Naagin Nazar…

10 Aug,2018

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The season of supernatural fantasy thrillers is back. Naagin’s third season has blossomed since its launch a few weeks ago. Last week, Star Plus launched its daily Nazar, which opened to very good response, rating at near-breakout levels for its daily 11pm slot, contributing to the channel’s top position in Urban HSM for the week. There are other weekend shows in the category too, like Qayamat Ki Raat (Star Plus), Kaun Hai (Colors) and Fear Files (Zee TV).

 

In a case of glaring over-simplification, many media observers consider all fiction, including these supernatural shows, as one monolithic mass. Naagin and ‘saas-bahu’ serials are spoken of as a unit, often in the context of describing what plagues Indian television.

 

Daily soaps of the family drama variety have had their fair share of issues over the last 3-4 years, and enough and more has been written about them here. But the clubbing of finite-length, fast-paced supernatural fantasy thrillers with family dramas that are supposed to be based on ‘real’ characters is a deeply uninformed view. It also has an element of inbuilt bias, whereby snakes and supernatural creatures are considered too regressive to deserve a place on national television in today’s day and age.

 

I find these arguments flawed, even bizarre. Questioning the legitimacy of a show like Naagin or Nazar is questioning the entire fantasy genre itself. A genre that’s hugely popular worldwide, including in Hollywood, is branded regressive here, because the constituting elements are based on Indian mythology, which almost definitionally has elements of faith, even superstition, built in.

 

A force-fitted fantasy track in a well-meaning family drama deserves this accusation. Inclusion of naagins, daayansand makkhisin serials that promised real, emotional relationships are gimmicks that may have given short-term results, but have unquestionably damaged the viewer reputation of the shows and the channels in question over time.

 

But when you make a supernatural show, you make a supernatural show. You are not promising deep emotional layering, social change or mature handling of relationships. You are promising some unadulterated fun that’s based on the sound principle that a lot of entertainment is meant to serve one primary purpose: to help the audience destress and escape away from the drudgery of his/ her reality.

 

Each genre comes with its own sets of rules and viewer norms. It’s the context that determines what’s regressive and what’s not. To apply the rules of contemporary social construct to supernatural fantasy thrillers is like burdening Virat Kohli with the job crisis in the country.

 

The same fallacy was on display after the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’sPadmaavat earlier this year, where the jauhar act in the finale was criticized for its glorification of a custom that rightly had no place in modern society. But Padmaavat is not based in 2018. It’s a (questionable) tale from our history, based on an epic poem. Strip the film of its context and a jauhar sequence, glorified or not, will be hugely problematic. But ignore the context and you will lose the idea itself.

 

Supernatural fantasy thrillers offer a dose of entertainment that GEC viewers have been robbed of over the last couple of years, when they had to rely on non-fiction shows to do the job. If this is what the category needs to make a slow comeback, so be it. Of course, there’s the danger of me-too versions popping up every other week, but the audiences will take care of that, by rejecting the ones that have nothing original to say.

 

Let it be said again. Snakes and daayans are not regressive, till they are shown in a believable context and propped up as superstitions. In a fantasy world, they have only one purpose of existence. Entertainment.

 

 

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