Looking at the weekly BARC TRP rating, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that TV shows in India— or at least the ones shown on private channels — are either monochromatic family dramas or bouts of subversive mythology.
Indian society wasn’t always fascinated with mythology. Beginning with the Gupta period, the Indian society began to see a transition from Vedic rituals to Puranic worship. That lead to formation of many Hindu sampradayas, that kept bickering among themselves until Adi Sankaracahrya introduced the Panchayatana system. In the modern day India, the gamut of mythology has been to enthrall the masses; reaffirming their belief in the opulence of deities. This was acceptable in small doses, as long as it didn’t start to dominate the national conversation.
In the last decade, however, Indian TV channels have had their hands full with shows based on central characters from Hindu mythology. If one keeps track of the count, Hindi channels alone have four to five shows airing on prime time. Two popular shows are dedicated to Goddess Kali and Lord Ganesha. It is hard to fathom how two very closely knit stories can capture the public imagination at the same time.
But even more importantly, the dangers of the excess have started to show. While one of them runs a story of Lord Shiva getting furious at the death of Sati and threatening to destroy the world, the other covers the same threat of annihilation from the goddess after the beheading of Ganesha. One starts to wonder how two primeval deities, who are touted as all-father and all-mother, can threaten to destroy the entire creation in the face of a personal loss.
This kind of narrative doesn’t do justice to modern day Hinduism. While Puranic stories are part of our tradition, Hinduism has moved well beyond the concept of might-worship. Such stories could have provoked a salvo of criticism, where one has to choose between devotion and conscience. But thanks to reform movements by various free thinkers in past two centuries, the chatter has shifted from blind beliefs to self-realisation. The sage Ramakrishna and his disciple Swami Vivekanada, Rishi Aurobindo and Dayananda Saraswati and others have paved the way for a robust, conversationalist religion that can accommodate plurality in its philosophy.
That is the true face of Hinduism today – a living, corporeal philosophy that encourages a person to question, debate and serve humanity. We owe a lot to our forefathers, for shaping our way of life. It is therefore quite disappointing to see our TV shows completely ignore them.
This feels like an opportunity lost. By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 and it is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group. Yet, instead of feeding them stuff they can draw inspiration from, we deliver them fodder. It is unsurprising why young people prefer to spend their time watching Netflix and HBO.
Indian TV needs to set its priority straight. Serving up mindless drama and mythology in complete deference to what the youth wants or needs is neither good economics, nor quality work. If the industry is adamant on using religion to advance profits, it should at least acknowledge the stalwarts who changed the face of Hinduism.