There was a time, when television night timers were full of corporate battles, or disagreements among family members from prominent families like the Singhanias or the Viranis. Recall 'Khandaan', and the proverbial 'Rishton Ki Daastan' jingle. Or, 'Pal Chinn'. Or, perhaps the more recent 'Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi'. In the current day, however, middle class girls and boys are the subject of much discussion, be it the bespectacled Jassi, the forever-frazzled Pooja of 'Yeh Meri Life Hain' or 'Ayushmaan' - the Indian shadow of 'Doogie Howser MD'. A question stands overtly prominent - are these soaps giving birth to middle class stereotypes?
Says Madan Mohapatra, Media Director, TME, "Television has always been about stereotypes. But the question is whether the spotlight has shifted from the creamy layer towards middle class families. I don't quite think so. For one, the masses only react to characters that are larger than life, which means more of money, wealth, cars and the works. If you measure the success of Jassi, the show still derives most attention from urban centres like Delhi and Mumbai than from the not-so-metropolitan parts of the country. Which means, that the masses per se are still obsessed with larger-than-life families, like the Viranis for instance, which explains why the ratings for the K shows, are still in first gear."
He adds, "The pre-occupation of the masses, is still with characters that depict wealth, money and power. Bollywood films show much the same trend, which is why the situations, places, people and houses are over-hyped and given a larger-than-life dimension."
Hiren Pandit, GM, Mindshare, asserts that one success formula could well be taken on by several other soaps. He quips, "So, you have a Jassi that has managed to gear the entire process of television-viewing and steer ratings of 7 or 8. And she belongs to an everyday family, which is not blessed with as much of wealth as middle class values. She in fact quite shattered the myth that only larger-than-life scenarios and an exaggerated depiction of events work on television."
He adds, "Naturally, if it's worked for one soap, it would definitely be taken on by others as well. To a certain extent, it would lead to stereotypes of middle class families and middle class values. But I think that the spotlight is still on the Viranis of the world, as the K serials are still the ones that garner the most ratings."
Manas Mishra, Associate Vice President, Initiative, says, "K serials are not gearing as many ratings as they once used to do. Which shows that the proverbial 'Saas-Bahu' angle, or the corporate squabbles between one powerhouse and the other need to undergo some revision. Hence, while some stereotypes have walked out, others have stepped in. The success of Jassi may have inspired certain middle class stereotypes. But television has always been about stereotypes in some form or the other. That's how showbiz works."
Television has always been about surreal images, and the images have always generally been led by grandeur and an exaggerated display of wealth. Until the time Jassi walked in and thrust the middle class family set up in the limelight. And today, middle class families in soaps are emerging a lot more consistently than they ever did in the past.