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Leading Ladies in Hindi GECs: Walking ahead or staying rooted?

07-February-2011
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Leading Ladies in Hindi GECs: Walking ahead or staying rooted?

A decade ago, when Tulsi and Parvati beckoned the unsuspecting Indian viewers into their homes, there was no dust flying around the nature of Indian fiction shows. Not many deemed a certain soap to be ‘overly weepy’ or packed with ‘too much drama’. Hindi general entertainment was the only way it knew how to be – full of drama, emotions raging high, twists and turns in the storyline, anti-climaxes, climaxes and residual climaxes, and of course, the women of the household driving the show.

It would be unfair to say that nothing has changed. Looking at then and now, there is a significant transcendence in the way television content is written, packaged and portrayed for the Indian audiences today. There is change in the tone of voice, personality and avatar of the way the Indian woman is now seen. In view of the fact that a majority of the loyal viewership comes from areas out of urban bounds, the fair conclusion is that this changing face of the woman in television content is, by and large, accepted and desired.

But, opinions are conditional and subject to market risk. Last June, Star Plus underwent a makeover, put on a red ruby star for a logo and stood tall and said, ‘Rishta Wahi, Soch Nayi’. The channel has faced stiff competition from Zee and after the sting in 2008, when Viacom18’s Colors stepped into the Hindi GEC space and shot to number one, Star Plus has taken conscious steps to rejuvenate and differentiate its content in a manner that has now developed into an acquired flavour for viewers. The channel has maintained and regained its lead margin in TRPs from the closest second and claims it is this very philosophy that has helped them achieve the numero uno status once again.

Starry Effect – Zee Follows Suit
As reported earlier, last week, Star Plus released its comprehensive campaign titled, ‘Ode to the Woman’, across all media platforms in a conscious attempt to clearly highlight the channel’s content philosophy that dub its female protagonists as ‘Progressive Woman’.

e4m spoke to Vivek Bahl, Executive Creative Director, Star Network, about the need for taking a stance on defining the channel’s positioning. He accredited the move, saying, “I would say ‘the progressive woman’ has been working for us right through since 2007 with ‘Bidaai’, ‘Yeh Rishta...’ and ‘Pratigya’. We have decided to brand it since June last year. We have believed in it for a long while, but are only conscious about projecting it now and, therefore, have more checks and balances to ensure that we are following it.”

Soon after Star Plus launched Phase II of their repositioning campaign, Zee TV announced a week-long marketing strategy around their show, ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, giving special discount offers for women.

The Idea Behind The Idea
How beneficial is it for a channel to take a defined stand on their content direction? There is also the risk of turning away a certain audience. At Star, Bahl emphasised on the need to clearly outline their stand. He said, “I think it is very necessary because I firmly believe that we are doing that. To be perceived by viewers and the media, you need to shake them up and tell them. People don’t buy it otherwise. At least for Star Plus, we are very conscious about giving out the wrong messages. We have a long list of internal rules that we follow about what we will NOT do. So, if we can project that positively and define what we are doing and thus, change people’s perception by putting out a campaign, which is in the right direction and in which we believe in, we look at our content day-on-day and there is pressure on the team every day to look for the ‘Nayi Soch’ in there.”

Sukesh Motwani, Head - Fiction, Zee TV, said, “The classification of channels doesn’t make personal sense. It is always interesting female protagonist backed stories that work. Zee has always had strong heroines, and shows with socially inspiring and socially relevant themes, and has always been a family entertainment channel. Whether it’s our reality shows or fiction shows, we also stand for the ‘underdog’. The heroine or hero is someone who is ordinary, pushed against the wall, but fights it out and emerges a winner.”

Sony’s Programming Head for Fiction, Ajay Bhalwankar, defined the channel’s content direction and said, “At Sony, we believe in reflecting the progressive element in our shows. Our shows such as ‘Krushnaben Khakrawala’ are primarily progressive in nature. We have been taking stands at Sony that we want to reflect positivity through our shows.”

Imagine TV’s, Fiction Head, Programming, Saurabh Tewari, commented on the need for a channel to clearly define its philosophy by dubbing it as a “branding exercise”. Surveying the changing face of leading woman in Hindi GEC fiction from a bird’s eye view, he remarked, “There are set rules and formulas that work that I do not see changing over the next five years. Channels are heading towards slightly progressive characters, where most of them are facing day-to-day crisis, but have a progressive attitude. They form an instant connect with viewers. No one makes regressive shows anymore. The change is in society itself, where women are standing up for their rights, or if not, at least questioning the rules. Regressive behaviour for characters is part and parcel of the large story and is depicted when required.”

For Imagine TV, Tewari paints their protagonists as “the best daughters”. He described the women on the channel, saying, “Our shows, from Bharti in ‘Baba Aiso Varr Dhoondo’, Subedha from ‘Arakshan’ or our two new upcoming fiction shows, our protagonists celebrate daughterhood as an aspect of the female personality and her commitment to the family.”

Part 2 of this special report, which appears on February 8, 2011, on exchange4media, will focus on how channels define ‘progressive’ and how media planners view the characterisation of women in television today...

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