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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hindi Serials - the evolution of serials to have mass market appeal

Hindi serials have so far been considered the poorer cousin of Hindi films. The sheer scale of Hindi films is hard to duplicate for its lesser counterpart. Films have also been around longer and have been a part of popular culture much before television even came into existence. Since its inception films have mirrored (or at least tried to) the realities of life. They have often been the repository of middle class values and beliefs. Thus while cinema in 50s and 60s talked about post independence hope and social reconstruction, the angry young man theme of the 70s and 80s reflected the growing angst and post 90s there has been a steady increase in candy floss movies and those that target the NRI segment.

As movies in the twenty first century became more and more urban and metropolitan in its theme and characterisation, the smaller cities, towns and bigger villages turned to television to seek out values and themes that talked to them in their own lingo. In fact it can be safely said that television since its inception has been the medium for the average, middle-middle class, semi-urban and even rural Indian. Take for example Hum Log. The first blockbuster (borrowing a ‘filmy’ parlance) Hindi serial, it depicted the lives of a typical lower middle class Indian family. Buniyaad that followed in its wake talked of a family that faces the trauma of partition and then seeks to rebuild an identity for itself. Here again, the characters were very real, their conflicts, believable.

As television witnessed its first revolution in the form of private channels, there was a change in the grammar of story telling but not in the broader themes of the basic story. Thus Sailab, Zee TV’s first mega hit serial broached the issue of extra-marital affairs but in a very conventional tone. The straying partners returned to their respective spouses seeking forgiveness. Star Plus’ super successful serial X also talked about the same issue keeping in mind the middle class perspective. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, two serials that dominated the Hindi serial market, despite having rich settings, talked of essentially middle class values and ethics.

With the birth of multiplexes and the death of single screens film have become increasingly expensive and urban in its stance. In films, the conventional middle class institutions and norms are fast disappearing. Take for example, a film like Love Aaj Kal where in the focus is entirely on the two lead characters. Deepika’s character’s family gets a blink and you miss kind of presence while Saif’s family is not even given that due. Serials on the other hand have taken up the cause for the middle class India. Thus institutions like joint families are serenaded (Yeh Risht Kya Kehe Lata Hai) and values like sacrifice and selflessness upheld and individualism condemned in Hindi serials. As Hindi films seek out a global audience, Hindi serials are happy to touch the lives of those millions who travel by bus and local train and for whom an INR 200 ticket is a luxury and not a necessity.

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