During this lockdown, one thing that most of us did was to revisit some of the old tv shows from the ’80s and ’90s. We saw the rise in viewership of Doordarshan with its gems like ‘RAMAYAN’ and ‘MAHABHARAT’ and a hike in search for many other classic shows from the previous decades. While it was fun and nostalgic the one thing that kept bothering me was the sorry state of our television content.
What happened to our television industry, why are we being served such crass, regressive, and toxic content. From serials like Tara, Aarohan that showed the lives of ambitious n progressive women and men, to some downright stupid shows like ‘Sasural Simar Ka’, ‘Naagin’ that portray women and society in a very questionable light.
From comedies like Dekh Bhai Dekh, Filmy Chakkar, and who can forget Jaspal Bhatti’s satire ‘Flop Show’ to sexist misogynistic slapstick comedy of today’s shows like ‘Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai’.
So how did we get here, is it just one production house that is responsible, or is it the demand and supply thing, are we as audiences responsible? In my quest to find some reason for this peculiar state of Indian television, I did the most natural thing. I googled it. It was information overload for a layman like me to process.
Anyhow what made sense to me was how it all started. In India, television programming started in the 1980s with Doordarshan. As it came under the purview of the government there was a monopoly on content and broadcasting. Which ensured that there was family-oriented, mythological content with its quality. But with the liberalisation policy in 1991, we saw many other players in broadcasting. Even then the content was progressive as television was a luxury that was available to a privileged section of society, mainly the urban and metropolitan population.
According to research by KPMG there were 1.2 million television homes in 1992 whereas 168 million in 2014.
This opened up the goldmines for channels, advertising, and many other avenues. They all wanted the return of their investments. As television reached into more homes and became a common gadget even in rural areas and small cities of India, we saw a steep decline in the shows like Hasratein, Saans that talk about desires, infidelity, and struggle of women. And shows like Just Mohobbat, Hip Hip Hurray, Banegi Apni Baat that focused on teen relationships, friendships between the opposite genders. Television was now being taken over by the saas-bahu sagas, “K” serials, all catering to a different demographic, “the housewives of rural India”. Not just the entertainment channels, the news, and music channels also went through a degrading change. Now everything is about sensationalism. The reality shows, game shows, news debates all are focused on catching more eyeballs, rather than focusing on content.
The other major reason for this decline in quality is quantity. Earlier there was one episode aired per week, whereas now it’s 5 episodes per week. Writing, scripts, creativity, uniqueness everything suffers. Churning out episode after episode makes it repetitive, nothing new to offer. We can’t just blame the production houses and channels one of the most important factors in this is TRPs, “We The audiences”. Some out of the box shows like Powder and Mahi Way were flops because the audiences rejected these break the mould serials.
Television has such a strong cultural impact on our society that it is high time to take it back to its glory days. Digital platforms have provided creators and viewers with some relief but their outreach is still not like television and cinema, and hence a lot of responsibility lies with the visual medium of TV. As a viewer, I am still hopeful that we will get to see some better, topnotch shows soon.