Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Do we really need soaps?

       During my visits to my parents and in-laws in the past 2 years, I happened to notice that when tea was served in the evening, instead of the banter and conversation that we usually had earlier, now there was complete silence, broken only by the sound of sipping tea, or munching a biscuit. Crinkled eyes stared intently at the TV screen, emotions ran high and you could sense the tension in the atmosphere. Thanks to the great Indian dramas played out on the small screen, the daily soaps.

      As with all social media revolution, the home TV viewing scene also had its Big Bang in the past three decades, almost equivalent to the time we have been on the planet. So we, as a generation, have been fortunate(or otherwise) to be a part of this metamorphosis.What we knew as TV consisted of a single channel,and news was the dominant air-time owner.Most households did not have a TV set of their own, so often it meant a visit to the neighbors, where fathers would discuss politics, and mothers would talk about which news reader looked the most glamorous. Weekends would bring a few mythological serials, and children were supposed to learn about epics from those. We would watch with gaping mouths as Vikram chased Betaal,or the gods fought it out with their much specialized  arrows clashing in mid air, and the music reached its crescendo.Ramayan and Mahabharat became the cult TV serials, and such was their impact that people made obeisance to Nitish Bharadwaj when he appeared on the screen as Krishna.Humlog, Buniyaad,Yeh Jo hai Zindagi were the other serials depicting the common man's life, laughs and relationships.

      Come 90's and word spread that a new national channel was soon going to be provided. Soon, DD Metro hit the small screens and blew us away with new shows and a dash of glamour. Cable TV had bombarded  the Indian household, and everyone in the family had more shows to choose from. Children could watch cartoons and not the news, ladies had a new serial dished out every second day, teenagers had their music channels and for the news lovers, well, more news! Sindbad,  Potli Baba Ki, Chandrakanta, Shaktimaan, Duck Tales, TailSpin- we as children were spoilt for choice. National Geographic and other channels satisfied the curious and answered several questions not even thought of earlier. Even a single room house had a TV set, and real and reel lives became more and more intertwined, till people began to dress, talk and behave like the people on screen. Advertising caught up big time, we hummed the jingles and wanted the things we saw;popular serials gave their names to clothes and jewellery, like Shanti's bindis, even boosting consumerism. Shocking revelations came to the fore, when we encountered illicit relationships for the first time.Violence was a part of some shows, we accepted them knowing real life is subject to such desecrations, it is not a perfect world.

      Regional channels were to follow, and they created their own version of the 'daily soap', now that it had come to be known by that name. A basic article of day-to-day use, which we couldn't do without. In an era of globalization. they came as a boon to the masses who were not well versed with Hindi, and grew exponentially of offer viewers a plethora of choices.Music shows, cartoons, all now had their regional versions, enabling people to appreciate the rich heritage and culture of the particular region.

      Amongst all this positivity, there had to be some devils lurking in the background. Although soaps brought us face to face with the harsh realities of social life, like jealousy, hopelessness and superstition, they took to the beaten track quite too often. Volume was immense, but there was not enough material to substantiate it. A serial would start off with a good storyline, which would be exhausted after a hundred episodes or so, but just to keep the TRP's high, some mediocre and repetitive twist would be introduced. Dead characters resurfaced, one wedding in the serial and it turned into a raucous 'Saas-bahu' saga, which off-course, had no end. And day by day the soaps went far from reality. People in them were never caught without gaudy make-up and false eyelashes, even at unearthly hours, no daughter in law was spotted going to office. Music channels offered more than music, and youngsters adept at uttering profanities found lucrative careers. Obviously, the creators of the shows would argue that these shows have a huge fan-base, and they make only what people demand to see.

     Coming back to the parents, TV is their only solace as children leave home to study or work. They watch serials all evening and spend the rest of the time discussing them. Some may be spiritually inclined and keep to the religious stuff, but even those do not spare promoting superstition and bashing all things global and 'western'. The content of most soaps are conflicts within families, that is what bothers me the most. While every relationship has its ups and downs, I don't think so much of plotting and planning goes on within a  normal household. It is true that reel and real life influence each other, and here our judgement and discretion  is being put to the test. So it is time to return the favour - when we were rebuked for watching too much TV as kids, I think an attempt can be made to encourage the folks to take a walk in the park.