Naagin: The Myths & The Truth

18 Mar,2016

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By Shailesh Kapoor

 

On November 1, 2015, Colors launched Naagin as a bi-weekly weekend series. It was an experimental move, albeit a judicious one, not involving the budgets of some big-ticket reality shows that guzzle up the dollars and give little in return (18 new reality shows launched on Hindi GECs since 2012 never saw a second season, because they failed at the first instance).

 

Now 19 weeks old, Naagin is an unqualified television blockbuster. It rates more than 30 per cent higher than the No 2 programme in most weeks, and has touched ratings that were believed to be impossible in today’s fragmented viewing environment. It is also a gender-unifier, age-unifier and market-unifier, rolled into one, a critical factor for the success of a weekend property.

 

Evidently, Naagin has been the talk of the media industry as well, generating a mix of emotions, ranging from surprise, amazement and awe, in that chronological order. There has been considerable stereotyping as well. Not too many media executives (non-GEC broadcasters, planners, buyers and brand heads) have watched much of the show. Every now and then, I have heard remarks like: “If Naagin is the No 1 show, there is no hope for any change in Indian television” or “the Indian audience are getting the trash they deserve.”

 

This misplaced elitism amuses me. Truth be told, Naagin, in fact, captures a very significant “change” in Indian television. And that point is probably being missed across the board, even by many GECs. A first step to understanding this “change” is to understand why Naagin is doing so well. The thought cloud above captures the reasons why viewers love Naagin.

 

The pace, treatment and presentation of Naagin is a cut above even the most successful fiction shows on Hindi GECs today. Designed as a finite series brings a sense of purpose to the show, and the story actually moves every episode, unlike many other serials where nothing really happens even over four long weeks.

 

Its exciting pace creates the intrigue and suspense that a thriller needs, but often lacks. The visual presentation is top-notch. A quick glance at the cloud above and you will know that costumes, casting, make-up, sets and visual effects form an important element of Naagin’s success. These elements are considered merely hygiene in weekday fiction, never the differentiators.

 

Importantly, the nature of the entertainment provided by Naagin is unequivocally escapist. It does not carry any burden of inspiring the Indian women audience and giving them the confidence or resilience to fight challenges in their own life. It is just pure entertainment, free of messaging of any sort.

 

There have been other finite series in the recent past, none of which have delivered even 25 per cent of Naagin’s ratings. Many were questioning the merits of finite series after the high-budget experiments misfired. But Naagin has proven that if the concept selection is right, finite series, handled with a sense of pace and purpose, can be lucrative business.

 

Since 2000, Hindi television has been largely reduced to daily fiction content, airing 5-7 days a week, where the pace is languid, the production at best serviceable, the treatment is very “afternoon soap-ish”. Naagin is unlike all of that, and in that, it fills the need gap that exists – of fast-paced, finite fiction content.

 

Many have asked me if Naagin would have worked on weekdays too. I believe that if it was the exact same show that it is today, broken into four half-hours every week, it would have worked equally well. But if it were a daily, it may not have been this exact show after all. The tendency could have been to apply the daily-soap rules, slow down the pace, save on production budgets after the launch period, and go into assembly line mode sooner than later. And that’s why it would not have worked equally well.

 

Far from being regressive, Naagin could be the start of some significant progress Hindi television could make, if it chooses to see Naagin beyond being a “snake show”. The real reasons of its success are a lot more interesting than that.

 

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