Have you noticed it? The quality of shows on Hindi and English television is getting better. There is Bade Acche Lagte Hain and the inimitable Kaun Banega Crorepati on Sony. Star One has started re-running Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, one of the best-written sitcoms on Indian television. Uttaran continues to go strong on Colors, though I have lost interest in Balika Vadhu.
And English entertainment is simply bursting with good shows. There is Sherlock (series one), Spooks, The Graham Norton Show, and my favourite Hustle, on the newly redone BBC Entertainment. Then there are a host of shows on Fox Crime, FX and Star World. The choice and quality on offer, especially in fiction, is sumptuous.
Prime time: There are a host of exciting shows on different television
channels nowadays. Spooks on the newly redone BBC Entertainment
channel, is one such exciting watch.
Take Sherlock for example, by far the best produced show on television. This contemporary take on Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective has a film-like quality. If like me you have grown up watching Jeremy Brett play Sherlock Holmes , you will enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch's take on the man. It is tense, involved and completely on-the-ball. Thankfully the channel has excellent subtitling in English so that you keep up with the accent and the low tones. For some reason though there were only three episodes in the first series which aired in September. The second series will begin on November 7. This outpouring of well-written, well produced shows indicates two things. Indian audiences have matured and the TV industry is ready to deliver to its changed palate.
Ever since private television took off in 1991, Indian audiences have sampled huge quantities of Hindi and English television. The only other language which comes close to these two, in age and evolution, is Tamil (Sun TV started airing in 1993). But since I don't understand Tamil, let us stick to Hindi, English and occasionally Marathi television.
In the eighties we enjoyed Hum Log and Buniyaad, but they look tacky now. Notice that both shows did not register on their re-runs. In the nineties we used to sit down for Tara, Banegi Apni Baat, MASH and Dynasty. Post KBC in 2000 Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahanii Ghar Ghar Kii were great fun. For more than five years I watched them everyday, till the whole plot went out of control and the me-toos multiplied. The other good shows then were, Bhanwar, Heena and CID on Sony and Kagaar on Sahara One.
Sometime post 2005, all innovation in fiction programming went for a toss. It was as if we didn't have any stories to tell or there weren't any interesting ways of telling them. Kyunkii... succeeded because it told an old story in a new, more filmi way. When everyone started doing that, TV became boring. English too refused to move beyond the Bold and the Beautiful and Baywatch kind of shows.
Colors pushed the envelope a bit in 2008. But soon there were a plethora of shows with strong women in small-town backdrops trying to fight some social evil. Boredom loomed again. Sated with popular television, films, and the internet, the metro Indian was looking for something more from his daily dose of television.
Thankfully this need has coincided with the taking off of direct-to-home television. India now has 40 million DTH (and therefore digital TV) homes against 80 million cable (and largely analog) homes. This changed the game because digital TV has ten times more bandwidth. Most broadcasters used it to offer a variety of new channels such as Zee Cafe, TLC, Discovery Turbo, NDTV Lifestyle, the Fox channels and BBC Entertainment.
These gave entire genres, such as action, health or food, a new lease of life. For instance in food, everything from Masterchef and Vicky goes Veg to Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Man versus Food, has found an audience in the large cities. It is a great time to be a TV viewer in India. Enjoy!
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and author (http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik)