Joined: 10 September 2008
The sets of Balika Vadhu, Colors' little big serial that has been No. 1 in the Television Audience Measurement (TAM) ratings and has hastened the end of the 1,800-episode-old grandmother of all soaps, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, couldn't be more different. Recreated at R.C. Dairy on the Ahmedabad highway, the soap, with its 11-year-old star Avika Gor, has been on TRP charts cheek by jowl with Star Plus' Bidaai, the tale of two sisters against the backdrop of Agra.
Small towns (Balika Vadhu is set in Jodhpur, where it was shot initially in May), young girls, a gentle hand. Life in the post-Kyunki phase is looking very different. It's partly a function of the competition.
As the share of entertainment channels has fallen (24.2 per cent of the total channel share in 2004 to 22.9 per cent in 2008) so has the share of other genres escalated (Hindi news went up from 3.7 per cent in 2004 to 4.4 per cent in 2008, while children's channels have risen from 2.7 per cent to 5.4 per cent).
But it's mostly a function of the success of Colors, whose "disruptive" scheduling has proved so disconcerting that Star Plus has replaced its eight-year-long primetime soap with Aap ki Kachehri with Kiran Bedi. The reasoning? If daytime soaps can run on prime time for eight years than why can't a spin-off of Court TV, another daytime staple in the US, do well?
LOUD IS OUT, LOW KEY IS IN
The writer of Saat Phere, Purnendu Shekhar and the producer Sunjoy Wadhwa, have created Balika Vadhu. One of the unofficial ten commandments of TV is untouched in both these shows. The girl, between 15 and 35, is not too beautiful, is home-bound, and is always in suffering-sacrificing mode. But it's the way Balika Vadhu is shot that is different. There are few visual clichs, the cutting is smooth and dialogue doesn't equal din.
Reality formats are doing well, but only in spurts. In the past two months, 22 reality shows have been aired across Hindi entertainment channels. The burnout rate is fast. Nach Baliye 4 was in the top 10 for the first two weeks of its launch, as was Indian Idol 4.Viewers are responding to all this cannibalisation with a big yawn, which brings us to another unofficial commandment that has been shattered. That viewers want to see the same story every half hour. Clearly, they don't.
LOYALTY TO SHOWS, NOT CHANNELS
There's no such thing any more as channel fealty. Viewers are flipping from a show on Colors to a programme on Star Plus. What's more, after 10.30 p.m. viewers in metros are shifting to other genres. Last month, for instance, after 10 p.m., the share of entertainment channels came down from 52 per cent to 43 per cent, while that of English entertainment channels went from 0.12 to 0.2, of English movies from 0.4 to 1 and of Hindi movies from 12 to 15 per cent. Soon, says Reliance Entertainment Chairman Amit Khanna, viewers will be loyal to parts of a programme, watching it in 10 minute capsules. So they can flip from the end of a soap to the end of an Indian Idol gala round or even a news bulletin.
If Balika Vadhu is doing well, then a lot of the credit goes to the Rajasthani ethos and "relatable woes" of Saat Phere and Star Plus' Raja ki Aayegi Baraat. If small is looking sleeker, it's because 9X already tried bigger, better, brighter, most disastrously in Balaji's Kahaani Humaaray Mahabharat Ki.
Perhaps the most important thing Balika Vadhu has brought back is what Jassi did at its height for Sony TV and Saat Phere did at the beginning for Zee TV: the power of a good story, told-well, not a series of deafening gimmicks set in an airbrushed, multi-coloured, heavily made-up veneer.
Will viewers get used to a novel narrative style where a shot holds for more than 10 seconds, where the cultural context is not inevitably drawn from the pink walls of a Mumbai set, and where every episode doesn't end in a cliffhanger. And where change occurs in spades, not spoons? If Indian Idol 4 compromised between youth and experience by pairing the sweet Meiyang Chang with the jaded Hussain Kuwajerwala, next time, they may just listen to the production house, and take a risk. Just go with the new.
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