If you pride yourself on being a discerning viewer who cringed at the antics of youngsters on Emotional Atyachaar or Splitsvilla, then cringe no more. The redemption of television has already begun. After a depressing run where it seemed like television channels and production houses conspired to blow up a tiny disagreement between a couple into a name-calling break-up in the name of TRPs, they’ve started to take a more sensitive stand on issues the youth face and even openly discuss previously-taboo topics.
Based on BBC Worldwide’s show, V My Big Decision on Channel [V] helped youngsters make an informed decision about everything from choosing an education over work, to the pros and cons of liposuction. Prem Kamath, executive vice president and general manager, Channel [V], explains the show’s focus, “It picked relationship, personality and lifestyle issues that people traditionally did not talk about. We were sensitive in portraying all sides of the story. We equipped participants with enough knowledge to make an unbiased decision.”
The show’s format had participants meet people in their chosen field or those who have made the choice they wish to make. In an episode where participants were contemplating a sex change, they were advised by Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla, professor, Grant Medical College and consultant psychiatrist, Masina Hospital. He says, “I am involved in the therapy of gender identity and participants on the show were very frank. I don’t think many people are willing to come on television to discuss such issues. It’s not like other reality shows where you get money to divulge your secrets.”
Helping the young make peace with their demons is also the Bollywood Brigade. UTV Stars’ show Superstar Santa had actors play mediator between estranged parties. So Imran Khan tried to talk sense to a guy who wished to marry his best friend even though all she wanted was friendship, and Vidya Balan gave sound advice to a man who wanted to mend bridges with his divorced wife. Shifa Maitra, vice president, programming (shows), UTV Stars says that since this format required an investment of time, they approached only those actors who were willing to do so. She says, “We only spoke to actors who had genuine empathy and were totally convinced. Imran, a private guy, opened up about his own relationship and was very patient. Stars chose cases they could relate to. Asin helped two estranged friends get together while both Vidya and Chitrangada were very sensitive.”
An emotional connect
While drama is still prevalent, sensitivity is the focal point. Gumrah, on Channel [V], re-enacts crimes committed by the youth. At the end Neha Patel, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, gives her views on some episodes. Patel says, “Here is a programme trying to show them the result of getting involved in untoward activities. It urges the youth to attain balance — have fun but know where to draw the line. Such shows work because not everyone might be willing to visit a psychologist.”
Similarly, as part of its re-branding strategy, UTV Bindass will launch the new show Live Out Loud — It’s Now or Never, where with the assistance of a dance crew, youngsters voice their feelings towards a lover, friends or family. Programming Head, Shalini Sethi, says, “This show is not about counselling it’s about taking the first step and overcoming the ego.”
Aman Bhonsle, a promo producer who played judge for a participant’s film on V My Big Decision, believes candour does participants good. “I was being direct,” he says, recalling why he told the participant he did not understand the symbolism his film was trying to portray and it was futile to give up his studies and pursue filmmaking. “Most industry guys would use foul language. It was a luxury to have industry people critique his work. We were there to shake him up a little,” he adds.
However, the follow-through with these shows is not very strong. Dr Matcheswalla says that he normally counsels patients with gender identity for almost two years. Which means one session on national TV certainly isn’t going to come up with a watertight answer. Similarly, Kamath says Steal Ur Girlfriend on Channel V, a show that helped participants get their girlfriend back or assisted them in getting their crush’s attention, was a fun show and they have not followed up on any couples. But that doesn’t mean they don’t try their best. Kashmira Shah, who hosted Steal Ur Girlfriend, says she would never encourage participants to break up a marriage but personally likes public declarations of love. She says, “If men can pee in public, why can’t they say ‘I love you?’”
Varkha Chulani, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, tries to look at this phenomenon from the viewer’s point. She says, “Either the viewer will continue to live in their world of fantasy and not want to do much about their own situation or they might get too carried away. The way youngsters perceive these shows depends on their level of maturity.”
The viewer, however, has the last word. Sixteen year-old student Harish Nair, says, “I was flipping channels when I came across Steal Ur Girlfriend. I don’t think these guys have the guts to say it out loud. It’s all scripted, so I don’t really feel for them or think about what must actually be going on in their lives. It’s just entertainment for me.”