The hoary Roman axiom “nothing has been said yet that has not been said before” holds true for all contemporary creative activities including TV entertainment. Yet, when you find the same idea doing rounds – not just of different channels but also of different serials on the same channel – it becomes clear that the scriptwriters are mechanically doing the ‘dog chasing its tail’ routine. For example, there is agni pareeksha for the “angrez” bahu in Sanskar…Dharohar Apno Ki. Her saas wants her to make do with Rs. 300/- (later upped to 500 bucks, after her son’s intervention) for meeting one day’s domestic expenses – a cinch, you would say. But you had not reckoned with another woman who had already chalked up a plan to thwart the bahu… Yawn! We have already watched such woman versus woman versus woman plots a zillion times. Clichés and stereotypes populate the TV fiction narratives like flies on a garbage dump.
Mallika Sherawat’s forthcoming Mere Khayalon Ki Mallika (Life OK) is an adaptation of an American TV reality show, The Bachelorette. Here, different men will try their luck at winning Mallika’s favors. Haven’t Rakhi Sawant and Ratan Rajput already trodden this path before? But this is not the only copycat show. You have Emotional Atyachaar on one channel and Aamna Saamna on the other, Crime Patrol has clearly inspired Savdhan India and Shaitan. If audiences can put up with Bigg Boss – an “Indian edition” of the British Channel Five’s Big Brother – and watch TLC shows with patently unimaginative and silly sounding Hindi voiceovers, well they can put up with anything.
Ever since its inception in India, various critics have vilified Doordarshan for serving poor quality fare to its audiences. Therefore, when private TV channels made their debut in 1991, it was widely believed that we would be getting some “quality” entertainment at last. In fact, Zee TV’s Tara was held out as the precursor to Indian entertainment television’s transformation. Transformed, it is. There are hundreds of entertainment channels, but it is a rare one that offers anything original or out of the box.
I have been watching Doordarshan almost from its beginning since my days at Palam way back in mid-1960s. Over the years, its evolution had resulted in some memorable TV shows and serials. The then avant-garde Aur Bhi Hain Rahein starring Tanuja and Vijay Kashyap had created quite a flutter when it was first telecast on Doordarshan, which had, in fact given us memorable soaps, teledramas and telefilms with original storylines and distinct characters. Serials like Buniyaad and Hum Log became household names – something that a private channel production has yet to match. Zee TV’s Tara comes closest to it, but that’s just about it. Doordarshan gave historicals like Bharat Ek Khoj, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Mirza Ghalib etc, mythological blockbusters like Ramayan and Mahabharat, classic comedies like Idhar Udhar, Ados Pados, Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapne, Wagle Ki Duniya etc, and Kakkaji Kahin – the classic satire that became a template for later me-too wannabes. Other memorable dramas include Fauji and Circus that catapulted Shahrukh Khan to Bollywood stardom. Some detective serials like Karamchand and Byomkesh Bakshi are still fondly remembered. There were so many literature-based productions like Katha Sagar, Tamas, Tenali Raman, The Sword of Tipu Sultan, Malgudi Days and Tehreer etc. And now?
The less said the better about both Doordarshan as well as private channels. Of course, some good ideas do crop up. Like the memorable family comedy Sarabhai Versus Sarabhai and the satire Office Office, which are TV versions of classic blockbusters. However, these are exceptions really. Moreover, potentially good dramas like Geet…Sabse Huyee Parayee, Hitler Didi, Bade Achhe Lagte Hain, Madhubala…Ek Ishq Ek Junoon etc have had great initial impacts but eventually fell into the TRP chasing rut. Similarly, shows like KBC owe their immense popularity to just one suspense element – who will hit the multi-crore jackpot. Just take away the prize-money factor from this reality show, and even schoolchildren will find its content puerile – Bachchan or no Bachchan. True, Sony has a thriller in CID and a courtroom drama in Adalat, but they have had their forerunners in Doordarshan’s Tehkikat, Barrister Vinod, Apradhi Kaun, Reporter, Suraag etc.
Although one looks with hope at some of the current ones, like Saraswatichandra on Star Plus and Doordarshan, and Savitri on Life OK, plus a few thrillers like Shapath and 2013 – again on Life OK, clearly private entertainment channels will really have to work hard to come up with something credible to match the Doordarshan classics of yore.
Published in The FinancialWorld dated May 6, 2013