By Biraj Swain:
Year-ender television programming has a set format of look-backs on the year gone by, TV programmes gone by, the best and the worst. Sometimes these look-backs extend into the first quarter of the new year as well. In fact, doing year-end wraps in the new year is now the new normal. For someone addicted to news, soaps are not exactly my forte but the need to fit in during holidays and family get-togethers (yes, I have such relatives too, who do watch soaps!) also means brushing up on TV soaps and plot-lines.
So, when I was researching with this very desperate and superficial agenda, I came across some very interesting articles on the serials in the general entertainment categories that seem to have caught the media critics’ fancy. One was a Times of India piece by Mani Mahesh Arora very grandly head-lined, 5 TV serials that broke stereotypes and educated India. It is important to mention here that it was not a year-ender wrap but a mid-year stock-take. It listed Gangaa, Uttran, Balika Vadhu, Udaan and Service Wali Bahu. I do think the piece was over-celebrating, but hey, when Ekta Kapoor has brought benchmarks to the basement level, these serials did stand out!
Then there was a long research on The Alternative by Nalanda Tambe and Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere on the missing working women on Indian TV soaps. They lamented the over-presence of kitchen politics and domestication of women. Again, a mid-year review article. While the first was a celebration, the second was a rant, but both listed soaps of private TV channels only.
That’s when I completely abandoned the original agenda of my search for soaps to binge-watch on YouTube to blend in with vacuous family get-togethers and started wondering what happened to the Doordarshan (DD) soaps. Where are the review articles on DD soaps? Or has DD completely abandoned soaps as a programming genre? This question became even more pertinent given that the BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) ratings have started including small town viewers and rural viewers also. DD has been the undisputed topper there. In fact, so surprising was its lead that once the audience counts were rationalised, none less than All India Bakchod gave a shout out to them on their second episode of On Air with AIB.
Voila, persistence pays and I finally found a DD serials’ review article on the world wide web! And it was on the India Today platform no less! Well, not exactly a review, it was more of a nostalgia piece by Shruti Kapoor on 15 Doordarshan serials that we would love to watch again. It excludes Tamas but includes Dekh Bhai Dekh! Well, credit where credit is due, the author does say that her bias might have been apparent in the list even though she tried to be neutral. Fair point! And this piece is dated August.
Seriously, where are the media commentaries, reviews of DD serials? The Media Foundation did a study in 2015, When The Dish Knocked Down The Antenna, where they examined the changing viewership patterns amongst the low-income populations in five states when digitisation started. Their study did not praise DD or public broadcasters (the opinion is divided whether the DD group of channels can be called public broadcasters in the strict sense of the term like the BBC since it is not exactly independent, it reports to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). A very well circulated study but even this study has not triggered media articles on DD programming!
The Media Foundation’s study does talk about the unmet information needs of DD viewers. That brings me to a serial which really seems to address this particular shortcoming of DD programming with really powerful content. Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, into its second season, broadcast on DD every weekend, is power-packed with information but it is done through some very interesting and relatable storytelling.
It is the journey of Dr. Sneha Mathur, a Mumbai-based doctor who has personal and professional commitments and a strong conscience. The serial shows her navigating through work and life, family and society, ideals and reality and in the process encountering deep-rooted societal problems, from female foeticide, dowry, gender discrimination to compromised medical practitioners, villages caught in a time warp and patriarchy in all its forms. And since it has some engaging story-telling, everyday relatable characters and is full of fact-checked content, it is high on practical information too. It takes on the issue of planned families in the most aesthetic way! Highly recommended!
I also recommend it because it spares us the absurdities of most TV soaps from the Ekta Kapoor factory of TV soap making, such as:
1. Irrational, untimely, mostly pointless, generation leaps
2. Garish make-up and over-the-top costumes that make acting a weight-lifting exercise
3. Probability (rather certainty!) of the story line moving less than a single column inch in one whole episode
4. Pointless new characters to prolong the end of the serial
5. Ear shattering background scores at over 85 decibels
6. The not-so-fine art of loud acting
As for the audience, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon had 58 million viewers and 6,00,000 people engaged as direct audience as per the beta site Indian Television in the first season itself. Now those are numbers that should definitely get the Indian media critics writing more on the serial, and more on programming in Doordarshan generally. For that, we need to start watching DD programmes. Seems like the ‘aam janta’ is watching. It’s about time media commentators did too! And who knows, we might just come across pleasant surprises like Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon!
Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon is broadcast on Doordarshan every Saturday and Sunday at 7.30pm.