MxM Mondays: Are general entertainment channels turning social activists?

15 Oct,2012


Television reflects society and social trends, and hence, a look at TV programmes over the years shows that channels have, from time to time, taken up social issues and woven stories around serious themes. From the era of Doordarshan to today, soaps like Hum Log, Rajni to Balika Vadhu, and reality shows like Satyamev Jayate, to name some, have tackled issues which need people’s attention. And recently, the trend has increased as many issues like female foeticide, surrogacy etc are being shown on primetime.

So, does this mean that the general entertainment channels (GECs) have taken up the role of social activists or is it just another bid to garner more eyeballs? What role does a channel/broadcaster play while showing such issues? MxMIndia spoke to a few experts and industry people…


Dr B Manjula, associate professor, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata InsISS:

Intially when television was launched in the country, its main role was to educated and enlighten people. Doordarshan showcased not only documentaries but also shows dealing with social issues. With a high rate of illteracy in the country, television was seen as a great option to bring about a change. However, with privatisation and coming in of cable TV, things changed. Media became more of a business than a medium to bring about that change. Broadcasters now are more worried about ratings and gaining popularity among its audience. However, in the past few years, GECs are showcasing serials which have taken a bend towards social issues. But there are two things one needs to keep in mind:


1. How aware are they of the issue itself? Many a times, shows /channels are not aware of issue but only touch it on a peripheral level. Proper and thorough research needs to be done so that not only can shows get an in-depth meaning into their storyline but also help in bringing about a change in people’s mindsets and important points aren’t lost in translation.


2. What is channel more interested in – TRPs or change? Not only channels but many companies too aren’t clear about the two. Corporate social responsibility isn’t about just doing something once in a while but to bring about a change at grass-root level. There is a gap between an idea and what is practiced. An idea might be good but unless and until, it is shown properly, it will be lost. The bridge between the two needs to be filled.


I feel that broadcasters shouldn’t forget that there is still a high rate of illiteracy (around 40%) in the country; hence, for them television is the ‘world’. Therefore, they need to be credible and responsible too instead of just focusing on money making.


Ajay Bhalwankar, Content Head (Hindi GECs), Zee Entertainment:

That’s been the trend even from the days of Doordarshan. Social issues like discrimination against skin colour, education of the girl child, female foeticide, remarriage, child abuse and surrogacy, etc., are common on primetime shows. They highlight a reality prevalent in society and it gets an instant connect with lakhs of viewers…


We have always handled any social issue very sensitively and showcased the ‘Umeed’ aspect to edutain viewers on how to get rigid customs and views out of their minds and work towards a happier and progressive society. However, GECs do not want to be social activists but are definitely instrumental in spreading the message or creating awareness about a pertinent social cause. The primary purpose of any GEC is to entertain people. I would like to add that Zee TV has a multi-genre offering and is living up to its image of being a socially conscious channel. With path breaking shows like Hasne aur Hasane Ka Tonic Ladies Special, Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, Aapki Antara, Pavitra Rishta, Shree, Maayka, Punarvivaah, Phir Subah Hogi, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Dance India Dance, the channel has established icons such as Laali, Archana, Antara, Lakshmi, Aarti and Sugni who have entertained audiences at the same time addressed socially relevant issues like autism, child trafficking and remarriage to name a few. So, it won’t be wrong to say that, it has helped in educating the audience. It has also helped in changing perceptions. For instance, parents encouraged their kids to take up dance as a serious career option in India after watching ‘Dance India Dance.’ Punarvivaah, our primetime show on remarriage, has received tremendous positive feedback. Lakhs of people across the world have written into us sharing their stories and how they’ve changed their mindsets to allow their family and friends find happiness a second time around.


Yes, we would all like our shows to have maximum eyeballs but there has to be honesty in showcasing any concept. And not all shows with social causes are successful… that the industry attempts such stories to entertain and edutain viewers in India is good! Change is slow and a constant around us…Our primary objective is to entertain and if in the process, awareness, positivity, happier families and relations are built, we are doubly pleased.


Prashaant Bhatt, Weekday Programming Head – Colors:

GECs are not taking up the role of social activitss, but just presenting shows that have a context and relevance. If by bringing socially relevant content, we are successful in initiating a social change, we consider our message delivered. Television, today, is more than a medium of entertainment; it’s a mouthpiece for the common man to put his views across. By introducing content that has a social impact, we are doing our bit in raising not only awareness but also extending a platform for discussion.


As a channel, we believe in variety entertainment and offering an experience that is educative and enriching. With this added in our bouquet of programming, we are catering to the different entertainment options of the audiences. It does have an impact on the common man who watches these shows regularly. One case example being a Rajasthani girl named Lakshmi Sangara, who was married off to a much elderly man at a young age. She, aided by her lawyer, succeeded in getting a divorce from her husband after watching Balika Vadhu and realizing that child marriage is an offence. This is our success, if this is the result and the power of a show then we are not looking at chasing numbers but rather making a real difference. It is a challenge for the channel to portray such strong situations in a socially acceptable manner. For us, it is not just about portraying the issue, but being a General Entertainment Channel, we need to craft storylines that are appealing and accepted by the audiences. By using content to set the context for prevalent issues, we are making an attempt to bring about a change in society and the prevailing mindset. And living in a democratic country, it is highly essential to euphemize these issues and present them to the viewers to make their choices.


Samir Khanna, EVP and Head, DDB MudraMax Media:

We need to make the differentiation when we say that GECs are taking up the role of social activists; that is, break up GECs into two verticals: fictional and non-fictional shows. When we talk of fictional shows, there are issues in these serials that agitate the mind of the audience today with the everyday issues such as dowry, corruption, rape etc which are seamed into the storyline. Now because it agitates the mind of the audience, the viewer gets absorbed into the episode or the episodes of the fictional show. I don’t think, in the fictional shows, they are trying to be the activists. At the end of it all, the aim of fictional show is essentially to sell it to the advertising and marketing fraternity, and to grab eyeballs. Being an activist in a fictional show is difficult since the show follows the storyline with the characters into it. Usually, what they do is plug a sub-story into the show and then they carry it forward. The moment you try to talk too much about it, the show becomes preachy, which people wouldn’t like. It is all about eyeballs.


But the moment you talk of non-fiction shows, like Satyamev Jayate, on the GECs, they not only talk but debate about societal issues and also try to come up with advice. There is this non-fictional weekend show, ‘Zindagi ki Haqeekat se Aamna Saamna’, wherein you have a courtroom set up and the show tries to come up solutions for the fighting family members. There are non-fictional shows that do come up with solutions and advice.


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One response to “MxM Mondays: Are general entertainment channels turning social activists?”

  1. Anwesh Bose says:

    Kamaal kartay ho Khanna sahab…

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