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Is thinking outside the box worth the risk in TV industry?

If we look at the television shows today, one can count the number of shows that dare to showcase a concept that does not involve the run-of-the-mill kitchen politics. But how many of them actually end up getting the desired Television Rating Point (TRP) is the question. It's ironical that on one hand we keep complaining about the content on Indian television and compare it to the variety the West has to offer and on the other, a show with a different concept doesn't get the much-needed popularity. So where lies the problem?

Anil Kapoor at the poster launch of 24 season 2
Anil Kapoor at the poster launch of '24' season 2

Is it that the audiences are not receptive to quality content? Or the channels rely way too much on what dictates on the Television Rating Point (TRP) board? Or that many don't want to take the risk of trying something different?

The Anil Kapoor-starrer '24', which showcased the story of an anti-terrorist unit agent who had 24 hours to save the country from a major terrorist attack, garnered appreciation from the audience. It was one of the shows that defied stereotypes and brought a fresh storyline to many Indian households. With the shoot of the second season of the show having begun, we spoke to writers and producers about the business that are the TRPs.

Be the change
Aatish Kapadia, who has produced and written shows like 'Sarabhai vs Sarabhai' and 'Baa Bahoo Aur Baby' says that he has nothing against the typical saas-bahu shows, but aims at entertaining responsibly. He explains, "Since I began writing and directing shows, I have made a conscious effort to be socially more responsible. India, which largely has a single television household scenario, it becomes imperative that makers are socially responsible because even children watch these shows. Even if the show doesn't impart knowledge it's important that we entertain them responsibly. I have nothing against saas bahu shows personally."

— Bhairavi Raichura, Actress/producer
— Bhairavi Raichura, Actress/producer 

Bhairavi Raichura, who shot to fame with 'Hum Paanch' (1995), claims that the TRPs of a few shows will see a dip when the change is initiated. However, eventually the content will evolve. "There is nothing wrong in taking the safe route, however a change cannot be brought about without taking risks. Initially a few shows might not do well as far as the TRPs are concerned but that's how things will evolve. Everyone — channels and production houses want to air good content. I am not saying that saas bahu shows are not worth watching; they highlight a beautiful relationship which is why they end up being popular. This is the reason why we did 'Satrangi Sasural' after 'Chhal — Sheh Aur Maat' and 'Laut Aao Trisha'"

Taking the risk
Srishti Behl Arya, whose recent show 'Reporters' starring Rajeev Khandelwal and Kritika Kamra just went off air is of the opinion that the problem doesn't lie with experimenting, but with the fact that there is no way of monitoring the audience of a particular show. 

— Srishti Behl Arya, Producer, Reporters
— Srishti Behl Arya, Producer, 'Reporters'

"My entire career is based on doing things differently. I believe what's important is you should tell a story you connect with. My shows aren't the typical saas-bahu sagas, but are still family-oriented. I don't think it's a risk to try something different, the problem is that there is nothing to monitor the audience that watches my kind of shows. If you go online, you see that my show garners a lot hits on the digital platform. The feedback for a show like 'Reporters' was great," she elaborates.

Kritika Kamra and Rajeev Khandelwal in Reporters
Kritika Kamra and Rajeev Khandelwal in 'Reporters'

So is the TRP system flawed and is that the reason why shows with good content are not being recognised? "Of course it's flawed. We are a country of several tastes; if only a certain section of people are being monitored, how do we judge the response to a show on that basis? There maybe a small percentage of people who are watching my shows, and that small percentage is a large number. Our system cannot qualify that number," retorts Srishti.

Bhairavi, on the other hand believes that the TRP system isn't flawed and change is on its way. "I don't think the TRP system is flawed. Some shows do well digitally because a large number of audience don't get the time to watch it when it airs on television. We did have a problem initially but things are changing now. A lot more homes are being monitored, the measuring unit has increased and segregated too. We now have a rural meter and an urban meter," she says.

The TRP game
Pushtie Shakti, who did 'Mahi Way', claims that there is no getting away from the TRP game so the best way to deal with it is to have more measuring units. "I am not sure if the TRP system is flawed. I haven't thought about it. For me, what's important is that I am doing something that will mean something to someone. When 'Mahi Way' came out it was exactly that. Unfortunately the show didn't get much publicity but if you check online or my inbox, people request that the show be brought back. Unfortunately, the channel understands only TRPs. However, things are changing. From what I hear, they are looking at other ways to measure TRPs. Earlier it used to be in one particular segment, but now a larger section is being taken into account. Unless you look at the whole picture you will never know what works and what doesn't. I think every set top box should have a TRP reader. That way you will know the pulse of the audience."

While TRP system is slowly evolving, are finite series a temporary way to solve the issue of regressive daily soaps? Srishti said, "A finite series is definitely a better way to tell a story, because that way you have a definitive beginning, middle and end. You don't drag things endlessly. You are honest to the story and not just trying to fill up time."

However, Bhairavi believes that finite or not, audience wants change. "Finite series are a welcome change but audience always wants change. When we had finite series earlier, daily soaps had become the new flavour and people lapped it up. Now finite series are coming back as a trend. It's a constant change, but daily soaps are not going to go out of style for sure."

Aatish claims that come what may, he will never change his approach and join the bandwagon not even for TRPs. "I will continue taking the risk of doing something different. Even if I get rejected I will keep trying and I will never succumb to the bandwagon. I don't want to show the evils of society or highlight them. Those who say that they are trying to make a difference are fake. They are just glorifying it, and are trying to misuse the situation."

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