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Kerala - Thiruvananthapuram Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

The brave new world of the mini-screen

N.J. Nair

Statetrends The fare remains staid despite proliferation of channels

A NEW STAR SYSTEM: A tele-serial in the making. Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Television has emerged as the most influential medium and has, to a considerable extent, outshone even cinema. The mini-screen that informs and entertains has become a way of life and it may not be far-fetched to say that the medium has gained as much in appeal as to set the agenda for the commoner. But, having said that, it must be admitted that the quality of programmes being aired round the clock by Malayalam channels leaves much to be desired.

These channels are widely thought to have evolved past their infancy, but are still forced to depend heavily on films and film-based programmes. In doing so, they allow themselves to be guided by market forces. A chatty breed of youngsters, who anchor many of these tailor-made programmes, lisp the language, slip on nuances and mar its charm with gay abandon. They couldn't care less, since their obsession with the medium as a short-cut to cinema is too overpowering to brood over the niceties of the language.

In the process, the culture that these channels are supposed to nourish and promote becomes a major casualty. A seemingly endless litany of serials, live phone-in interactive programmes, mimicry, slap-stick comedy and comic programmes based on film clippings take away prime time slots, stretching as they do for almost nine hours a day. Documentaries, telefilms and real infotainment programmes like those on education, literature and health are relegated to either the forenoon or evening slots for want of audience.

An estimated Rs.300-crore worth advertisement market that was initially the preserve of Doordarshan is now being apportioned by the 10 home-grown channels. In the mad scramble to grab the maximum share of eyeballs, the viewer becomes the king. According to T.N. Gopakumar, chief of programmes, Asianet, serials and films are the main sources of revenue. Most of the advertisers are manufacturers of consumer products and they prefer to support such programmes. But there are also serious news-based programmes that have grabbed Government attention and resulted in quick action, he says.

According to Pramod Payyannur, programme producer, Kairali TV, one derives real satisfaction from doing a telefilm or a documentary. "I shot the telefilm Thankom based on Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer's story. The script was written in two months and the shooting was completed in three days flat. I revel in doing such works," he says. Another telefilm, Devamanasam, based on traditional art forms in north Kerala, was also well-received by the audience. This is enough proof that serious programmes still enjoy reasonable viewership, he says.

Compare this with the devil-may-care attitude with which serials are being churned out, as if in an assembly line. When up to two episodes are shot in a day, as is normally the case, hardly does a director get time for creative thinking. The shots are deliberately stretched to the limit and, spanning 22 minutes each, the serials end up as nothing more than an exchange of a chain of drab and dreary dialogues between different characters. Come to think of it, four such scenes make up an episode, punctuated as they normally are by frequent patches of `commercial space'. How frequent the commercial space is would ultimately decide the perceived success of the episode, and by extension, the serial.

The latest trend is to televise soft-pulp stories appearing in weeklies. The literature that was once deemed as mere trash is now being suitably packaged with colourful visuals and beamed straight into drawing rooms. People of all age groups have turned out to be committed viewers of such serials.

According to S. Janaradhanan, who has directed a number of serials, proliferation of television channels and the stretching of the primetime concept have thrown open a world of opportunities to artistes and technicians. "Three decades ago, Doordarshan was the prime player and the options were limited. Increase in the number of channels has led to a spurt in the demand for programme software. This has also created opportunities for all those who wish to make a career in acting. A majority of them are being lured by the glamour and money. Except in those areas that demand a technical expertise, there is a surge of new faces," he says.

But all of them are not genuine talents. Serials have come in handy for a horde of directors and artistes who have had a forgettable tryst with cinema. Initially, there was a tendency to exploit the desperate needs of the wannabes. There have been instances where, after taking huge sums from debutants, producers and directors have either chosen to ignore them or offer minor roles that do not help even to register presence on the screen. Almost 60 per cent of the Rs.60,000 funded by channels for making each episode is paid as remuneration to artistes. Hence, directors are compelled to compromise on quality. Digital format has revolutionised production. Though this was meant to cut down production cost, it has not had the desired results. Digital cameras and editing suites are yet to become popular among serial producers, but handy cameras, soft lights and sound-proof generators are fast replacing the ponderous cameras, high-intensity lights and noisy generators.

The sudden increase in programme production has also led to the mushrooming of studios in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. Unable to cope up with the changing technology or to measure up to competition, most of them have had to bow out without leaving a trace, while others are struggling for survival. A number of schools that offer `training' in various disciplines, including in acting and script writing, also have mushroomed in different parts of the State, mainly in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.

News and news-based programmes continue to enjoy stable viewership. Such programmes are popular on all television channels. Quite often, the level of accountability is very low for television news. The conventional laws of journalism are being thrown to the winds. There is a tendency to fictionalise facts. Even editors encourage it. The dividing line between fact and fiction is fast becoming thin, says Gopakumar.

As a panacea for the fall in standard in entertainment programmes, Pramod suggests the production of more in-house programmes. Channels should try to get rid of film-based programmes and try to create an identity of their own. The strength of the medium should be used for education and entertainment in equal measure. The bottom line seems to be clear: audience loyalty can be won only with quality fare and continuous innovation on the programming front.

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