Remember Malgudi Days?
TV is now making audiences into voyeurs and participants into striptease performers
A chance visit to find the title track of Bharat Ek Khoj on You Tube became a nostalgic trip down the times when Doordarshan (DD) was our sole window to alternate non-film based programming on TV. Serials like Malgudi Days, Mirza Ghalib, Tamas, Chanakya and Bharat Ek Khoj had something creative and enlightening to offer to the discerning viewer. Between Hum Log and Buniyaad, Karamchand, Nukkad, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi had already set in as popular shows for the family to enjoy in their homes, before and after dinner, with DD news as being the spoilsport.
Those were different times altogether. Since the advent of private entertainment channels, there is little space for indigenous homegrown programming. Increasingly, TV channels, in their desperation for eyeballs and higher TRP ratings, are buying rights for successful foreign programmes. The mindset that searches for a successful 'formula' in Mumbai film industry is playing out in private TV, too.
Entertainment channels are giving endless time and space to mindless 'reality shows' like Big Boss, Sach Ka Saamna and Is Jangal se Mujhe Bachao that neither have a script nor a storyline. Evidently, these programmes promote voyeurism and celebrate the highest (or lowest?) form of crass.
DD has abdicated its responsibility as a public broadcaster and has begun to ape the Bollywood 'formula' of private channels. DD's manifest obsession to garner profits has seen it start all kinds of channels that have been poor in programming and focus. They have been vehicles for corruption and venality.
It would be illuminating to know how reality shows compare with RK Narayanan's Malgudi Days when it comes to impacting the audience. Which programme has a better recall and level of satisfaction? Private channels and DD show a herd mentality. Beauty products, mobile phones, cars make programming skewed in favour of urban areas, but they force scriptwriters to churn out programmes that are short on content. The formula triumphs over creativity.
Sach Ka Saamna is a good example of what consumerist forces can do to an average mindset. Since several celebrities declined to put themselves through the show despite big money offers, the show caught hold of people who willingly agreed, essentially because of the money coming their way. Jungle se... is another show which is using bathing scenes of female participants to get people to switch on to that time slot to get some titillation. TV is now making audiences into voyeurs and participants into striptease performers.
With multiplexes becoming SEZs of entertainment, and Hindi films becoming more NRI and metro-centric, they are no more the biggest entertainment provider to all of India like they were 20 years ago. The concept of an all-India hit is not valid any more. Instead, you now get figures in crores to justify the tag of a super hit. The logic given by producers is that since revenue from UP and Bihar is miniscule compared to overseas and Mumbai-like metros, 'why should we make films for the section which cannot pay us well'? Marginalisation of the 'other India' is complete.
To see this ghettoisation, visit the Link Road area of Andheri in Mumbai. It has 15 screens in three multiplexes within walking distance of each other, where tickets can be bought from Rs 125 to Rs 350. A film show for four with light refreshments can cost you about Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000. Just behind this area in Behram Baug slums, which has a large Hindi speaking population, you can find about 20 video theatres doing brisk business with tickets selling for Rs 10 and Rs 25, showing Bhojpuri and old Hindi films in rerun. The single theatres are now showing Bhojpuri films with ticket of Rs 15 to Rs 45.
The insulation of multiplexes from this section has resulted in TV doing fiction shows on Bhojpuri and other regional languages from Hindi heartland. So, you find Baalika Vadhu, Is Des Naa Aana Laado, Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hee Keejo, Bhagya Vidhata etc. becoming channel drivers replacing Saas Bahu sagas. They also have no scope left for a Tamas, Mirza Ghalib or Chanakya to come back, forget about a Bharat Ek Khoj like series. The reality of shows now is total fabrication.