By Aditya Mani:
It all began on a lazy Tuesday afternoon in 1959 when a bunch of enterprising people at the All India Radio decided to experiment with a new wave of technology we now come to know as television. Armed with a modest transmitter and a hotchpotch broadcasting studio, the capital city of Delhi was made witness to a revolution that would engulf an entire generation in years to come. As any novelty, the television (Doordarshan in India) also met with a tepid response from its viewers (those fortunate to have a television set then) and it took almost 15 years for the service to be extended to other cities. Despite the slow start the television has fast become one of the most widely used and indispensable assets of modern human life.
The growth of television in India in particular has been very interesting, especially considering the fact that the very Indian viewer who was content with dichromatic (black and white) serials on the one channel has now graduated into a channel-changing, button-pushing, ever demanding, overfed TV addict. While some may regard this development as an index of prosperity, technological progress and economic growth, some others such as yours truly, beg to differ. The concept of the television has lost its charm in the past 10 years or so. What used to be a source of intermittent entertainment right from cartoons in the mornings for children to the 9 o’clock news for fathers is now twisted and mangled beyond recognition.
In an industry where minting money is just another day in the office, producers and film studios aren’t afraid of doling out monotonous and done to death shows that are in vogue at the time. For example, when a renowned producer struck oil with one of the very first tear jerking soap operas, everyone else followed suit and faster than you could say, ‘Ekta Kapoor’, 27 soap operas flooded the average Indian television with their melodramatic actors and their plagiaristic premises. Rubbing salt in the fatal wounds inflicted on to the creativity of Indian television were the mind-numbing TRPs that each show generated. In the past 10 years, we have witnessed many such phases where each one was dominated by a spate of ill written sitcoms, dreary quiz shows and roving sting operations. The last time I checked, the chapter of reality shows was reigning supreme in the Indian psyche. This entire discussion is very aptly summarised by ‘monkey see monkey do’ with a little variation being ‘monkey see monkey do MONKEYS watch’.
As pointed out very appropriately by one of my NRI friends, ‘there is no originality left in Indian television’. The man does make a very valid argument as many of the American and British shows currently on air exhume age old concepts such as criminal or forensic investigations and integrate them with technology and a 21st century school of thought to produce wholesome entertainment. Even current popular sitcoms and family comedies in such countries breathe a wave of fresh air with each episode. Ironically, even though India boasts of having the widest range of TV channels in the world, the range of subjects breached upon gives you the feeling of having regressed into the Doordarshan era or even beyond.
This predicament that we are facing now, weighs heavily on my mind every time I grab the remote in my hand, only to realise that the only channels worth watching are either the animated ones or the ones with white people on them.
One can only hope that our grand children don’t blame us for slaughtering Indian television at its infancy.