When it comes to television viewing, Indian viewers like to be as much grounded in reality as they would like to take fantasy flights. There was time when cities and towns looked as if under curfew on Sundays when entire localities would settle down to watch the Epics Ramayana and Mahabharat on Doordarshan. However, it is reality shows that have taken precedence in today’s times. A commoner’s goals, aspirations, success, heartbreak, celebration and talent – everything goes live on ‘reality’ TV.
But amid the trails and travails of reality participants, devotional and mythological programmes have begun making a quiet comeback on GECs. Just as Doordarshan in the 80s had transcended all borders with its Epics, national and regional GECs today have begun creating the same magic with digitised versions of the Epics and mythologies, even as the popularity of the reality genre continues.
Southern GECs are seeing quite some action on this front. Tamil GEC Raj TV is airing 9X’s Mahabharat in Tamil. Sun Network has also started airing NDTV’s Ramayana in Malayalam (on Surya TV). Most of the Southern GECs have come up with several mythological shows, sometimes running on prime time.
What is prompting the Southern GECs to experiment with this time tested genre again? What is driving these channels towards trying newer programming mixes? Is the popularity of imported formats of Western reality shows beginning to wane for the Southern audiences? How are these contrasting varieties of reality and mythology genres delivering for the Southern GECs? exchange4media finds out.
Mythology: A time tested genre, improved with money and technology
Most experts from the Southern GECs have said that the trend of wooing audiences with mythological programmes has been there in the past, but with increased access to advanced technologies and the ability of production houses to invest in such high budget programmes, the genre is getting exploited extensively in the recent times.
According to R Sreekandan Nair, VP (Programme), Asianet Communications, “Devotional programmes getting popularity is not a new thing in Indian television. There have been Ramayana and Mahabharat in the past. In the Kerala scenario, it is a fact that the number of such programmes has increased considerably. This is mainly due to the changes in viewers’ tastes and the willingness of a few production houses to go for such costly productions.”
Suresh Iyer, CEO, Raj TV, observed, “In the past, programmes on mythology had technical constraints as well as lack of funds. But with improved special effects, graphics and funds for such high budget productions, Epics can be presented to the audience in full glory. It is like watching ‘Lord of the Rings’ with Indian stories.”
Shyamaprasad, President (Programmes) Amrita TV, said, “Mythologicals/ devotionals have always been popular, right from the ‘Ramayana’ days on DD. It certainly captures the beliefs and imaginations of a large cross-section of the audience on a pan Indian level, often across religions. The look and feel of such shows are generally so special, as well as the cost being on the higher side, that they naturally find a berth in prime time. Channels spending a higher cost on them makes more sense as it leads to increased shelf life and an inter-linguistic market.”
Moolah is here for now, but not for long
It is obvious that this genre is delivering for the channels. However, where all experts agree on the success of this trend, doubts are also expressed about the long lasting success of this genre.
R Balachandran, VP, Strategic Planning & Marketing, Vijay TV, pointed out, “When a certain genre works, it is natural for others to follow suit. Mythology as a genre has the ability to cut across age groups and is one of the main reasons why it finds such importance, sometimes even on prime time. Mythological fiction has the elements of a great story, fantasy, visual appeal and a positive message, which when bound together, is a great package. Exploring this genre further, our success in shows like ‘Bhakthi’ and ‘Arul Tharum Ambal’ have reposed our faith in spiritual discourse, which has been welcomed by viewers.”
Suresh Iyer of Raj TV said, “There is no denying the fact that soaps have become a drag and dull. With improved formats, mythological programmes are on an all time high. Our ratings with Ramayana have increased 100 per cent every week ever since it went on air, and the ratings for our live coverage of religious ceremonies like ‘Kantha Shashti’ festival and ‘Kathika Deepam’ every year have done well for us.”
On the other hand, Asianet’s Sreekandan Nair was of the opinion that the flooding of such programmes in Kerala, in particular, and South India, in general, would take away the attraction and even end in a setback to viewership.
Reality genre not waning, but innovation is crucial
Coming to reality shows, most channel honchos agree that such shows continue to be the highest yielding assets of the channels. However, time has come for changes and innovations in the formats.
Asianet’s Shyamaprased said, “The audience is looking for a good time from their TV fare. They are not particularly concerned about the genre or format, but are willing to be entertained by what captures their imagination, be it music or dance. So, the format may continue to remain along similar lines as long as they are able to engage audience with what is delivered within the format.”
According to Vijay TV’s Balachandran, “While song and dance contests kicked off the reality genre in India, we are already seeing other forms of reality that have worked beyond the shores and are hitting our TV screens. I guess the time is right for us to experiment with more of these formats in our environment, and we have no doubt there would be audience acceptance for such formats. At Vijay TV, we have already moved in that direction with shows like ‘Anu Alavum Bayamilai’ and ‘Challenge with Simbu’.”
Sreekandan Nair felt that the plethora of reality shows had made watching such programmes monotonous. “As far as Asianet is concerned, I don’t think this should be replaced with innovative concepts immediately. The acceptance of any reality show depends mainly on the quality of the production and the excellence of the participants,” he pointed out.
It may be a matter of varying taste for the audience, but with both mythology and reality genres appealing to a wide spectrum of audiences, newer programming mixes are in the offing for most Southern GECs.