like” serials such as ‘Ladies Special’, ‘Palampur Express’ etc., on Prime Time. Unfortunately, none of the guys now screaming blue murder at the erosion of our values turned up to see these rather well made serials, the types our MPs would be comfortable watching with their families, and all of them sank without a trace.
Sony quickly went in for a reality check with ‘Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao’. All that happened in the “dangerous” jungles of Malaysia was that Shweta Tiwari showed off her cleavage and the camera was transfixed there for an interminably long time when she was busy digging for hidden keys in the earth! She found her “treasure” in the jungle and the audience found theirs, too. And when she was not digging with the camera going slurp-slurp, she would splash around under an artificial waterfall in skimpy clothes with the camera doing some more slurp-slurp. Everyday single day. Hmm… you don’t need me to tell you what this elaborate bathing ritual did to the channel’s TRPs!
One last word on the fate of Real. That channel came up with the proposition of bringing “real life” stories on to the idiot box. Once again, nobody turned up for the show and the channel is now discovering the depths of the TRP pit. If it has still got some fight left in its bones, Real might soon latch on to a simple TV formula: It is better for people to see and complain rather than not see and never complain.
Is India then losing it like our politicians want us to believe? Is general entertainment TV going to be only about voyeuristic reality shows such as ‘Sach Ka Saamna’, ‘Iss Jungle…’ and ‘Rakhi…’? For sometime, maybe. The good thing is nothing lasts forever, and on TV, nothing lasts for more than a little. The TV viewer’s appetite for a new “fix” is so overpowering that this too shall pass. It’s just cyclical. ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ has dropped a few points and has been moved from its 10.30 pm slot to 11 pm.
Let’s have faith in our own low threshold levels of boredom. When the dust settles, we will see that our culture has not been mangled any more by the onslaught of these shows than it was enriched when the mythologicals were reigning.
So, chill Netaji, chill.
(Venkat, as the author is called, would like to remind the reader that once was a time when we thought that the “K” would be tattooed into our consciousness like “mera baap chor hain” had been on to Amitabh’s forearm in ‘Deewar’.)