When Mandira Bedi dumbed down live cricket coverage with her low- or no-necklines some years back for the World Cup, cricket purists cried murder. Sony Max ratings skyrocketed.
There were many who thought the depiction of women in saas-bahu serials on Star Plus took India back three generations, but the soaps were huge hits. Then again, many found the fare on reality shows inane, but the ratings they generated only got more and more channels to dream up new formats. Or adapt global successes. ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ was a bold chat show, though with a heavy fixation on sex and relationships. It worked, until the threat of regulation saw Star move it out of primetime and soon off-air.
The real breakthrough shows this year came in thanks to Sameer Nair and team, who let their imagination run wild with programmes like ‘Rakhi Ka Swayamvar’ and ‘Pati Patni Aur Who’. There were many who found ‘Pati Patni…’ to be outrageous, but then if parents had let their kids be subjected to the glare and the strangers, why bother? What I see in ‘Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka’ on NDTV Imagine takes the cake. I was aware that the channel had roped in Bhojpuri star Ravi Kissen to anchor a show, but didn’t know it would be on a theme like past life regression.
The inaugural episode last evening saw me glued to the telly. The lady from Bhopal got into her previous life and figured that the reason for her aerophobia (or the fear of flying) was that she or rather he (since she was a male then) was killed in an aircrash. The aircraft (Air India Flight 101) was also carrying acclaimed nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha and crashed on the Mont Blanc mountains in the Alps in Western Europe while descending towards Geneva.
Phew! I am sure Imagine’s ratings will rise and give Sony Entertainment Television a tough fight for the fourth slot amongst general entertainment channels. But one can be certain that its early show timing (9.30 pm) and the possible charges that it has a negative impact on people could see the Information and Broadcasting Ministry issue an advisory. Perhaps I was over-reacting, but I hurriedly pulled out my computer headphones to plug into the TV so that my tweenage daughter doesn’t listen in to all the past life chatter and possibly dream of her past life after watching it. It took me a few minutes to recover from what I saw, and save the deadline to send in this column, I, too, would’ve started reflecting on my latent phobias.
Reality shows across the world have been trying to do the impossible to generate viewership. For instance, an MTV series called ‘Jersey Shore’ has eight 20-something Italian-Americans holed up in a beach house with loads of liquor and very little clothing. Their lives, says a report in the Wall Street Journal, “appear to revolve around casual sex, getting into fights and hair gel”. And then there’s an ABC programme ‘Find My Family’ that has adoptees trying to locate their biological parents. Adoption activists are obviously upset about the negative impact this could have on all constituents.
What next? How about a song-and-dance show where the judges are not humans but parrots who pull out cards and tell us who they think is the better singer. The stakes are fairly high for all channels and I’m certain there will be attempts to achieve the impossible. I leave the dreaming up to Messrs Nair & Co. But, while doing so, it’s important to factor in the perceived impact on society.
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