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Shifting loyalties: GECs love interest in Rajasthan, UP and Bihar
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Believe it or not, the same old family dramas and kitchen politics still rule on Indian television; but they are now packaged in a brand new 'regional wrapping'. Whether for me-too-ism or a well thought out idea; general entertainment channels are adding the red hot 'regional' tadka to daily soaps.

The concept of adding a regional flavour is not new, as every character needs to be given a name and address and the storyline needs to follow a particular culture. What's different is that content producers are now trying out regional cultures other than the ubiquitous Gujarati and Punjabi - which again was inspired by the Hindi film industry.

The entry to new regional cultures started with Balika Vadhu on Colors, which was based on a family in Rajasthan. Another show, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai on STAR Plus is also based on Rajasthani culture. The storyline of Na Ana Iss Des Laado on Colors had characters from Haryana.

The next destinations for television broadcasters were Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP). Four shows - Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, Bhagya Vidhata, Mitwa Phool Kamal Ke, Maat-Pitah Ke Charno Mein Swarg - had storylines based in either Bihar or UP. Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra featured as backdrops in shows such as 12/24 Karolbagh, Yahan Main Ghar Ghar Kheli and Bairi Piya, respectively.

According to industry experts, one of the reasons for Hindi GECs exploring the regional angle is the increasing competition from regional channels. "In certain states, such as Maharashtra and Bihar, regional channels are doing really well and have emerged as tough competitors for the GECs. Thus, efforts are being made to divert audience from regional channels to the GECs," explains Priya Mishra, creative head, Zee TV.

Another significant change in the storylines of today's shows is that the nuances of cultures and traditions are followed diligently, right from the dialect to the costume. This is in sharp contrast to previous shows, where most storylines were city-based; and protagonists lived in palatial houses and flaunted designer jewellery and apparel, irrespective of the culture they represented.

Indeed, a lot of research is involved today in making the plot realistic. "Since these programmes deal with sensitive issues, which may become controversial in nature, producers/directors conduct extensive research in different pockets to study the thought-process of people there - their rituals, beliefs, customs and traditions - before launching the programmes. They do review reactions of people belonging to particular regions to take care of their sentiments, beyond TAM ratings. For example, Colors has done several road shows in the interiors of Rajasthan, UP and Haryana to understand audience's reactions to their shows. Hope people learn out of such bold programming and evolve in their thinking and living," says Atrayee Chakraborty, director, Planning Sciences, Lintas Media group.

Most industry observers agree that this 'my state, my culture' formula would definitely not alienate those people, who do not belong to the community being depicted in the show. "It is not just the people of a particular community or the region depicted in the show who are relating to it; viewers from other communities are also showing equal interest in these programmes. They are enamoured with the style, culture, tradition, and practices of communities shown in these programmes. So, it's both the familiarity factor and the charm of knowing the unknown that works for such soaps. Also, it's a win-win deal for the TV channels," says an industry practitioner.

However, channels are also careful about not going overboard with regionalism and do take creative liberty in many instances. "The channels deliberately tone down the regional factor of such shows, so that people from other communities do not completely feel alienated," says Rajan Shahi, who is the producer and director of Bidaai and Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai on STAR Plus, as well as Maat Pitah Ke Charnon Mein Swarg on Colors.

On the other hand, broadcasters also use these storylines to their advantage. "If a certain TV channel is weak in a particular region, making a show based on that region will definitely get more audience and simultaneously, popularity will go up. Also, if a particular channel is doing well in a particular area, doing that region specific show will further push the TRP," Shahi explains.

If issue-specific soaps such as Balika Vadhu, focusing on child marriages in rural Rajasthan, and Na Aana Is Des Laado, a soap on female infanticide set against the backdrop of Haryana, brought in the small-town viewers; Bidaai, a soap set in Agra, and Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai showcasing Jaipur, worked extremely well among the up-country audience.

Similarly, Bhagyavidhaata on Colors and Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo on Zee shifted the focus to the unexplored territory of Bihar and adjoining areas. "Bihar was missing in the prime time for a long time now. After Maila Anchal, nothing much was done on Bihar. But in the last six to seven months, when it was known that Patna was a potential TAM city, a lot of shows with focus on Bihar are being made. This, however, seems to be a refreshing retreat; as there was too much of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab all this while," adds Mishra of Zee TV.

Although the trend of adding a regional touch to shows means good business for the channels as of now; industry observers fear that too many shows on similar lines would spoil the broth. Over-saturation, they feel, would lead these soaps to the fate of 'K serials'.

The only way to prevent this, they predict, is by focusing more on content. "Today, viewers are spoilt for choice in terms of TV programmes. No wonder, viewer loyalty is very low. The only thing that sells today is strong and gripping content. Creativity and innovative ideas are always appreciated. So, programme makers have no other way, but to don creative hats to make their shows entertaining. Coming up with region-specific shows just for the heck of the trend is no solution," says Mona Jain, India head, strategic investments, India Media Exchange.

When it comes to trends, one thing that's constant is 'change'. K serials made way for these desi dramas, which will be replaced by something else in due course of time. All that's advisable here is to make hay till the stars shine, and of course, till the next big thing arrives.
afaqs!

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