While Parliamentarians might cry themselves hoarse and purists cringe at some of the content that is shown as part of ‘reality shows’ on Indian television, the fact is that Indian audiences are lapping it up all in voyeuristic glee. Be it ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ on Star Plus or Bindass’ ‘Dadagiri’ or ‘Splitsvilla’ on MTV or ‘Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao’ on Sony, each show has its dedicated band of viewers that is only growing.
While reality show ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ has come under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s scanner, Colors’ prime time daily soap ‘Balika Vadhu’ has also earned the MPs’ ire for showing child marriage. So much so that Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni has promised to look into the show and has also stressed on content regulation.
At various points such shows have aggrieved the feeling and sentiments of some people who feel such programmes are against Indian culture and ethics. A petition was even filed against ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ in the Delhi High Court, which, however, took a different stand. While dismissing the petition, a division bench of the Delhi High Court comprising Chief Justice AP Shah and Justice Manmohan told the petitioners, “Our culture is not so fragile that it will be affected by one TV show. Moreover, nobody in his individual capacity can be allowed to take upon the social order and ask for directions.”
The Bench further said, “In this land of Gandhi, it appears that nobody follows Gandhi… Follow the Gandhian principle of ‘see no evil’. Why don’t you simply switch off the TV?”
When contacted by exchangemedia, Sunil Lulla, Director, Real Global Broadcasting Pvt Ltd, opnined, “There is a Content Code stipulated by the MIB, and broadcasters have their own content guidelines too, which they adhere to. The Delhi High Court ruling is a testimony towards choice. As viewers, one can choose to see what one wants to see.”
On whether the Indian audience and the system was opening up, Lulla said, “In terms of reality shows, yes, there is a wider acceptance and the trend is positive. The news channels get the credit for opening up the ‘gates of widening visual appeal’. The show in question is a game show though. There is a healthier mix evolving, but it does not mean everything will be a super hit.”
Lulla further said, “The viewer responds to what is put out to them. Ratings are not the only criterion as often some of the best shows in terms of authenticity of content suffer from low thresholds of visibility and availability. Viewers have a large choice in front of them, be it in entertainment, sports, news. In fact, they are demanding more from content creators and platforms. If one offends sensibilities and tastes, as defined within the guidelines and proven so, the viewer has the right to take their grievance forward. Otherwise, the average Indian citizen is saying we will make our choices, we don’t need to be told what to watch and what not to.”
Ajay Bhalwankar, Programming Head, Zee TV, said, “Being an Indian channel, we are well-rooted in our culture and our shows represent this in its true sense. We do not believe in sensationalising of content to gain TRPs. Our shows resonate with Indian values and our shows are meant to be enjoyed by the entire family together.”
He added, “Talking about the audiences, I don’t think we have a ‘closed’ mindset. Indian audiences have evolved and are mature and willing to experiment with various content. It is up to the broadcasters on the kind of content a channel wants to offer its viewers. With respect to Zee TV, content suitable for family viewing has always been cherished by our audiences.”
According to Danish Khan, Vice President - Marketing, Sony Entertainment Television, “There are certain legal frameworks on which we all work, but this is a democratic country and people can have their opinions. What we need to do as responsible broadcasters is follow the law of the land. At Sony, we have an S&P (Standards and Practices) department, which the channel works on and it monitors the content of programmes.”