Shailesh Kapoor | Rise of Period Dramas: Storm in a Teacup?

25 Oct,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor


2013 is drawing to a close soon. In what would have otherwise been a fairly regular year for content on Hindi GECs, “innovation” has come in the form of a genre that has taken the front seat like never before – Period Dramas.


Life OK’s Mahadev emerged as a success story in 2012 – and continues to be so – propelling other channels to give more attention to the mythological and historical genres. Zee TV’s Jodha-Akbar has met with phenomenal success. Sony’s Maharana Pratap is the top weekday show on the channel. Star Plus’ Mahabharat was the biggest weekday launch on Hindi GECs in three years.


With half a dozen launches, most of which have met with success, is it safe to call period dramas a “trend” that has emerged in the Hindi GEC category in 2013? May be not.


It is important to distinguish a trend from just a serendipitous occurrence. It is important to distinguish the symptom from the real cause. And that’s my attempt in the rest of this piece.


Think of it. Why would period dramas suddenly come of age in India? There has been absolutely nothing of note that has happened in our society or nation in the last decade to suggest that our love for historical and mythological content would show this dramatic surge. There is no subtext here. In fact, in many ways, a young and evolving India watching period content is counter-intuitive, if not inexplicable.


The reason for the emergence of this quasi trend is very direct – fatigue. I wrote about this a few weeks back, that viewer fatigue is fast building up in the category. The sameness of content, coupled with slow pace and dragging perceptions, have meant that the overall category satisfaction index of the genre is at an all-time low since 2009. Cynicism and disillusionment are prime emotions that many core viewers are associating with weekday fiction on GECs.


Of course there are exceptions like Diya Aur Baati Hum and Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. But a handful of shows can’t compensate for the negative imagery created by more than 30 programmes collectively.


As a result, we are in a phase when anything unique will stand out and get its more-than-fair share of attention, as long as it passes the basic relevance cut. Jodha-Akbar does that the best, by focusing on a love story, making it come across like a contemporary story with only the setting being ‘period’.


The question to really ask is: Has there been any other launch in the last year or so that has passed the ‘unique yet relevant’ filter? You will find it tough to isolate even one program outside the period drama genre that fits the answer here.


Hence, the rise of the period dramas is more a ‘default’ phenomenon, symptomizing dissatisfaction, than emerging as a true, stand-alone need gap.


If GECs mistake this to be a trend, they may be tempted to find more concepts in this genre. Two things will invariably happen then. One, the genre will lose its uniqueness if 3-4 more such shows launch, and this will shake the foundation of why it’s working to begin with. Two, in the effort to follow a ‘trend’, channels may pick up concepts that are not entirely ‘relevant’ in the first place.


The need is to look elsewhere. Surely, in a country as diverse and culturally rich as ours, there can’t be a dearth of unique cum relevant stories that lend themselves well to weekday fiction content.


The real emerging trend is ‘fatigue’. Period dramas are the red herring everyone should be wary of. You have been cautioned!


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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