Has TV been unable to keep up with the new generation?
One summer day in 1992, I arrived home to cable TV, newly installed and all important. I was mildly curious but not what you’d call excited. If I had had any foresight at all, I’d have been able to see myself a few weeks from then, flopped in front of the machine, slack jawed and wide eyed, taking in the images and sounds and tiny people who seemed to be there solely for my entertainment. I’d have given it a welcoming hug. It was going to become a friend after all.
UTV’s Saanp Seedhi, India’s first game show was my gateway drug. I have Mohan Kapur’s game-show host skills to thank for what came after — years of indulgence where I collected favourite cartoons, shows and sitcoms that I still talk about during nostalgia binges. They were wonderful programmes and I’m almost certain that the time lapse and retrospective view isn’t colouring my opinion. The glorious 1990s of the television industry left an indelible mark on the pages of a book that was about to become quite…strange
Would I still laugh if I saw Sanju and Sameer from Dekh Bhai Dekh get into scrapes? Would Hip Hip Hurray seem just as good? Perhaps not. That’s the thing with nostalgia, with turning back and looking at what was good. The colours are brighter, prettier, glossier. And they almost always make you wonder if it could really have been that good. I don’t know, because it’s impossible to escape the optical illusion that memories come with. What I do know is that while it was happening, while the youngsters of the 1990s were still young, their TV was a good fit. A Hum Paanch or Just Mohabbat today might not make you laugh, but when you were 11 or so, it sure did. Back then, you and the TV programmes you watched were compatible. Maybe this is what the filmmakers and TV producers of today want to mean when they talk about finding the pulse of a generation. And then they go ahead and give us epic school romances we don’t understand, palatial school buildings that couldn’t really exist and conversations that we’d never really have.
Let’s talk about today then. The age of The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. The age of Game of Thrones and Mad Men. The age of online video streaming and twitter spoilers. I have a long list in front of me right now, of popular TV shows watched by teenagers in our country today. I am very familiar with this list. It’s a good one, with a balanced mix of fantasy, thriller, drama, romance and comedy. It’s also a disappointing list, with hardly any Indian shows on it.
Remember when Ekta Kapoor created what has now become a genre to reckon with? The all-powerful, almost-always-successful (at least for the first 50 episodes) K serial. Suddenly, those who wanted emotionally fraught family sagas had their messiah. Today, this continues. Men and women who want their daily dose of K serials have as many options to choose from as news junkies have 24/7 news channels. Television is still delivering what some viewers want to see; at least, it thinks it is but that’s another conversation for another day.
Right now, let’s focus on what the young crowd — the X-Y-Z generation — is watching today. Are they collectively turning off their TV and opening their laptops to immerse themselves in a world that they don’t inhabit but understand better than they would the world portrayed in Remixx? Are they switching straight to Star World and Zee Cafes for premiers of shows that are already in their fifth season abroad? Are they shaking their head as an excuse of a show tries to nail the generational lingo and fails miserably? Is there an option on Indian TV today that they can laugh with, instead of laugh at?
I’ve been searching for shows for teenagers, shows that actually understand and capture what it is like to be a kid or a teenager or a young adult in India today. It’s been a disheartening project. We always had Friends and Seinfeld, but they were tempered with shows that were our own. Today, an entire generation of youngsters in the country is growing up on a daily diet of foreign sitcoms and shows. There are some who would call it a sign of the times. I can see heads shaking and murmuring about westernisation and fading traditional values. May be the truth is simpler; may be it’s just a sheer lack of option. Honestly, there isn’t much to watch if you are a young teenager with no taste for slapstick comedy and soppy, sometimes supernatural, romances. The clever stuff is missing, and there is nowhere to turn but away.
Today, television has left an entire chunk of the population high and dry. It has missed that famous pulse completely or, worse still, has taken a half-hearted shot at it to produce shows that sit uneasy and become a source of entertainment for all the wrong reasons. Personally, I enjoy bad TV. But bad TV is just TV when is doesn’t have a good counterpart.