TV Reality Check!


By Chitra Ahanthem
In the golden days of a  single TV channel, the  only entertainment programs used to be the very popular “Chitrahaar” on every Wednesdays and Fridays: a mix of Hindi film songs and it was in 1984 that Doordarshan carried off a 156 episode serial called “Hum Log”.  It is said that the then Information and Broadcasting Minister on a trip to Mexico was inspired by an immensely popular Mexican soap produced by Miguel Sabido, whose programmes addressed the issue of population explosion while seemingly dealing with family drama. Sabido later came to India in the early Eighties and after a meeting with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi proposed a similar idea that would entertain but also educate. The PM then gave the go ahead and noted Hindi writer, Manohar Shyam Joshi to script the serial which revolved around a family and had a signature message at the end of every episode. Manohar Shyam Joshi went on to script another hugely popular serial on Doordarshan or DD as it is known now: Buniyaad, that revolved around a family. This had the backdrop of the partition of India and its after effects on people. Till this, television sets were scarce and it was common to see whole neighbourhoods huddling together after meals in the evening to watch the TV serials. The total hold of DD over the minds and the imagination of people then was to such lengths that older people offered prayers and offering when “Ramayan” and then “Mahabharat” got aired.
Cut to present day and people are spoilt for choice over TV channels and programs: every genre being on offer – drama, travel shows, business channels, music. In fact, serials have to fight for viewership with reality TV shows and then talent search programs, which throw in a bit of “reality”. To simplify things, reality TV shows do not follow a script and the format almost always involves studio and TV audiences through voting systems. An example is “Big Boss”, a reality TV series in which a group of people live together in a large house, isolated from the outside world with no connection with friends or family but continuously watched by television cameras. Each series featuring about 15 participants lasts for around three months and with the motive for them to be the last person staying: with certain tasks assigned to each one (designed to bring conflict and power relations). This show first was first broad cast in The Netherlands and was so popular that other countries across Europe followed suit and India got its own Big Boss following the huge draw that the program had following the participation of an actress from India in the 1997 British series season and subsequent allegation that she met with racial slurs and harassment from her fellow house mates. The actress won at that show which eventually propped her sagging career then and the reality TV bug made its presence in India.

There are various other reality TV shows featuring road trips, adventure series and obstacle courses: some more banal and voyeuristic than most. One reality show on India that was indeed popular with audiences was again a version of an international show where participants would be put on truth serum and their personal and intimate details. They would then be asked the same questions before the audience that would include friends and family. Naturally, the show was pulled off the air when families started breaking up following having to come to terms with infidelity in public, deviant behaviour, sexual misconduct etc. But another format of reality programs are the talent search programs where audiences gets to vote. Earlier, such programs focused either on selecting a singing or a dancing talent but over time, new formats have been added: comic talent, unique performances, modeling etc. The huge canvass of such shows have not only led to new discoveries from small towns and even villages across the country but has given a boost for the confidence of those who come from such settings. Participants from North Eastern States have managed to leave a mark in such talent shows but for Manipur, the ban on Hindi channels on the public cable network (ISTV) seem to be working against the talent of our people getting recognized. There are many households that do have dish TV connections but that is a low percentage and the snowballing effect of people being aware of such talent forums is missing.

Ironically, way back in 1996, a talent search called “Meri Awaaz Suno” on DD had popular Manipuri singer Pushparani, then a very young girl impressing such music stalwarts as Pandit Jasraj, Bhupen Hazarika and Lata Mangeshkar. She lost out to another young girl called Sunidhi Chauhan only because of her lack of finesse with her Hindi diction but the way the careers of the two women have differed over the years is proof of what can be possible. Pushparani came back to Manipur after turning down offers of being coached in Hindi and is now singing for films in Manipur and performing for social functions at perhaps 1/10th of what her counter parts gets for rendering a film song in Mumbai. The concern and fear of an alien place and culture led to this state for one person and this may well be the undoing of the people of the state today if we do not make way for getting out and taking our place under the spotlights. Perhaps it is time to revoke the blanket ban on Hindi by taking off Hindi channels from the ban purview.

Currently, there is a huge buzz over some people from the state taking part in national level performances for Hindi channels and impressing selectors. But considering the talent pool of this small state and the huge opportunities that such talent searches mean, it would be in the public interest of the people of the state to be able to follow the progress of existing participants and also to encourage new entrants to get their due recognition.

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