Why India Chooses To Watch A ‘Saas-Bahu’ Drama Over A ‘Breaking Bad’

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Indian television has always been criticized for its dramatic plot structure and its even more dramatic characters. But if one thinks about it with a clear mind, no matter how much we like American or English television, when we look at the vast population of Indians, who are not culturally at the urban level as the youth in this country have reached, will have no interest in shows that do not relate to them. Even if Indian television is over the top it is still what the masses of Indian people watch and even enjoy.

Indian television in its effort to reflect social realities ends up confining itself to stereotypes and very often give into them. But if it manages to strike a chord with the masses it’s a successful show just as a movie like Humshakals can cross the hundred crore mark. After all it’s a business and it aims to make money. It is impossible to gauge the likes and dislikes of the people and what they want to see in a country as diverse as ours. In such a set up would a Breaking Bad work? Yet when we saw 24 we were all if not floored, mildly impressed with the effort. But this viewership came mainly from the urban population while the rural population continued with their daily soaps that was more suited to their taste. The “saas-bahu” serials are the staple and it would be unfair to assume that the television shows from the UK and the US aren’t filled with their own drama. It is dramatic and if watched carefully, the over the top undercurrents will make itself evident. It is only because we are treated to the crust of this media that we feel that all of it is of good quality but we do not know the list of the television shows we don’t get to watch but the members of these countries must complain about.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager although a very popular series, if one is unbiased will realize that the show is over-dramatic in its own way quite different from the dramatic music that plays in the background of a wide-eyed, heavily decked bahu. But it drags and then it develops into a complicated plot that is hard to keep track of. Shows like One Tree Hill ran for so long until nobody knew what was happening any more. But this is not to say that Indian TV can’t be frustrating in that people who are dead seem to come back alive after a complex plot twist or the fact that it stretches one event that should ideally take one episode to cover and extends into an entire week worth of episodes at times. It cannot be denied. The demand for these English television shows stems from the fact that the urban audience feel that these shows replicate some part of their life or that their ideas and their outlooks match. We rarely want to watch Aahat when we have equally dramatic shows like Supernatural or CID when we have Hawaii Five-O and so many others. Our definition of the “dramatic” shapes our desire for these shows as well.  While a lot of people say “Indian television lags behind American or English television” would it mean that you think that the society in India lags behind the American or English society or would you mean that you would like Indian TV shows to serve the urban needs for a more plot-based TV soap rather than an emotion and situation-based serial?

This is not to say that people should not watch what they want to but it is to explain the conflict, the constant tug-of-war between the urban and rural in our country which has persisted for so long manifests in this very minor issue which isn’t even an issue to be honest. It shows the disparity between the sections of our society, the one section which is “developed” and the other section which is “developing” both in economic and cultural terms. We have seen Indian television come a long way from the one-stop shop that was Doordarshan at a point of time to an industry that makes millions and employs an enormous number of actors who are close to if not as popular as film stars in India and there will be many transformations, what we see today will not be what we see tomorrow. That is the hope.


Sahitya  Poonacha

Image Source: The Viewspaper