Once when I was talking to the legendary Director K Balachandar about films I told him that his stand-alone episodes were much better than daily soaps scripted and directed by him he said “You may like it but people like you are rare because generally people especially when women watch serials they would prefer to follow a character, his or her trials, and tribulations. Nobody watches serials for creative satisfaction or story value so that 13 episodes which I did, gave me satisfaction but financially it was a disaster”.
A doyen like KB himself was ready to accept that the audience dictates what they want to see and these long soaps are the result of such desire only but now I feel the time has come for the channels and the makers to stop and think if this concept is still working or not. I am not talking about Tamil serials here because I do not watch them and to me, they are exceptionally bad in every department whether it be creativity or performance or narration or picturing.
A few weeks ago I had written a lengthy piece on the serial Anupama highlighting the reasons for its stupendous success. The current TRP is a whopping 4.4 which is a record in itself but the most important factor is the same Star Plus channels has other shows where the TRPs are not much to rave about. Several shows are going off air and some are struggling and trying different gimmicks to increase the TRP.
Even Anupama which is comfortably placed with very loyal viewers, especially Gaurav Khanna lovers, the makers are in a tight spot to maintain the record- they cannot afford even a mild slip and then it would be a great fall.
Hindi serials had a perfect formula. The boy and the girl meet – they are different and they fight but they end up getting married either due to circumstances or some external force or helplessness or for the sake of their family (a favorite and oft-repeated word in Hindi serials). Inevitably the clash continues even after marriage and the marriage remains unconsummated and slowly after physically falling on each other several times “accidentally” which lead to “eye locks” then first either the boy or the girl falls in love then there is high drama till they confess their love to each other – till this point it is watchable ONLY if the artists are good looking and the scenes are well-conceived. After that it is just mayhem only
Now all these shows are struggling because unfortunately the set of artists in these serials are not so very good looking and in a few most of the heroes are too old for their characters of a lover boy and the scenes also stale and clichéd. Usually, in the olden days in the movie industry, the Directors have told me the first day by evening show they will know whether the film is a hit or a flop that is after matinee show and evening show the result is declared. Very rarely as in the case of “Vazhve Maayam” in Tamil and “Sholay” in Hindi the movie picked up in the second week.
Similarly, for these serials, the pair has to click. Nowadays these serial fans are very active in social media and give unique couple names and follow them. Many makers of course can “create” a scenario as though there is a heavy “fan following” but this type of fudging will not help as ultimately the viewers should watch the serial.
In this scenario, Anupama was different because till the arrival of Gaurav Khanna which happened nearly after 300 plus episodes there was no love at all. It was the story of a middle-aged, 44 years old to be precise, woman and her loveless marriage with a tyrannical husband. The fact the serial garnered the requisite numbers to hold the top slot in TRP is a clear indication that the viewers, young or old , men or women ,are tired of the serial formula and they are yearning for something new and fresh.
Even Anupama is on a see-saw going up and down no not in TRP ratings but as far its quality is concerned. The writers do an excellent job in some tracks and they fail miserably in the ensuing track making it mundane and lackluster. Conflict is the essence of any story and the antagonists are as important as the protagonists.
So far Anupama’s husband and her MIL were depicted as antagonists but this cannot be pulled along for a very long duration so they have now suddenly introduced “an instant sister” to Anuj Kapadia for whom Anupama has started feeling and waiting for the right time to express her love. The move is intelligent– makers have realized that the same old jealous husband, tyrannical mother in law will not sell, secondly, they have got a young face who is a woman and that is why this “sister track” is introduced. Whether she is his biological sister or she is just his “responsibility” as some kind of indebtedness as he had said earlier is not yet clear but the fact is she is going to be the new antagonist henceforth.
The story writers are a capable lot. They did a wonderful job last Sunday which made the episode stand out in every department technically creatively and performance-wise. And just five days later they have come out with the least convincing episode. In literature, they use to call this bathos where the scene in a play jumps from one extreme to the other. The writers are not to be blamed. They are forced to do this because they want as many episodes as possible , want the show to go on endlessly. The same production company’s another serial is going on for 8 long years, by retaining some characters and changing the artists who are involved in romance to bring in freshness. But the story is the same. Unless the pair clicks with the viewers the show cannot go on.
In this context, I would like to talk about three finite shows which I saw -“Ek Haseena Thi”, “Dehleez” and “Ek Ajeeb Dastaan”. The first one “Ek Haseena Thi” was truly gripping because it had revenge as the main theme and had a tight screenplay with stellar performances from Ayub Khan, Simon Singh, Sanjeeda Sheikh, and Vathsal Seth. There were no “tracks “ like these never-ending serials but a story revolving around only these characters. “Dehleez” was more astounding being a courtroom drama and the serial was engrossing and kept the viewers glued to the screen with Harshad Mehra and Trida Chowdhry in the main lead. “Ek Ajeeb Dastaan” with film star Sonali Bendre as heroine was a family drama where a devoted housewife is cheated by a philandering husband but she gathers herself and though she gets a suitor she denies his love but prefers to have him her friend. The serial was good as it was also finite series with limited episodes. In these finite series the artists gave terrific performances, the story and screenplay never meandered and not a single episode can be deemed as a “waste episode”.
Anupama due to its different storyline has got the love of the public and now with Gaurav Khanna, there is mass hysteria even that cannot be stretched after a certain limit. The problem with these serial makers is once a pair or a star clicks with the public in a big way they just want to cash in on it and just with their presence alone they want to pull on as many episodes as possible. That is why in Anupama even in Shah household battles the makers made Anuj as an unnecessary witness. But this trend I think cannot be sold anymore.
I feel as far as Hindi serial writers are concerned many of them are very talented. They have abundant creativity and come out with out of the box ideas. I am sure many new writers will be looking for opportunities with fresh ideas. The channels who are the masters must think on the lines that no serial should stretch beyond ten months or one year. There is no dearth of new stories and the only thing is channels should be ready to experiment. Unlike Tamil Channels Hindi GEC have serials telecast only from 6 PM or 6.30 PM and goes on till 11 PM – maximum they have nine serials per day. If all the serials are finite series then there will be good stories and healthy competition to come out with some original ideas.
When we started serials in India it was 13 episodes and to date, we are not able to beat their popularity. Even “Buniyaad” is fresh in our memory and it was one of the trendsetters of these serials but it was also a finite one. Epics like “Ramayan” and “Mahabharath” which had record viewership went on air only for a year that too once a week one hour telecast.
If there is a will there is a way. It is high time the channels changed their policy and try at least three or four finite series at a time. Certainly, they will see the difference in viewership. It may be a win-win situation for both the makers and the viewers – the makers will get money and the viewers will get good and intelligent entertainment. The sooner they do the better it is for the future of serials which is bread and butter for thousands of people.