Joined: 06 December 2007
First there was Yash Chopra, who popularised Switzerland as dream wish fulfillment of foreign shores on Indian screens. Then there was Karan Johar, who sold brand India to the world and included the diaspora as part of the great India parivaar. Today, the diaspora wants more of India with the result that it is not uncommon for your aunt in Atlanta calling you twice a week to know if Akshara lied to her husband (Naitik and Akshara are the popular characters from Ye Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai on Star Plus) or if Gopi (from the serial Saathiya) managed to pass her exams in case they miss episodes of daily soaps on YouTube. You may not be watching prime time shows but your kin in the US and the UK plan their schedule as per the timings of popular Indian TV shows. One of the NRI bloggers writes, "Our parties are scheduled as per the time of Indian serials. They are just like those cookery shows that come up with interesting recipes with simple ingredients. No matter that they are dramatic, but their charm and attraction is irresistible. They bring to us something that we left in India."
So you may say our shows are revisionist, cling to ideals that are horribly misplaced in today's aspirant society but there's a new demographic that's feeding on nostalgia for the good old childhood days and sustaining cult shows. Television is finding what films did a few years ago, recognition and a respectable place in the hearts of the audience abroad. Little wonder then that Star Plus and its sister channel Star One are holding their Star parivaar shows in New York and London.
Star Parivaar Live is a first-of-its-kind initiative where TV stars will connect with their audience. It is aimed at renewing relationships with viewers living across the globe. The event will showcase live performances by the leading artistes from the Star Network properties. The inaugural event at London's Wembley arena on October 16 will see TV celebs like Geet from Geet Hui Sabse Parayi; Ishaan and Suhaana from Sasuraal Genda Phool and Naitik and Akshara from Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai. Rajni and Inder of Sasural Genda Phool went to New York on October 2 to launch the Western Union Main Bhi Star contest at the Association Of Indians in America (AIA)'s 24th Annual South Street Seaport Deepavali Festival. Two contest winners from this fest will get an all-expense paid trip to Mumbai and a chance to share screen space with their favourite artistes on a Star Plus show. "It's an opportunity for us to tell our viewers abroad that we care about what they think. By connecting with them, we'll be able to bring content that's closer to their hearts," says Nitin Vaidya, business head, Hindi channels, Star India Pvt Ltd.
Before the launch of the dance reality show Just Dance, talent hunt was launched across the globe and the show was promoted more rigorously in the West. Not only this, before the launch of every show on major channels like Sony and Star Plus, special care is taken that they have means to promote it in the West. This simply denotes that the channels today are aware of the fact that a bigger market lies in the US and the UK and therefore, the efforts. "We have a very different market in the West and it is all the more challenging to promote the serials here as there we do not have any middleman to sell our programmes. Only if the viewers will want to watch they will pay for it, else they will not. So the trend and focus has been for the last few years and we have identified NRIs as the major target audience for the channel," informs Sanjeet Saha, vice president, international business, Star Network.
The increase in the number of migrants from India in the last few years has also helped the channels spread the word. Besides NRIs even the foreigners now watch the daily soaps and enjoy them too. Channels like Star have every shows broadcasted with the English subtitles to make them more understandable to the firangs. "It was difficult for the Indian daily soaps to win the hearts of the NRIs there initially but now since we have done it, the challenge lies in sustaining the interest," says the Sony spokesperson.
The most popular TV shows in the US homes these days are Saathiya, Sasural Genda PhoolYe Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai. The idea is to sell brand India. Pallu-politics might have been criticised in India but it still works best for the global viewers. As per the data, serials like Sasural Genda Phool, Saathiya, Yeh Rishtaa Kya Kehlata Hai have been consistent on the viewership charts in the West and Bade Achche Lagte Hai is the recent add on. Most of these serials portray high family values, stress on India that might be too idealistic to be existing in Indian homes and are simple stories. Unlike the serials those have plotting wives and tough-to-tame daughter-in-laws, it is the soaps that bring out Indian traditional values that are a hit. For example, Sasural Genda Phool holds one-fourth of the prime time viewership at present and the story doesn't have any evil or plotting character. The script is light-hearted with emotional and humorous characters. It is the story of Suhaana, a modern girl married in a joint family. "The serial was an instant click with the audience in the West and there were so many queries that we kept getting online to know the story of the serial in advance or if they can personally meet the characters. Though, there is no fixed formula that works in the West, but production houses keep in mind that anything Indian will be loved by the third and fourth generation Indians there who would want their kids to learn how joint families in India function and how daughters-in-law are supposed to behave, something that they might not have liked by them but would want their children to know that. So as a channel whenever we need to promote any of our serials we highlight some Indian aspects of it and take note that characters that are already popular in the West add their words for promotion," says Sanjeet Saha, vice president, international business, Star Network. and
Ragini Khanna, who plays Suhaana in Sasural Genda Phool, agrees that any Indian serial is loved in the US for its unique combination of comedy, dance and drama. "Nowadays we hardly come across any joint family or group of people living happily together. Everyone prefers nuclear families nowadays. People need space and they don't really like anybody interfering in their lives. Contrary to the present scenario, this show motivates people to stay in a joint family. When people, both Indians and foreigners watch SGP, they say, 'Kya parivaar hai, kaash hamara aisa parivaar hota' and that's what make me happy and satisfied with the work. Kitchen politics and household conflicts also hold the attention of the viewers. Nobody can escape that. There are people who relate these soap-operas with their real lives that they even get tensed if something wrong happens in a particular serial. People have their emotions attached with the serials. And yes, there is politics which keeps on changing from time to time," says Khanna.
Small-screen recently has seen so many experiments being done and so many different kinds of programmes were introduced to it. There was a time when there was a flood of some issue-based programmes like Balika Vadhu and Na Aana Iss Des Lado and others were romance-cum emotional sagas like Uttaran and Pavitra Rishta, then came the season of reality shows and now again, it seems TV is in its transition phase. While in India, audience have been very receptive to these changes, things are not this easy with the foreign market. The channels realise that it is very difficult to promote something that is repeated continuously by production houses among NRIs and they need strong and innovative script to win the hearts of the audience there. So with this demand for something real and different the content on the TV is improving. "A smart choice by the channels is very important to maintain their popularity in the West," says Saha.
Geet Hui Sabse Parayi on Star One became a major Internet hit despite its low distribution base within the country, powered as it was by the realistic story of a girl from Hoshiarpur who is duped of property and integrity by a Canada-based NRI and left pregnant. She fights for her space in a big city, decides to keep her child and finds love. She is at once simple, innocent and at once decided and mature, a fact that has found an audience abroad, the battered wives' tales from Punjab villages not an uncommon thread here. "It's the theme that works out every time. The script is strong and connects well with the viewers. This show has gained so much popularity that it is very encouraging and motivating for all of us," says Drashti Dhami who plays Geet in the serial.
"Geet's character goes through a lot of ups and downs in life but she stays strong. She is a decision-maker who always stand up for rights, even if she is alone. In fact, her character works as a crusader for every woman," she says.
COMMUNITY-BASED PROGRAMMING WORKS
There is a reason why serials like Saathiya and Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma are favourite among NRIs. Community-based programming does help the channels in getting more popularity. Saathiya and Tarak Mehta... represent the Gujarati community and their traditions and beliefs that are loved by the NRI Gujarati families settled abroad. Saha says, "We have had examples from the small-screen in the past that if the serials are Bengali, Gujarati or Punjabi, they will get their share of fame and popularity in the West. We all love to watch on screen something that represents a part of our lives and communities are biased."
In the past, Kasautii Zindagi Ki that strongly reflected the traditions of a Bengali family and Des Me Nikla Hoga Chand that was a story built around a Sikh family were among the list of popular serials in the West. The main leads of both the serials, Shweta Tiwari and Sangeeta Ghosh, are still famous in the US for their roles as Prerna and Pummy.
Another example of this is Ye Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai as it revolves around Rajasthan's typical Marwari family in which Hina Khan depicts the character of an ideal wife and a daughter-in-law. "There were scenes of get-togethers, weddings, Marwari pujas and traditions that bring audience close to the character. That both women and men relate with this character goes on to show that the show has been popular. I think the traditional values attached to the show make it a hit among Rajasthani community settled abroad," says Khan.
STARS OF THE SMALL SCREEN
Everyone in the West wants to meet the real Suhana, wants to know how Akshara manages her family and how Geet is in real life. With the popularity of these shows, the TV stars have emerged like big Bollywood stars and are called upon to participate in the events and functions there. In fact, most of the TV stars, like Shweta Tiwari, are so much loved and known for their single role that even if they are not working presently in any of the hit series, they still earn a huge amount by doing stage shows abroad. "People love us for our work. NRIs are well aware of Indian traditions and culture and I think now they have changed their outlook towards India. This is the reason that they keep mailing and writing to us," says Jay Soni who plays a lead character Ishaan in Sasural Genda Phool.
Jiaa Manek or Gopi from Saathiya might be presented as someone who can't read or write in the serial, but she says that she gets loads of responses on the mail and even when she is travelling on a family vacation, she is flooded by fans. "TV stardom is huge and no matter that you do just a single show, but if you are popular then you are God for these NRIs as they think that you bring to them the image of real India," says Manek.
"A couple of days back, a girl called me around 250 times in one day. When I finally picked up the phone, we spoke for around half-an-hour. She was so happy that she couldn't speak and I was the only one who was doing all the talking," adds Dhami.
INNOVATIVE WAYS OF PROMOTION
Star Network has organised a huge show in Wembley to give an opportunity to its stars to interact with their fans there. Not only this, during dandiya a special contest was held in New York giving chance to some NRIs to meet their favourite stars. Says Saha, "We popularise our channel and its characters as a part of the family and we want everyone to be the part of this family, therefore such promotional programmes." Besides this, on every festival channels organise for special shows broadcasted across the globe with major characters of the serials participating in them to let the fans get closer to the stars.
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