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These states, particularly MP, had marginal representation on GECs' prime-time with a show or two here and there earlier. Today, both states boast of five or more shows each. What has turned the tide in favour of these two politically heavy and hardcore cow-belt states? Most programming heads and producers are unwilling to admit that MP and UP are GECs' new darling states. However, a simple head count tells a different story. Here are the examples. Yahan Main Ghar Ghar Kheli, Mrs. Kaushik Ki Paanch Bahuein, Punar Vivah, Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha, Kairi and the forthcoming Phir Subah Hogion Zee have MP backdrops. Pratigya, Kuch To Log Kahenge, Ruk Jana Nahi, Lapataganj and Shubh Vivah are UP-based stories.
Programmers and producers are of the view that stories are universal and backdrops incidental. "Some shows do require a region/culture/state specific setting but not all. And some can work irrespective of the backdrop. A good story can be set in any city, state or region," says Zee's fiction head Sukesh Motwani. He has no specific reason for Punar Vivah's Bhopal backdrop. However, Motwani doesn't deny that while story and characters are key drivers, backdrop has its own advantages. "In terms of culture and dialect it adds value to the story," he adds. However, senior industry analyst Sanjay Upadhyay disagrees, "Fresh backdrop coupled with a plot strongly linked to local milieu can be a unique proposition and a double whammy."
If backdrop was so incidental then most stories would have had Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata as a backdrop, which was the case a decade ago when the universe of cable and satellite TV was one third of its present size. As Sony's fiction head Virendra Shahane says, "All consumer products are first launched in cities and gradually they travel to small places. Same is the case with TV shows. Earlier we had urban stories and now the content is travelling to smaller cities because TV viewership has grown in small places and people watch lot of TV there." It is why lately most serials are initially shot on actual locations to capture the real essence of the backdrop before the unit finally relocates to Mumbai once the show is set and the drama moves into indoor space.
While producer Sumeet Mittal of Diya Aur Baati Hum, Punar Vivah and Kairi says channels and producers break their heads on stories and characters and not so much on backdrop, he however, admits that every channel has a definite strategy behind zeroing on a particular state/town backdrop. "No channel would want to base all its shows in one or two states or cities. Every decision is based on research and strategy," he adds. Apparently, the idea behind choosing a particular region/state is not only to play on one's strength in a particular region/state but also try making a base in new states. Says Sanjay, "Some states are strategic and some act as base building exercise. MP is clearly the most favoured state currently while UP though not a very happening state continues to have its hold on GECs."
According to Aashka Goradia, who plays the bold and beautiful other woman Sarla in Shubh Vivah, the whole TV business is linked to ratings. "Channels want to reach as many new viewers in different states as possible. MP and UP are populous states and hence big markets for ratings," she points out. Aashka says Shubh Vivah was originally supposed to be a Punjab-based story. "Later, the backdrop was changed to UP. Obviously the channel has its own reason behind shifting the backdrop," she adds. According to Sanjay, MP, particularly Indore and Bhopal, are TRP hyper cities. "Creatively, strategically and from the rating point of view, MP is a very important state. UP has its own advantage although it has lost its uniqueness," he observes.
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