Popular Indian Television

Its been a wonderful ride – the simplicity of swaroop sampat’s performances in one of the first serials (yeh jo hai zindagi) via karamchand’s gaajar to the sumptousness of the saas bahu sagas and beyond.

We were seduced,entranced and hypnotised by the twists and turns in bejewelled lands, brought in to their worlds through sheer habit. At first, it was the fascination that a storyteller weaves, led by our curiosity to find out what happens next. They brought us our neighbour’s scandals, our parent’s traumas, our aspirations wrapped in glitter and we lapped it up.

For some of us, it was a journey into parts of ourselves that we did not wish to acknowledge, for others it was like watching a horror movie where you could not tear yourself away. And then for some others it was a bit of escapism at the end of the day, for a movie was too long and an advertisement too short. There were some serials that spoke of our history – serious ones like tamas and chanakya, others more populist like Buniyad. We felt connected to them, found our roots and explored our value system(s).

Then came cable television, hungry for airtime,  willing to pay. There were years in which local cable wallah’s supplied the movie of your choice if you phoned them. They fed us with MTV from the sky, jagrans from (somebody’s) neighbourhood ‘functions’ and streams of local advertising. Screens were skewered, pictures grainy and the content varied. Cabals of youth gathered together to join in the new industry and became cable operators. Then we  heard stories of goondas and consolidation. Soon revenue rivulets became streams and rivers. Serious advertising money fed via the major channels demanded investment in programming. New channels, new programmes and the race for TRPs led to more fantastical programming and plotlines.

But it wasn’t just TRPs and advertising money. This was the birth of a new India. For generations, children had been told to study hard regardless of aptitude, for there was no money in sport, music or art. These activities were relegated to the shed called ‘extra-curricular’ – implying that they will not make you a doctor, lawyer or engineer. There were no ‘salaries’, no ‘provident funds’ to be gained. And now came the serials, with their contracts and respectable day rates. They needed musicians, singers,actors, make-up artists, costume designers,tailors. Even jewellery design became a profession. Creativity was retrieved from the back of beyond and flourished. Reality shows fostered this change and glamour seemed so much more accessible.

Then,of course there was the world of retail fashion. Style had new icons. Sarees were Saloni style or Tulsi like. Designers led commerce, and traditional supply chains were altered.   …   …..

And what of value systems? and superstitions?…  more next time..