To understand the future of something, it is important to know its past and current state. However, with things that are affected by technology, the rate of change increases manifold and has to be kept in mind at all times. Today, with almost everyone who can afford a smartphone and an internet connection, consuming a large amount of content on their phone, the consumption patterns have changed to a great extent. With the option of watching a complete series (locally made as well international content) over a weekend, the aspect of being a loyal audience over the years for a dramatic show is a difficult task for the audience. The makers too have to take the hit because ratings and revenues have to be kept in mind, constantly.
The two-year-old Sasural Genda Phool had released a special video on Star Plus to say goodbye to their audience in 2012. It had worked as an invite for the audience to see their last episode. The question that arises here is whether the binge-over-the-weekend audience will be interested in forming a bond that requires such a farewell.
However, the revival of Sony Entertainment Television’s Kuch Rang Pyaar Ke Aise Bhi on supposed public demand can be considered a win for daily soaps in forging that connect with the audiences. The interesting point to note here is how even the ardent lovers of the show were anyway watching it online and not on a television set — that’s what I found when I talked to a few of them. Most of these people watched it on YouTube, whenever they found the time. So while the content was winning, television as a medium to watch it was failing.
Balika Vadhu had taken the daily soap television audience by a storm when it came out in 2008. In its almost nine-year run on Colors TV, the show had managed to get the audience’s love despite dealing with a topic like child marriage. It was a brilliant show, but would it survive, if it were to be broadcasted today? The fate of Sony Entertainment Television’s Pehredaar Piya Ki might give you a hint. The show was cancelled within two months in 2017 because of the flak it received online and the petitions filed against it. It clearly indicates that the audience is not the same as it was a decade back.
The evolution of Hindi daily soaps can be best understood from the ones that ran on the television for many years. If you were to look at the three title track videos of Kumkum — Ek Pyara Sa Bandhan, a show that was broadcasted on Star Plus between 2002 and 2009, you would find that although the lyrics were essentially the same, advanced videography techniques, the way to tell the story and the social changes had impacted the narrative in a big way. The first video features a joint family and shows how the daughter-in-law takes care of everyone, the second concentrates on her relationship with her husband, which is interesting to note because it was her second marriage, a topic that can be essentially considered taboo, and the third one, focuses on their kids growing up, their family with a nuclear perspective and the need to address generation gap between parents and their kids.
In a similar way, if you look at the different promotional videos of Star Parivaar Awards, between 2003 and 2017, the change of narrative is very apparent from forming a relationship with the audience to talking about social issues to serving the channel as a heritage of nostalgia. In the most recent ones, there is a very strong undertone of trying to be a young and socially relevant platform that is in sync with the changing times. In fact, the 2016 video is mostly a making video, featuring the artists and even includes rap in its lyrics. They have kept the theme constant but the shift is apparent.
Making a Hindi daily soap is an expensive affair. It is meant for a mass audience and since there is absolutely no homogeneity in the kind of audience we have in India, the difficulty level just increases manifold. “In such a scenario, it is important to make the content that is relevant for the lowest common denominator,” says Naomi Datta, a media professional with 20 years of experience in broadcast media and journalism. She explains how with the increasing popularity of digital content, it has become even more difficult to produce content for niche audiences on television. For such content, the internet is the right medium of dissemination.
Personally, I feel that in the coming years, it is likely that the Hindi daily soaps makers will hesitate in experimenting with content on television because they have an easier way out by providing it on the digital medium. This way, they can continue to please the mass audiences without the pressure of producing niche content as the audience that craves for it has found a new medium of consumption. They can even experiment first on the digital medium and then proceed to the traditional medium if need be. In this way, the process of production might just become more organic. We have already come a long way from family drama, through the path of talking about social causes to the maze of supernatural dramas. But the next wave of popular content is still uncertain because now, the possibilities have grown like never before. Thank you, internet.
As a part of this assignment, I had also interviewed Naomi Datta and you can read the complete interview here.