Shailesh Kapoor: Care For A Drink? No We Are On TV

30 Aug,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The anti-smoking infomercial that precedes film screenings is now an in-joke in the media industry. It can be argued that the government’s obsession with smoking shots in films, however passing, is not entirely misplaced. But the banal and utterly ineffective execution of the now-infamous Mukesh infomercial kills the idea.

 

Television has no such problems. I just don’t remember when I last saw anyone smoking in an originally-produced Indian programme, fiction or non-fiction. Everyone is clean to the bone. Even when a teenage character goes astray and takes two puff of a cigarette to “try it out”, it happens off-camera, though the ensuing conflict may stretch over two weeks.

 

Television’s take on alcohol is not very different. Yes, there have been shows where key negative characters are portrayed as alcoholics (including a sisters’ trio in Colors’ now-off-air Laagi Tujhse Lagan). But the stereotyping is striking. They are meant to be bad people because they consume alcohol. Or maybe they consume alcohol because they are bad people!

 

Except Ram Kapoor and Sakshi Tanwar enjoying their drink in a couple of (and some of the best) episodes of Bade Achhe Lagte Hain, all heroes and heroines squirm at the idea of a bottle being anywhere in their vicinity.

 

Television’s aversion to all things alcohol is a symptom of the traditional mindset the medium targets at large. And indeed, there may be merit in arguing for their case. In our research across markets, especially non-metros, discussions on alcoholism can touch raw nerves in the housewives community. Many of them face it as a real issue in their lives, where the husband, the father-in-law or the brother-in-law are spending disproportionate share of the household income on booze. And there is a direct linkage between alcoholism and domestic violence, as we all know.

 

Of course, there is the other side of the argument too, which says that all television is not supposed to cater to middle-class housewives who face such real issues in their day-to-day lives. There is an audience beyond that: The urban elite, the youth, men and women in professional jobs, etc. But these characters are conspicuous by their absence in our serials anyway.

 

Back in the early ’90s, Amita Nangia played the beer-guzzling Sheena in the much-popular Zee TV weekly Tara. But that was an era of less than 10 million C&S households, with most of them being upmarket metro audiences who were early adopters with a progressive mindset towards new ideas. As television has penetrated deeper, this audience segment has become far too miniscule to interest the broadcaster community. Even niche channels today are targeting SEC BC audiences in towns like Lucknow, Bhopal, Jaipur and Kolhapur.

 

There are 41 alcohol scenes in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. But that did not deter the theatre-going Indians from making it one of the biggest box-office grossers in recent times. In fact, the casual presence of alcohol, albeit a bit overdone, made the film modern and cool in its own way, and that went well with the grammar of the film at large.

 

I am most interested in seeing how the Indian version of 24, and the upcoming Amitabh Bachchan fiction show on Sony, handle “liquor” as an idea. In a country where having a glass of red wine can get someone to be labeled as a “sharaabi”, it will be good to see mass television influencing a few minds in the right direction.

 

Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor

 

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