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Television in India has also established itself as a huge industry screening thousands of programs in several languages. This small screen is also the platform which has given India many celebrities. Very few homes in India used to have television fifty years ago but today more than half of the Indian households have at least one television. It is a sign of prosperity in the urban middle-class Indian households and has overarching consumption. It has become a staple in most homes and so much so that families watching family-dramas have begun to imbibe what they see on television. Perhaps it works on a quid pro quo basis: serials show what the viewers want, and the viewers want what the serials show.

In this endless cycle, there is a recognisable pattern – a tremendous change in the content of these television shows. How much has it influenced its viewers? How much have the viewers influenced and manoeuvred the content? 

Hum Log | Image source: India Today 

History of Television in India

Television in India began in the late 1950s as an experiment and broadcasted only two one-hour educational programs per week, but according to the reports of 2016, India had more than 850 channels. Terrestrial television in India started with the experimental telecast starting in Delhi on 15 September 1959 with a small transmitter and a makeshift studio. Daily transmission began in 1965 as a part of All India Radio (AIR).

In the 1970s, many television centres were opened, Doordarshan being the biggest one. Indian small screen programming started off in the early 1980s. At this point in time, there was only one national channel, that was owned by the government – Doordarshan. It aired shows like the Ramayana and Mahabharata based on the epics and were the first major television series produced. Other shows like Hum Log aired in 1984 dealt with Indian middle class families and their daily struggles and aspiration, Buniyaad (1986-87) which dealt with the partition of India in 1947 and its aftermath, Fauji (1989) followed the training of the Indian army commando regime and comedy shows like Yeh Jo Zindagi Hai, stories for children likeVikram Betal and Malgudi days.

We see a trend in the 80s shows as they deal with the issues like family, daily struggles of each and every individual, partition and its effects, motivation to the younger generation to join the army, message of patriotism and nationalism and also this was ‘the golden age’ of Indian television as it bound us together every evening: one family, one nation, one channel, one culture.

Fauji | Image Source: Scroll.in 

1990s marked the arrival of private television channels in India. Apart from the regional channels, many international channels also became available to the Indian television audience. By the late 90s, fiction shows had taken an altogether different turn with shows like Tara (1995) based on the trial and tribulations, the joys and sorrows of the protagonist, Tara. The series was known as the first ever Indian soap on contemporary urban women and was the first Hindi language drama series that ran for about 5 years and Hasratein (1994) which focuses around the rampancy of extra-marital affairs. The show emphasises the societal strain placed on marriages in Indian culture, especially roles given to the female spouse resulting in boredom felt by the male spouse.

Also read: Radha Ravi’s Comments Show The Misogyny Of Tamil Film Industry 

These 90’s shows dealt with the culture, values and norms of the Indian family which forms up the society and had an element of feminism, seemingly progressive shows for their time, where women were given equal importance on screen, as in the case of Tara.   

Hasratein | Image Source: Hindustan Times

Then comes the era of the ‘K’ serials in the 2000’s like Kyunki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, wherein the main characters Tulsi and Parvati symbolised ‘Indian values’ and the show shot to the top of the viewership charts. Balaji Telefilms’ K formula matched the growth of a Hindu consciousness. These were the typical daily soaps where family is given utmost importance and the viewers want their families to be as perfect as shown in the fiction show. 

Television preserved the Indian culture, but it also reflected the aspirations of young Indians in the era of economic growth. Reality and talent hunt was the television response with shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, the singing reality show which gave India some of its finest singers, Boogie Woogie the dance reality show and finally, it was personified in Kaun Banega Crorepati in 2000, inspired by the hit British show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, marking an era of subsequent ‘remakes’ of western TV shows. In current times, the shows portray a lavish lifestyle of the actors and seem to appeal to the elite masses of India as they show the different struggles that they have to go through. In doing so the struggles of the lower classes and castes have lost their meaning and importance.

The early 80’s and late 90’s shows had a lasting impression on the minds of the people as they had strong expressions which motivated people to follow a certain lifestyle but the emergence of western culture in the 21st century with the changes in dressing styles, body language, values and expressions seem to have disturbed that; nevertheless people have adapted themselves to it. 


Kaun Banega Crorepati | Image Source: India Today 

So, what changed?

80’s and 90’s saw a resurgence of patriotic television shows revolving around the army; a way of encouraging the youth into recruitment. Shows like Buniyaad and Fauji were meant to re-awaken the strong sense of patriotism and nationalism among its viewers. The building tensions over Kashmir and incoming Kargil War has the shows focused on service to nationhood. The media became a key element in the recruitment of youths into the armed forces on both sides of the border. During this time also was the rapid rise of ‘family dramas’ especially in India; they dealt with the daily problems of the middle-class and their struggles.

However, even at this point, the shows were mainly made for the consumption of the Hindi-speaking masses respectively. The viewership began to set in a ‘trend’ among television shows that only portrayed the ordinary homes as those of the North-Indian households. The way television showcased the daily life of the ordinary citizen was also by the negation of multiple factors in society that determined ‘problems’ for middle classes and otherwise. There was little to no talk of communal tensions or the caste problem. 

THERE WAS A RAPID ‘WESTERNISATION’ OF THE SHOWS WHEREIN THE SHOWS ADDRESSED ISSUES AND CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH WERE OTHERWISE A ‘HUSH-HUSH’ topic.

1990s took a complete turn of events. Television suddenly became more affordable and more a staple in most households. The viewership increased manifold, and so did the number of shows and channels. In 1991, P. Narsimha Rao’s ‘foreign policy reformation’ opened up the Indian market to foreign investment. Foreign capital goods were also accompanied by lots of television programmes from abroad. Globalisation began to take shape in the television industry as well. This was the ‘golden age’ of Indian television, the most progressive era.

Shows of this time dealt with much more complex fictional plots. Working women and the problems they faced, harassment, social structures and several other ‘modern’ themes. There was a rapid ‘westernisation’ of the shows wherein the shows addressed issues and circumstances which were otherwise a ‘hush-hush’ matter and a taboo to bring up in conversation.

Shows like Hasratein showed a woman leaving her husband for her married boss, or Shanti where a woman journalist had dug up harrowing information about two Bollywood professionals, reigned the screens. These were kinds of themes that the audiences were completely unaccustomed to and yet extremely intrigued and welcoming of. Television at this time challenged the pre-existing concepts of ‘Indian culture’ and ‘Indian values’ and the image of the ‘bharatiya nari.

However, there began a slight shift in the class of people being portrayed on television. Instead of the struggles of the middle class, the shows now focused more on the problems faced by the elite, rich, and famous. The shows went from being relatable to being ‘aspirational’. The big houses, fancy cars and fancy clothing began to attract the masses.


Shanti | Image Source: Hindustan Times 

India took a turn backwards in terms of content. The Indian television viewership was introduced to the Mistress of family drama, Ekta Kapoor. Shows went from depicting women in the workplace to devoted housewives in rich joint-families dealing with a lot of domestic drama. Almost as a reverse impact of Globalisation: Indian viewers and certain class of Hindus felt that they were losing touch with the ‘indian values’ that families had by showing all these ‘western shows’ and went back to the ideal ‘aadarsh nari’ and families run by clueless women who are solely guided by ‘god’ and are capable of holding the family together through tears and prayers.

MOST OF THE LONG-RUNNING SERIALS HAVE VERY STRONG HINDU UNDERTONES WHERE NO DECISIONS IN THE HOUSE ARE TAKEN WITHOUT A PUJA.

From shows like Tara (1995) and Shanti, television took a turn towards shows such as Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Kyunki Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi, Naagin and Sasural Simar Ka. The plots of these shows range from women turning into flies and snakes seeking revenge, coming back from the dead, and women turning against women. There has been very little representation of Muslim family dramas and main characters with ostentatious displays of religiosity.  

Also read: Television And Its Cheap Thrills 


Sasural Simar Ka | Image Source: IMDb 

Indian television sees religion being incorporated within the television shows itself along with special channels such as Aastha TV dedicated to the Hindu religion. Most of the long-running serials have a very strong undertone of Hindutva where no decisions in the house are taken without a puja for a Goddess or that praying to a god in the time of crisis solves every obstacle that the characters may be facing.

Also read: What Happened To The Progressive Tamil Serials We Grew Up With?

Religious gurus like Baba Ramdev have massive fan-following and large television viewership that are extremely defensive of God Men like Sai Baba and Ramdev. In an attempt to promote the ‘ideal Hindu family’, religion is of primary importance along with saree-clad, ghoongat adorning housewives. The way it finds itself in households today is perhaps because the majority of the viewers of shows such as these are women. Women, due to the sexual division of labour, become the decision-makers and executers of domestic affairs. Hence, their aspirations of a prosperous and yet ‘sanksari’ family finds its way from the television screens to their homes. 

SOURCES 

  1. Television Remains the Choice of the Masses Even in the Digital Age
  2. The World Came Home: The history of television in India.
  3. Saans to Captain Vyom: A Look at Interesting, Progressive 90s TV Shows
  4. Indian TV: where men and monsters rule
  5. These progressive shows of 90s will put current soaps to shame
  6. Where are the real working women in Indian television soaps?
  7. Television Shows : Evolution or Decline
  8. Indian Television Shows: A Gross Lie To The Women Of India? 

Author’s note: This article deals with mainstream television shows and not with paid new-age content-streaming apps since most of the population still consumes more television. This is data from the Broadcast India Survey 2018.

1 COMMENT

  1. Well it doesn’t means….that India is grown through these TV serials…..
    For an example…. Any person reads a quote…and likes to save that one…..if that quote relates to her life…. If that quote doesn’t relates then he or she might scroll down it….
    It’s simple as that a Hindu person just watch those serials which relates to her life….
    Just like a kid wanna watch cartoons but doesn’t wanna watch daily soap….
    And ueah there are so many Muslim friends of mine who says there Family still wanna watch Ramayana and Mahabharat because they. loved serial, so where Hindu or Muslim context Came inside it….
    There were so many Muslim programmes were also telecasted like Nargis, Alif Laila etc…
    And still Zee TV shows many of programmes that relates with muslims….
    And atleast women’s role are barefaced….or these shows mighh have forced to wear a hijaab….
    So ma’am kindly clear your context please

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