Indian Television, A redefinition of the idiot box

According to the urban dictionary, the idiot box is referred to the television. It is the ultimate medium to spread propaganda, dumb down the people and create mass distraction. It also befools people into believing anything and everything they see on TV as a fact even if it’s fiction. However, Indian television takes this meaning to an altogether different level.

I remember the days when we used to watch a single Government owned channel called Doordarshan. There was a time slot from 8 pm to 9 pm in which all the members of my family would gather in front of the television. We watched our favorite shows such as Hum Log, Buniyaad, Nukkad, Fauji, Magudi Days, Flop Show, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Dekh Bhai Dekh, Mungeri Lal ke Haseen Sapne and so on. Do these shows ring a bell? Then every Sunday, we would watch our favorite mythological shows like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vikram aur Betal etc. Although I have viewed these shows as a kid, I can still watch them any time today as an adult. These shows continue to be so appealing. Those were the golden days of Indian television.

How times have changed? Now despite having access to more than 20 channels to view Indian serials I cannot view a single episode for more than 60 seconds without cringing. It requires infinite patience on my part to even make sense of what is happening in the show. The rubbish that is shown today makes me wonder not only on the IQ of the people who are creating these serials but also question the intelligence of the people who are watching them. Such has been the decline in content in Indian television.

I am surprised that people enjoy and support such low quality shows like Naagin, Kum Kum Bhagrya, yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata hai, Saath Nibhana Saathiya, Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma etc. These shows are generating the highest viewership amongst Hindi speaking audience. Every single show arrives with the promise of introducing new concepts. Then after a couple of months post the launch, the show jumps to the clichéd route of the Mother-in-law – daughter-in-law war.

Eerily, all these serials on Indian television run on the following similar pattern:

  • The heroine must always be self-sacrificing and a model of virtue who can do no wrong.
  • The hero is a dumb jock who is just there to observe all the shit happening around him.
  • All male leads are business tycoons who make money through power point presentations.
  • The heroine must be present in virtually 70% of the scenes in an episode.
  • Vegetarian is good. Non-vegetarian is evil.
  • Give further credence to the audience’s regressive beliefs and superstitions.
  • There always exist a vamp wearing too much make up and dark clothing.
  • Women must be decked up in jewellery all the time even when they wake up in the morning.
  • Grandmothers and grandfathers live for more than 200 years. Thanks to “Ekta Kapoor Ki Booti”, all characters in the serial stay young forever.
  • Lame, repetitive loud background music score to emphasize all situations (happy and sad). No subtlety in acting.

Unlike US television, the Indian television does not follow the concept of seasonal shows every year. A typical Indian show is telecasted five days a week throughout the year. So, the writers obviously have no time to think of a plot. Each episode is created at a breakneck speed. It is written the night before, shot in the morning, edited in the afternoon and then aired the same evening. This process goes on five days a week for months on end. It’s intense and that’s why Indian shows don’t have a plot. It’s just a series of events revolving around a bunch of characters.

Even the so called reality shows on Indian television fare no better than these Hindi serials. It’s painful to watch these endless music and dance competitions featuring kids. Small children are made to compete on the big stage under stressful environments. Sometimes these kids are subjected to harsh comments from judges who are not even qualified for the job. The producers and viewers don’t realize how badly these competition based reality shows affect the psyche of a child.

I believe that the producers intentionally create such mindless entertainment for Indian television. Nobody wants to make shows that address the relevant issues our country is facing today. The objective of these shows is to purposely dumb down the audience; but hey, who wants to wants to spend time and money on creativity as long as the dumb viewers can be treated as cash cows. Their target audience is the rural and semi urban households where majority of the viewers are housewives and semi literate folks. Since the channels’ revenue comes mainly from advertising instead of subscription fees it makes sense for them to only telecast shows catering to masses.

Thankfully, over the last couple of years internet has penetrated deeply in most pockets of India. It has also become quite affordable over the last couple of years. This may prove to be a game changer for Indian television. The accessibility of internet has given rise to various video streaming websites and apps such as flickstree, Altbalaji, Voot, Hotstar, Spuul, Netflix, Amazon Prime and off course youtube. These websites offer access to some quality based web-series being produced in India. Some of these shows are Dev DD, Inside Edge, Pitchers, Bang Bajaa Baraat and so on. Although these shows are being produced on a limited budget, their content is for more entertaining and realistic.

With the passage of time we will probably be seeing more shows on internet platforms. Hence, one option is to subscribe to these platforms so that more shows can be produced to cater to an audience of a certain niche. As far as Indian television is concerned, I do not see any improvement in the near future. What I do hope is that eventually certain viewers will move on to these video streaming platforms. This will probably trigger a positive disruptive change across all mediums in viewership of content.

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