The predicament of Hindi TV serial writers

The scripts they churn out may look dumb to you. But is that out of compulsion or does it reflect the lack of creativity in the medium? 

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media
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Kartikey Sehgal

Hindi TV serials have become the necessary evil of north Indian households. Since the ‘prime time’ is the dinner time in almost every average household, the entire family ends up watching these serials which remain on the verge of nonsense, absurd and stupid. If the ‘Goddess’ of TV serial producers, Ekta Kapoor, is to be believed, then the Hindi audience wants this. But do they really?

It is not just the gaudy manner in which every single bahu, beti, saas aur maa is dressed up, it is also the way the story unfolds with all the illogical twists and turns and the dialogues which are repetitive and monotonous that you almost want to kill these ‘serial killers’.

Often while watching the drag of a drama, one wonders who writes them or do they too have such a low IQ that they are happy writing such vain stories? Writers of Hindi TV serials lead dual lives. Their first life is the public life wherein they come to meetings in chauffer-driven cars, with a laptop or an electronic tablet in hand. Inside an often plush room, they recite their story idea or screenplay or dialogues to producers and channel executives.

They are often animated and act passionate. Until the meeting concludes, at least. Their other life is the far more intelligent life, wherein they talk about literature and flirt with ideas of doing serious works of consequence. This life is revealed over drinks or over an intimate chat away from the ears of producers and channel honchos. Here, some of them speak ill about their first life and blast the mediocre writing on television. Perhaps these lashings are reserved only for interviews and chats. And once inside their cars, the first life, with its promises of scotch and soda, takes charge. One popular writer once informed me over one such chat – if he gets a chance he will write a show better than any English show on air... “par audience hi yedi hai yaar” (the audience itself is stupid). Yes, the Hindi TV industry earns its big money apparently from the ‘people’s stupidity’. Almost every successful English show is discussed in the television world for a possible Hindi remake (or copy).

But they don’t get made because as per this industry, the English-speaking audience is more intelligent than the Hindi audience. Most of the people who watch Hindi shows are uncouth or idiots as one channel executive told me. And it’s not likely that they will understand the highbrow English concepts. Which is why even watered down desi versions of Game of Thrones are not made. The audience just won’t get it. They don’t have the smarts. Watch any Hindi serial on TV, the dialogues are spoken slowly and sound effects are used liberally to convey the emotion. There is no subtlety. In such a scenario, it is hard for writers to produce quality. A writer I was associated with spent ten minutes of a twenty-minute episode to explain to the audience a grandmother’s anguish on seeing Gandhiji on a ten-Rupees note. The audience had to be force-fed the concept that there is no value for people like the Mahatma in today’s times. Every dialogue spoken by the old lady was punctuated with sad background music! Writers blame the audience and also the channels for what can be called content stagnation on TV. However, the audience does not know one glaring fact about the writing industry. Here, writers often don’t write. They leave the writing to assistants. Anybody wanting a hold as a writer can join as an assistant to these writers and do their work. These assistants are never invited to any channel meetings. They are not spoken of. They are not credited or paid much. This helps the main writers to accept more shows and earn more money. Effectively, this shows that the quality of TV writing is such that anybody with a basic grasp over the language can write the script for a show. You may smirk at these instances but ask your maid and your driver about their views. These good natured souls, not blessed with an education, often find these shows to be riveting and the cheapest way to escape their life’s problems. And they constitute the primary audience of the TV industry.

This is an industry that gets richer from the pockets of the poor and the uneducated. This doesn’t mean that the rich and educated don’t watch them, but the shows are not made keeping them in mind. Television, then, is not a writer’s medium. Is it a living proof that most of India is unable to appreciate literature? A poor person will care for food and an easy escape from his miseries to the mindless TV sagas than enjoy deeper literary stories. But this is not the case. When serials like Buniyad, Kab Tak Pukarun were made, they immediately gained popularity. So, is churning out senseless drama a compulsion of an industry involved in mass production? Possibly not, but what is clear is that these embarrassingly inferior serials speak volumes of the degenerating creativity in the medium.

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