The Diminishing Social Impact of Television

10 Feb,2017

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

That fiction content on Indian television is stuck in a rut of its own creation is no secret. In a recent attempt to familiarise myself with the content on regional GECs, most of which are in languages I do not understand, I started browsing the Hotstar, Voot and O-Zee apps and read the synopsis (headlines in case of Voot) of randomly selected episodes from the last four weeks, across their channels.

 

Episode synopses of randomly-selected episodes of randomly-selected shows across seven different languages have been reproduced below. Character names have been replaced by their first letters to bring focus to the content.

1.       F is told about N and D’s generosity but her arrogance leads her to ponder over N’s motives. While D is worried about N’s safety, F plans to take revenge against him!

2.       R and I are shattered when the judge sends D to the juvenile remand home. Later, O slaps R when he blames I for D’s imprisonment.

3.       P and K plan to abduct the children during the function. Meanwhile, S lays his eyes on K.

4.       Preparations are in full swing at R’s house for the bridegroom’s arrival. Meanwhile, S and his mother decide to visit R’s house in order to somehow call off the wedding.

5.       J takes a loan to return T’s money. Later, T humiliates J in front of M and P.

6.       To save S from N’s ploy, A visits the temple in disguise to keep an eye on her. Will she be able to foil N’s plan?

7.       S misleads Y and convinces him to marry L. H makes an unsuspecting N consume liquor, hoping that she will tell him the truth when drunk.

 

These are all fiction shows currently on-air. What do we see here? Revenge, juvenile home, slap, imprisonment, abduction, humiliation, ploy, disguise, mislead, drunk… Barring No. 4 above to some extent (though a wedding is being called off there, which is not exactly a positive thing), everything else is in a similar space, driven by plotting and planningin circumstances that are neither relatable nor realistic. Worryingly, all the emotions expressed are negative, with little sign of positivity or hope.

 

For years, I had been an advocate of our fiction television having contributed to a social change in India.It was the 2000-2013 period, in particular, when this happened. In 2012, Ormax Media had conducted a large-sample consumer research for the Indian Broadcasting Foundation on this subject, whose report, titled Posi-TV-ity, was released at FICCI Frames that year. It was about telling various stakeholders how under-rated the power to television to bring about socio-economic change is.

 

Five years hence, I would be a lot less confident about the outcome if a similar research was commissioned now. The category has not been able to build on the momentum of the last decade. The last five years have seen an active shift from social exposure, awakening and personality development (three strong needs satisfied by TV, as identified in the 2012 report) to mindless entertainment, that’s not even rejuvenating anymore. And then, the Internet has started making an early impact, and taking over some of television’s roles.

 

In the absence of new ideas, inertia will continue to generate some viewership. But the social significance of television is weakening considerably. Unless there’s a reversal in the near future, all the good work of the last decade may come undone.

 

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