Saturday, June 26, 2004

Amita Malik Sight & Sound
Serials call the shots

Amita Malik

When TV first started in India, to ordinary people, whose staple entertainment so far had been the cinema, it was a wonderful bonus. Here was a cinema right in their homes, almost free of charge, which they could switch on and off at their will, almost 24 hours non-stop if they wished. Naturally, their first choice was feature films. And I am never tired of repeating that India must be the only country in the world where the cinema, instead of retreating before television, made TV its willing slave. Except for a few exceptions, serials like Ramayana, the feature film reigned supreme. Then, after suburban and small-town matrons watched foreign serials, such as I Love Lucy and what they called "Shanta Barbara," the Indian serial took off in a big way.

But while the earlier serials dealing with Partition, and other serious issues have receded to the background, there has been a flood of saas-bahu kind of serials. The women acting in them seem to be coming straight from beauty parlours.

Now we have reached a stage that serials are calling the shots in spacing, advertising and timing. And, are making slaves of viewers. Take spacing. No longer do serials come on once a week or continuously on weekdays. They begin somewhere around Sunday or Monday and run for half the week and then go off. And when they resume after this long interval one gets a cursory recap and has to tax one’s memories about what happened before. Then there are the ads. I do not watch with a stop-watch, but at a fair guess the ads take up more than half the time in a half-hour serial. Sometimes, the ad come without notice and one does not know where the serial ends and the ad begins.

Another noticeable thing about these serials is that quite often the acting is appalling. Too many actors and actresses get the part mostly for their looks. All that the hero has to do is look presentable and the heroine has to look as if she has bee straight out of a beauty parlour.

The third requisite is that the serial has to be stretched well beyond credible limits, with help from as many sub-plots as possible, ads and the bi-weekly interval. A classic example is the only present serial I have found interesting to watch. That is Astitva. The episode where we are shown Abhi’s body in the morgue is plain gimmicky and unworthy of an otherwise credible story in a modern context. Then comes a very sad case of miscasting in an otherwise very intelligently cast serial. Dr Joshi, who has allegedly been in a prisoner-of-war camp after his plane was shot down in enemy territory, looks like an over-fed golgappa in no time at all. His sister looks even more unconvincing and both of them are pretty poor actors. May I tell the Sinhas, responsible for the serial, that they are spoiling one of the watchable serials. A pity.

Serial makers also have to be aware of the fact that good feature films are shown before the six-month limit after release in cinemas and one might revert to the old situation where cinema films drive out bad serials.

Two NDTV anchors are coming in for a lot of flak. One is newscaster Jyotsna Mohan, who reads like a drone and sounds like a tanpura from the next room. With no change of facial or audio expression, she reads so fast that even an expert lip-reader like shall fail to understand what she is saying. She clearly needs training from an expert. The other is weather-forecaster Navodita, who seems to monopolise the prime time evening bulletins. She insists in moving in a most irritating way from side to side on the map so that only the cities or town she is mentioning can be seen. She stands right in front of Delhi and Kolkata, the two cities in which I am interested and I never get to know their temperature or rain forecast. Not very good for good relations with viewers and interfering with NDTV’s reputation as a role model for other channels.