Thinking outside the 'idiot' box

Thinking outside the 'idiot' box

Thinking outside the 'idiot' box

If it were a guy, it would most definitely be a Casanova. Television has that charm. Harshikaa Udasi marvels at the ever-growing industry’s effortless invasion into our lives.

“You watch it. She will tell him everything right away.”
“But her boss has to understand who’s right, right?”
“She is in love with him too.”
“Hah! Is that one his fiancée? She will not allow her to tell him the truth.”
“Look, I think he’ll turnaround and ask her only to resign…there!”

That triumphant ‘there’ snapped us mother and daughter out of this ‘conversation’.

“Have you been following this show?” I asked her, since it was the first time I had ever seen it. “Not at all”, came the prompt reply, before we burst into laughter over our inane talk about fictitious characters of a Hindi TV serial, which neither of us was even aware of 10 minutes ago. We weren’t any wiser when an hour later, we were
discussing most animatedly about the ‘wild card’ entry of a couple on a reality show.
If that idiot box were a guy, it would most definitely be a Casanova. Television has that charm. It draws you willy-nilly into its labyrinth and once in, you feel      possibly what poor Abhimanyu (Arjuna’s son from Mahabharata, who entered the complex battleground maze chakravyuh, and didn’t know how to break free)         must have.

Wide wild world

For a country that had offered just limited hours of national television to its viewers for about a decade till the influx of satellite television in the late 1980s brought in a plethora of channels, India now offers 788 channels (2014, Source: Information and Broadcasting Ministry). As that number has skyrocketed from 130 a decade ago, we now have the third largest TV market with close to 154 million TV households, next only to China and the US. And we’re not talking about alternate modes of video viewing yet!

It’s a wide wild world in there. That this country has moved on from the 13-episodes short serial format is         evident with the marketing blitzkrieg accompanying new shows with an eye for follow-up seasons. India’s just finished the first season of its desi 24 and Anil Kapoor is already working on the next. Dance India Dance, Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa, Nach Baliye, Kaun Banega Crorepati, Bigg Boss, Indian Idol and India’s Got Talent have                    established their firm grip over the audiences and are in no hurry to loosen it.

Kapil Sharma is making money by making      people laugh and     reportedly making even the filmwallahs pay for coming on to his show! Rohit Shetty is subjecting TV celebs (who else?) to torturous and dangerous tasks in Khatron Ke Khiladi. Aamir Khan is back on telly making the conscientious ‘janta’ mull over issues ailing the nation. Mahabharata is turning our whole concept of the epic on its head, as is the
televised Jodhaa Akbar.

Good, bad, ugly

While stories on general    entertainment channels are moving away slightly from the conventional evil saas-innocent bahu, content on Indian       television can still be easily stereotyped. While Sharda, the protagonist of Ek Nayi Pehchaan bonds well not just with her mother-in-law but also with her daughter-in-law and starts taking English classes to empower herself, the evil element comes in the form of another female relative. Nandini, a story that was to show the rise of a regular girl to the status of a politician, has now taken to kitchen politics. Likewise, Saatchi of Jee Le Zara has moved from  being an independent proprietor of a       factory to a sobbing victimised ‘new’ daughter-in-law.

But mistake not. Television is not as bad as it is made out to be. Ballika Vadhu started off as a socially-relevant show about girl education and child marriage. It still keeps addressing social issues, the most recent one being that of date rape. Youth channel ‘Bindass’ launched a show last month called Halla Bol, which narrates real cases of atrocities against women and how they fought back. Veera, the youth icon of Ek Veer Ki Ardas…Veera, has been leveraged to encourage first-time voters to vote.

If you are the sort who finds this riff-raff and would rather spend time learning about the amphibian species in Kruger Park, then television can be a big boon. For travel freaks, food lovers and lifestyle and trend watchers, informative non-       fiction programming can mean the world.

Give me more

Content and its consumption on television are increasing, and so is the ease of availability. The TV is no longer stuck to your home. It chases you wherever you go. I took a two-day zero-communication break last month, which also implied a strictly-no-TV clause. But my three-year old surprised me by saying he’d like to watch Baby TV on my smartphone. There really is no escape.

Smartphones, tablets and online platforms are altering the way video content is being consumed in the country. While time-shifted television is a much-popular concept in the US, in India it’s just about warming up. Compelled to
multitask, we are consuming TV content at our own pace and in our own space.
Most channels and shows have their own YouTube channels and even DTH providers have special services such as   online video streaming service Dish Online for Dish TV subscribers or Everywhere TV (For Tata Sky subscribers on Android platform). Other free (unless charged by the channel) Android apps for TV viewing (such as Myplex and Yupp TV) are also available for download.

To the unwilling eye, that’s a tad more than can be absorbed! And I can only       second guess that Groucho Marx would agree. After all, the late American comedian had famously said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” But, clearly, not everybody is on the same page.

Life outside the TV universe?

There seems to be little consumed outside the TV universe. When people lament about dwindling sales of the print media, it is a very real lament. Think about the other mass mode of entertainment – movies. Even that’s suffering at the hands of television. Would you rather pay through your nose and watch a movie in the theatre or get it delivered to your home almost immediately at a fraction of that cost through your DTH provider? Why, even waiting for your satellite TV to bring it to you free-of-charge in a few weeks’ time seems a better idea.

Familial relationships have been under the scanner ever since TV started taking over our lives. Studies have proven time and again that television, in a more invasive way than any other       media, generates fantastic ideas about beauty, romantic relationships and comforts of life. With a TV/laptop/DTH box/smartphone everywhere, time spent in personal interaction is only going to decrease
further. And I suppose it is not even relevant to discuss the effects of ‘too much’ TV on one’s vision.

Last month when Aamir Khan began promoting  the second season of     Satyameva Jayate, the master marketer used a new technique: making viewers feel guilty if they did not watch his issue-based show. With the ‘Jinhe desh ki fikr hai’ (those who care for the country) tagline, Aamir makes sure that my patriotism also goes for a toss if I opt for a Sunday swim with my family instead.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox