It seems there is no substitute for highly melodramatic daily soaps on GECs, not even soft stories of love and romance. As viewers are hooked on to myriad melodramatic conflicts and relationship twists, pure love stories seem to have very few takers. Though a least preferred genre, it was a rare coincidence to have four romantic stories airing simultaneously on as many channels. But the season of love that began nine months ago didn't catch viewer's fancy. While Tere Liye went off-air in March, Sanjog Se Bani Sangini and Kitni Mohabat Hai shut shop recently. Chand Chhupa Badal Mein, which occasionally came out of the cloud, was shifted to an afternoon slot last month but is now on its way out. Even the love sitcom Pyar Mein Twist didn't make viewers fall in love with the genre.
However, the season of love, which hit rock-bottom and was almost in its final leg, has got a fresh lease of life with two different love stories going on air in the last two weeks. While Star Plus launched a star-crossed love story — Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon — last week, which swings between love and hate, Sony has unveiled a mature love story between a couple that has passed the age of candyfloss romance. But going by the ratings of the shows, which have shut down, it appears that audience is not lapping up love stories. And two love stories in the midst of several family dramas can hardly keep the genre's flag flying high. Channels and producers admit that shows pitched as pure love stories do not reach the height of popularity as compared to social dramas because of limited audience for the genre. "Maybe they don't appeal to the entire family audience or all ages of women watching general entertainment channels," says Chand Chhupa's producer Rajan Shahi.
Saurabh Tewari, head of programming at Imagine, confirms, "It has been seen that pure love stories have a limited audience. Basically, the target group of 15-24 age prefer love stories more but then they are not a loyal audience. That's why pure love stories don't work in a big way." Star's creative director Suzana Ghai does not disagree but has a different view, "It is true that some love stories have done well while others have not, but it won't be correct to say that the shows failed by virtue of being love stories. There could be other reasons for their failures. Some of them are also love stories around family dramas. Love stories in family set-ups work better than love stories that are purely around youngsters in the college space since they are targetted at a larger audience and hence appeal to both younger and older audiences. In my opinion, content is king and the storyline should be engaging, be it a love story or family drama. For example, Navya balances both very well and the audience response has been very positive."
According to Zee's fiction head Sukesh Motwani, first and foremost, not all shows do well. "Even many social dramas fail to click. So love stories aren't an exception," he avers. Elaborating further, he adds, "There could be other reasons too. Sometimes the characters don't work or the casting goes wrong." Talking about characterisation, Sukesh says that a drunkard lead character in Sanjog Se Bani Sagini may have put off viewers. Call it a flaw or drawback, while audience is used to watching high-pitched drama, the problem with love stories is that they are low on drama and lack the pace of daily soaps. "I think we need to change our approach to love stories. The format and template have to change. We should get out of the formula of rain, songs and gazing," says Rajan. Ravindra Gautam, who has directed shows like Kasauti Zindagi Kay, Pavitra Rishta and Tere Liye and is currently helming Bade Achhe Lagte Hain, admits that love stories come with lot of limitations. "Firstly, it is difficult to sustain a story with only two principal characters. Secondly, there are several aspects of love that don't get explored as quite often most love stories end with marriage and consummation," he explains. Interestingly, in family dramas the story starts with marriage that provides fodder for relationship politics and conflicts.
According to Ravindra, the prime reason behind the success of Kasauti…and Pavitra Rishta, which were primarily love stories but pitched and treated as family dramas, is amalgamation of love into relationship conflicts within and between families and host of other characters. That's also the case with Navya, primarily a teenage love story set against the backdrop of conservative family values, which is consistent with 2.5 to 3 TVRs. But how Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naan Doon and Bade Achhe Lagte Hain will perform over a period is yet to be seen. Suzana says that Iss Pyaar…focusses on two people who love to hate each other and belong to completely different worlds. "The concept of love-hate duality makes it an interesting watch," she adds. On the other hand, Bade Achhe…has averaged 1.4 TVRs in the opening week. Ravindra says that since it is a mature love story which starts after marriage, it offers immense possibilities to explore several relationship nuances of a 40- and 30-plus couple. "The age group of the protagonists gives it a wider appeal. The initial response is very good. The real story — leaving behind the past set pattern of life and starting afresh quite late in life — is yet to begin and viewers are eagerly waiting for the couple's marriage," he adds.
But given the fact that viewers are spoilt for nothing less than high-pitched drama, it's going to be quite a task for the makers of Iss Pyaar…and Bade Achhe…to grab and sustain eyeballs unless they take the Pavitra Rishta and Navya route.