The sad state of Indian TV Programmes

If I am caught in an extra-marital affair, I would not be expected to be as ashamed, as is the case when I am caught watching an Indian TV serial! It becomes a big blow to my image of a rational and upright person. Someone recently gave a very guarded comment when he saw me watching a serial, “Aapko shayad farq nahin padta hoga, lekin normal logon ka to IQ low ho jayega ye serials dekh dekh kar.” I decided to take the complement part and disregard the other thing for my immediate reaction.😛

But the point is not that. Okay, before I go into details let me put a disclaimer that I am not a serial addict. I do not turn on channels like Star Plus, Zee TV, Imagine and Colors even by mistake. The one channel that I watch is Star One. In general their serials are not typical saas-bahu sagas. Also, they try not to stress the audience with endless negative tracks. Typically the overall feel of the serials is positive. When it isn’t, the limited audience they have rejects it immediately and show goes off air or changes track🙂

But that is only a small relief. Yes – they try to entertain instead of stressing the audience unlike the other “entertainment” channels, but they still suffer from all the other issues of typical Indian soaps. Inconsistent story, illogical tracks, bad editing, new characters coming out of blue, important characters disappearing without explanations etc. etc. Why does that happen? Are the people working in the industry idiots?

Well some of them may be, but most of them aren’t. They are just bound by the conditions of their work. And the reason behind the sad state of affairs can be tracked to two things

  • The frequency of telecasting, which is typically 5 days a week. In case of Star One, right now it is even worse at 6 days a week.
  • Number of episodes are not decided in advance. The team is supposed to keep producing episodes after episodes, and only after TRPs see a dip, is a show taken off air.

What do these things mean?

  • 5-6 days a weak schedule means that to produce one 20-22 minute episode, the team effectively has only one day. Compare that to months that a movie of 1.5 to 3 hours takes to be produced! This goes for everyone. The story-writer has one day to think of the story to be shown in 22 minutes, dialog writer has one day to write the dialogs for 22 minutes, director and actors have one day to shoot the episode, editors have one day to put together a coherent set of scenes for the episode and so on. Further given the dependence of some activities on the other, they may effectively be left with much less time. For example, editing can not happen until shooting is done or dialogs can not be written until script is ready. And to top that, guess what? The people involved in production of the serials are humans, not machines. They fall ill, they have families, they need vacations etc. So, you have to make up for lost hours there too. Hence funny things happen
    • If an actor falls sick, they change the track to explain away his/her absence. Illness does not come with a notice of course; hence the time available to change the track is short. And you can not change what you have already shown. So, how logical can you get with sudden changes in the track? Typically the character is shown to have an accident, go away on a business trip, disappear without obvious reasons (while the reason is still being thought of by the story writer!) or even kidnapped out of blue. Planned leave can be managed relatively better, but the regular schedules are also so hectic that even planned ones leave a negative impact on the flow of the show.
    • Then there is the use of body doubles. If there isn’t enough time to shoot all the scenes with an actor, in some of the scenes someone else substitutes him. Typically the body double will be used in the scenes where the actor’s face is not visible. This is a standard technique to cover for lack of time or to use less time of the expensive lead actors. In an ideal case of the use of body doubles, one should know which scenes do not require the face of the actor and use body doubles for only those scenes. But given the constraints of time and deadlines, in these serials the scenes have to be deliberately designed to accommodate body double shootings. So in an emotional scene where two actors should be seen in one frame, only one will be shown at a time and only a close-up of hand or the back will be visible for the other actor. Sometimes unnecessary dialogs or actions will be brought in to accommodate them not being seen in a frame together. And you might be left wondering why did it just happen that way! Many a times the make-up and position of the body doubles will not be exact and you can see things changing from one frame to the other. In one of the scenes, when a girl was shown form the front, her hair was tied at the back. But when her back shot was shown (shot with a body double), her hair was open! These things are immediately noticeable even by normal viewers. If you are the nit-picking kind, you can also catch things  like nail-polish colour not matching in different frames of the same scene.😀
  • Since the number of episodes are not pre-decided, the shooting can not happen too much in advance either. Channels closely monitor TRPs and the tracks are changed overnight or the serial is taken off air pretty quickly, if TRPs dictate so. Not shooting in advance creates even more time crunch and in case of emergencies things go haywire! In some channels like Star One, they may not have a bank of even one or two episodes. In some extreme cases, the scene to be aired in the evening is shot on the same day! At best, they are shot one or two days in advance. Some channels keep more banks, but it is unlikely that anyone does that for more than 4-5 days.
  • With daily airing schedules, the entire cast and crew is typically overworked. There is little time or energy to explore creative plots. 16-18 hours a day is not unheard of. 10-12 hours is pretty common. If a scene does not come out right technically, it is unlikely that they will have time to re-shoot it. Hence you will be served a flawed scene. Since the serials go on for months and ages, the writers and creative people are changed in between for various personal and professional reasons. Many a times they may not remember the details of something shown few months earlier and if you are a regular viewer, you would see them contradicting themselves.
  • One feeling I get is that since illogical tracks, bloopers, inconsistencies have become unavoidable in the larger scheme of things, people have come to be too relaxed about them. They are being lazy about correcting them even when they can be corrected, because anyway you can not avoid them. So, a few more are fine. You write an inconsistent story even when you can see that you are being inconsistent. At some point of time you would have been inconsistent without intending to. So overall, who cares!

It is funny how things have become the opposite with movies and serials in last 10-15 years. Earlier movies were supposed to be over the top, pointless ones with lead actors dancing around the trees and all. Whereas serials were something people identified with. They tackled serious issues, provided good quality entertainment. And now Indian cinema is coming of age. We are seeing bold and new age movies in bollywood. But the serial world has gone to the dogs! If Discovery, Animal Planet and news is not entertainment in your dictionary (which is the case with me), there is little you can expect from your television after your tiring day.

But the interesting thing is that the obvious conclusion is not that the TV industry does not have good, creative people. The more obvious reason for this rot is the economics of the industry that is relying heavily on the daily soaps with no endings pre-decided.

So, what is the way out?

I don’t see any channel changing the daily soap format anytime soon. It is sort of an equilibrium, from where a defector stands to lose. Whatever audience they have today, is used to seeing the same serials daily and the channels are now cashing in on this habit. By switching to a weekly or bi-weekly format, they may lose this habitual audience and getting new audience is definitely a long term task.

But what can be done is to pre-decide the number of episodes and the story and stick to it. Then you can also shoot well in advance and that will take some deadline pressure off the creative team. It seems one production house is doing this. And the name can be surprising to you.🙂 Yash Raj Films. Yep! They have produced couple of serials for SONY. I had caught a few episodes of one of them called “Mahi Ve”. And it definitely had much better production quality than all the regular daily soaps on Indian TV. But I never saw any of their serials completely. Good news is that they are doing another serial for SONY, which went on air on February 14th. I caught the first two episodes and it is promising. Story has already moved quite a bit. From what I have come to know, they have shot almost half the total number of episodes planned before the show went on air. So, we should not see the issues that arise out of last minute production. It airs at 10.30 PM.

I hope more channels and production houses adopt this in coming days. Instead of trying to squeeze the money out of a serial till it has completely been destroyed, they should stick to the pre-planned story and then end it on a high note. Hopefully this will give them some genuinely engaged, high quality audience. And the current audience will also not mind seeing something better!

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About Jaya

Jaya Jha is an entrepreneur, a techie, a writer and a poet. She was born and brought up in various towns of Bihar and Jharkhand. A graduate of IIT Kanpur and IIM Lucknow, she realized early on that the corporate world was not her cup of tea. In 2008, she started Pothi.com, one of the first print-on-demand publishing platform in India. She currently lives in Bangalore and divides her time between writing and working on her company's latest product InstaScribe (http://instascribe.com) with a vision to make it the best e-book creation tool. Blog: https://jayajha.wordpress.com Twitter: @jayajha Facebook: http://facebook.com/MovingOnTheBook

7 thoughts on “The sad state of Indian TV Programmes

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