Is Indian television an evolutionary failure?

The world has changed and so have the women, but the plot of daily soaps telecast on Indian television stays the same.

For more than a decade now all Indian Soap Operas, more or less, seem to work with the same formula – a storyline based on a female protagonist(s), who will eventually have a love interest and will struggle with family issues.

These shows have not evolved with time; they are still preaching the same values that they were preaching at the beginning of this century. The protagonist must be respectful towards her elders, irrespective of the way they treat her.

Values aside, their beauty standards have also not seen a change. Seldom would you see a female lead who is not skinny and fair skinned. Even when dark skinned actresses play the lead role, the plot revolves around the colour of their skin.

For shows that claim to represent the lives of Indian women, realism is but just a term. Women do not stay covered in make-up, looking flawless, with heavy jewellery 24 hours a day; people do not have nine lives like cats; and mother-in-laws do not keep planning the demise of their daughter-in-laws like the Devil.

The repetitive plot-line is never served without a pinch of sexism on the side.The women keep suffering because of their husbands and wait for them to reciprocate their love; suffering is equated with the strength of their love and is glorified.

Unfortunately, it is not just the soap operas, most of the episodes of reality comedy shows are full of misogynist jokes where the comics target their female judge or other female contestants to get a laugh.

In fact, Indian television and reality television always comes with a heavy dose of drama. A quarter of it involves the display of talent; the remaining three quarters consist of sad background stories of the contestants, scripted fights between the judges, and other such dramatic moments.

It would be unfair to say that Indian television has not tried to incorporate modern ideas and technology. Some shows use VFX but then their plots stay limited to shape-shifting snakes or witches and female spirits.

There have been shows that have tried to raise important social issues like bonded labour or child marriages but how far do they remain focused on the issue and depict them realistically, without including the elements of the said formula, is still a question to be answered.

Why are regressive shows being produced on television and getting successful in the twenty-first century? The argument that the Indian audience likes this content and is not ready for more progressive shows does not hold ground when OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are taken into account.

The youth prefers these platforms over television because they have something new and exciting to offer. They have shows that are realistic and represent the Indian scenario better than the daily soaps on television. Additionally, a lot of Indian households do not have access to OTT platforms, so the shows on television are their only source of entertainment; their success could be attributed to a lack of choice.

It can be easily noticed that web series produced by OTT platforms do not have a single formula or even similar plots; the writers experiment and bring new ideas to be discovered further.

In fact shows like Sacred Games and Mirzapur gained immense popularity not just among adults but teenagers as well. These platforms have shows with artists who do not fit into the set beauty standards and represent diverse Indian audiences. Dramas like Made in Heaven are not didactic shows, full of tears with melodramatic music, eventually ending in a happily ever after.

Furthermore, if reality shows are taken into consideration, they are based purely on talent. Series like Comicstaan or The Remix do not come with the baggage of misogyny or unnecessary drama. They are entertaining and are well received by the audience.

Clearly, the youth finds the content of their choice here as these platforms do not produce recycled material with predictable turn of events. The audience is capable of accepting and appreciating progressive shows. It is just a matter of evolving and changing with them, but is Indian television ready to do that?

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