Widening the base

A still from Zee Salaam’s “Sabak”   | Photo Credit: 24dmc saabak zee salaam

What came across as a harsh and hard truth while talking to those connected with various Urdu channels was the fact that a majority of them view their target audience as Muslims. Rather sad, considering the secular and pluralistic ethos of our country which is not only enshrined in our Constitution but more than that has come to us all as part of the legacy of the past.

ETV Urdu, started on August 15, 2001 by Ramoji Rao, had the advantage of being one of the first channels focusing on Urdu — based on the perception that the needs of the minority which had not been catered to had to be met. Its shows encompassed entertainment, culture, faith besides national and international news. The programmes on Sufi music and the talk show Challenges Before Minorities were widely appreciated. The former brought people from different walks of life and faith on to a single platform to enjoy the musical legacy of India’s composite culture, while the latter saw a congregation of politicians, personalities and religious leaders bringing to the fore the problems faced by minorities. These continue to be a part of the channel, though it is now owned by TV18.

“The change of ownership has shifted the focal point to a wider viewership base, including non-Urdu [mother tongue] people, by airing serials and Pakistani comedy shows they are bound to find interesting and easy to understand,” says Riaz Malik, Delhi-based producer of the channel who attributes the change to channel head Jagdish Chandra. Besides, there has been a change in the news content too, with emphasis on wider coverage including content emanating from the remote nooks and corners of the country. The live reportage of news is an important feature of the channel.

Tapping the popularity of Urdu poetry, ETV Urdu has been organising mushairas, attracting audiences and viewers across the spectrum. “We have been holding them in different states including interior villages, drawing appreciation as poetry is liked and appreciated by many including those from other communities. The fact that it is widely liked in Lahore and Karachi points to its popularity,” comments Riaz. Other offerings by the channel include documentaries, talk shows on issues related to minority, social, economic and educational programmes and news-based shows like Aalmi Manzar (international perspective) and Khaas Baat (national news). Apart from these there are shows catering to children and youth.

According to Riaz, there is a plethora of subjects waiting to be explored that are interesting and relatable to the viewers. “The serial on Mirza Ghalib created awareness among the public, but there still several facets of his personality and writings that have not been touched. Like his documentation of the First War of Independence in 1857 and his letters. So far not even one per cent has been covered, with a wide ocean still open.”

On whether the channel attracts the Hindi language audience he states, “Both the languages overlap. Both Urdu and Hindi cannot be separated. In fact our country can boast that it has the largest reservoir of Urdu poets, including those who head the list.”

According to him, the main thrust of ETV Urdu is to provide a healthy mix of culture, message and entertainment devoid of bad language, which it will continue to do in future. He adds with a sense of pride, “ETV Urdu created the market for the language channel, followed by many others in the industry.”

Second take

Zee Salam, which came into being in February 2010, placed itself as an Islamic channel as the domestic spectrum did not have any players in this segment and the ones beamed from Dubai (Peace TV) and Pakistan (QTV) were banned. “Ours was a purely Islamic offering,” says Anil Anand its Business Head, adding, “A year back we started transforming it to become a Muslim infotainment and entertainment channel with the objective of providing a podium to highlight the achievements of the community.”

It is also aiming to bring into its fold the non-Muslim segment of viewers through ghazals, mushairas and qawwali programming. “We are expanding our share of the pie by adding more audience from other communities,” Anil says, providing the logical economic reason. Continuing in the same vein he explains why the channel still runs old serials and programmes. “Our strategy is not to put all the eggs in one basket. We introduced a generic fiction show Sabak, showcasing soul stirring stories that happened around us but were not noticed. Each story runs from Monday to Thursday and ends with a message. We have placed old serials with beautiful content in the slots before and after it. The placement of Sabak between them provided us feedback about it. Further, the widely appreciated Sabak has resulted in the reruns doing well.”

He is quick to add that the channel in times to come is planning to come up with a reality show not restricted to the community, a work in comedy genre revolving around residents hailing from different regions and faiths. On the anvil is Urdu Seekhen, a language learning guide, besides programmes focusing on big-time Sufi events with participants from beyond the borders.

“The daily round-up show Saalam Aaj, which highlights the various cultural, social activities and issues pertaining to Indian Muslims, and Sadabahar Naghme Rizwan Khan Ke Saath, the one-hour request based show on the evergreen songs of the golden era with unknown facts and trivia of Bollywood, are some of the current shows which are doing very well.”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 6:17:58 PM |

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