As a kid who’s grown up in a joint family, where afternoons were all about watching television, I remember how the launch of Shanti on DD Metro had taken the whole world by storm (at least the world around me was affected). No matter where you went, all that you heard in ladies’ circles were discussions about how Shanti was coping up with her troubled life, still fighting it out, about how Tara dealt with her life happily, despite all odds, and how Swetlana’s life figured her way out of suspicion and insecurity.
Cut to today, all that the television (primarily Hindi GECs) has taught you in the last decade is about child marriages, child widows, wives who were treated as doormats, women trying to get hold of another woman’s husband, trying to kill one of her own family members or mothers-in-law mistreating their daughters-in-law. Even if people are fighting to get rid of such medieval mentalities in real life, these fiction shows drag us back to the era.
Some might argue that shows like Balika Vadhu, Ganga, Udaan and Diya Aur Baati Hum actually tell us how to get out of these difficult times, but the fact is that once the lead character is out of the ‘situation’, the shows become so generic that a new watcher might not be able to differentiate one show from another.
The promos for Sony’s new serial show a 10-year-old prince getting married to a 18-20 year old daughter of the royal caretaker. Titled Pehredaar Piya Ki, the show’s storyline seems to be working out on a love triangle when the prince grows up to be a man but till then, it is a partial child marriage.
Regression or just an interesting storyline?
Why so much regression and how much more can the audience take? Or is the audience asking for it? If one goes by numbers, shows criticised for regressive content have been the most successful ones on television.
Sujata Dwibedy, EVP, Carat India, feels that airing responsible content holds true for all channels. “Audiences look at GECs for aspiration and try to copy the dressing style, the language, the jewellery and lifestyles too. There are a few fantasy shows with snakes and demons, but people know that it is unreal and they are watching it for fun. But the moment it becomes a story with live characters, it becomes truth. We don’t want people to go 80-90 years back in their thought processes. We are encouraging it, by bringing it on such a big platform, with such a high reach, where people not just from cities but upcountry are also going to watch.”
When Colors launched Balika Vadhu, similar criticism did the rounds in the industry and among the masses. However, the treatment in the initial episodes was progressive, trying to talk about the girl child’s education.
Ashish Golwalkar, Senior Creative Director, Sony Entertainment Television, says Pehredaar Piya Ki, too, has the same taste. “It is not at all a regressive show. Besides, an age difference of nine years is nothing unusual. But since a child is shown getting married to a young girl, it is attracting reactions in my view. Honestly, it is a challenge for us too to make sure that we deal with it sensitively. It’s a different kind of show. We are hopeful that we will be able to convince the audience about the logic of this marriage.”
Another media planner questioned the believability of these shows. “The regressive storylines like Kaala Teeka and Sasural Simar Ka never win on the sensibilities of the aware audience. The believability of these shows was always questioned.”
Social media, discussion forums, YouTube and many other platforms on the internet are abuzz about the show and are criticising it. So much so that a website has published an article about why the show is not fit to watch. Even if the makers of the show deal with the content sensitively, wouldn’t the negative publicity affect the performance of the show?
Golwalkar feels otherwise. “Social media is a platform for free opinion. Having said that, whenever we receive comments and reviews about a show after it is telecast, we take cognizance and try to analyse our content. For Pehredar Piya Ki, it is too immature to react. I personally feel people should have waited instead of reacting to the promos. Anyway, before the launch, even trolls increase the hype and curiosity about the show.”
Mismatch with channel’s texture?
Sony has given its audience some of the most forward thinking and truly empowering shows whether it was Kkusum, a working young woman, or the path-breaking Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin or the latest ones like Kuch Rang Pyaar Ke, which tells a story of a single independent mother. Golwalkar too is confident that Sony can never run a regressive concept show. Then, why has the channel suddenly chosen Pehredar Piya Ki?
A senior media planner said, “This is not Sony’s personality. The channel has always been looked at as a male-driven channel, primarily. Even with their fiction series with female protagonist, the urbane and contemporary storylines have attracted men. However, with Pehredar, it looks like the channel is trying too hard to attract more women. May be, through the cuteness of the child and the royal background of the story, they are expecting more. But it clearly does not fit into Sony’s personality. They are a forward-thinking channel with shows like Beyhadd and Bade Achhe Lagte Hain.”
Dwibedy seconds it, saying, “Sony has always been an urban channel, known for its progressive content. If a younger guy is married to an older lady, that is still progressive, but this is a child! The channel should talk about issues that are current and future-oriented. Issues that are relevant to the younger generation as well.”
So, isn’t it possible that viewers might reject the show outright? If they don’t like it, they might not watch it, bringing an end to it.
A senior planner said, “There is a huge difference between morally correct and spicy. Spice like this might hurt our (mental) health, but we can't eat food that is bland. Watching this stuff for a couple of episodes doesn’t harm anyone, but hammering 200-300 episodes surely does. People will reject it only if it fails to incite interest.”
Dwibedy puts in another angle to this, saying a lot of the audience actually needs to be fed with content. “So they will watch it. Some may criticise it, but they will still watch it. Might be that the urban, elite and the educated won’t approve of it."
At the end of it all, unfortunately, advertisers only look at numbers. If there’s viewership, there’s money. Morality of the content is not something that brands look into. But the emphasis of being progressive and responsible has to lie with the channel.
We all hope that the show has a huge positive surprise and I am sure that the surprise will be more than welcomed by the moral police.