Shailesh Kapoor: Fact Check: Daily Soaps – Regressive or Progressive?

21 Feb,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


For the last 15 years, a word has been used ad nauseam to describe weekday fiction programming on Hindi GECs: regressive. I’m not sure who started this usage. Perhaps it was the English print media. But over time, it’s become a part of popular lingo, not just in the media but within the industry too.


A condescending description of GEC programming, with a casual use of the word “regressive”, is a common occurrence in a niche channel or a media agency interaction. Implicit in this description is the assumption that the women who watch daily shows on Hindi GECs are regressive in their thinking and actions.


Nothing can be more away from the truth. There are some shows (about 30%) that may portray a regressive mindset, but they are the low-performing ones. The majority, and the top success stories, have worked on the opposite premise – that of progress and change. And that also describes the need they fulfill for their target audience – to evolve and progress with the changing times.


Let’s take the top two shows of the current times, for example. Diya Aur Baati Hum is the story of a fairly conservative family in a Rajasthan village. Watch the show passingly for five minutes (which is how non-GEC industry folks watch GEC fiction) and you may end up ascribing the words “rural”, “regressive” and “old-fashioned” to the show. But you are reacting only to the setting, not the story.


The story of Sandhya’s journey to fulfill her dream of becoming an IPS officer, and her almost-illiterate husband supporting her in this journey, oozes of progress and change. After two years of struggle, Sandhya is now undergoing IPS training. The out-of-home episodes, playing out currently, are touching new viewership highs.


Jodha Akbar is a romance set in a period era. But it is essentially a Taming Of The Shrew story, where Jodha, the most popular character on Indian television for the last two months, is playing a fearless heroine who stands for the truth. Her ‘historical’ character is loaded with 21st century aspirations. Confidence and self-respect are strong values her character drives amongst viewers who are seeking both these values in their personal lives too, more than ever before.


Even in the past, from Tulsi to Anandi, strong and progressive women have been the backbone of blockbuster shows. How is the idea of “regressive” justified, then? Evidently, those who use that word use it because it is fashionable. For me, any usage of “regressive” is a cue that the person on the other side does not have enough knowledge of GEC fiction content in the first place.


I’m certainly not suggesting that all is hunky dory with GEC fiction. There are several issues. Stories dragging and slowing down in pace is an issue of epidemic proportions. The look-feel has not progressed much over the last six years, barring Mahabharat, which is in another production league altogether. And I agree with what Anurag Kashyap said in a panel discussion about a year ago: “My problem with TV serials is that everything looks so scripted.” Essentially, he points out bad direction and unimaginative execution, in terms of acting and treatment. I have to agree at least 50% serials suffer from this issue.


There may be enough and more issues, but the “regressive” tag is a big scam our elite media managed to pull off. India is a country of 1.2 billion people. TV has played a proven role in the progress and evolution of Indian women at large, over the last two decades. Undermining this achievement is nothing short of misrepresentation of facts.


TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, 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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