Television, in my opinion, is today experiencing a global renaissance. Despite the rash of trashy soaps and reality shows, there is an array of intelligent programming on American TV channels that rival even Hollywood in terms of scale and budget.
Mad Men is about advertising in New York in the ’60s. Boardwalk Empire, co-produced by Martin Scorsese, is a compelling tale set during the Prohibition era. Neil Jordan’s The Borgias is a sumptuously mounted Italian period piece whilst Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy saga.
Dark detective dramas, often inspired by Nordic shows, have captured the imagination of viewers everywhere. The Killing is now entering its third season whilst True Detective starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson has just concluded its brilliant first run.
House of Cards and Veep are provocative Washington-based shows whilst The Good Wife has a Chicago law firm as its setting. Breaking Bad enjoys a cult following with Bryan Cranston’s mercurial performance as a dying school teacher-turned-drug dealer. Each of these path-breaking shows garnered high ratings and has a loyal viewership, countering the mindless schlock of shows such as Jersey Shore and Keeping Up with the Kardashians that illustrate how greed and exhibitionism are rewarded with multi-million dollar contracts and deals.
In India, our TRPs are dominated by a slew of reality shows featuring half-baked celebrities shamelessly flaunting temper tantrums, emotional breakdowns and psychotic behaviour in a desperate attempt to grab eyeballs. Perhaps our local channels need to take a cue from their American counterparts and commission some quality alternative programming for a change.
With the launch of their Zindagi channel, the Zee network has tried to revive an era of quality programming on Pakistani television that an entire generation of Indians once grew up watching on pirated VHS tapes. We recently witnessed Anil Kapoor play Jack Bauer in a desi adaptation of 24 on Colors and this week Big B made his TV fiction debut on Sony in Anurag Kashyap’s Yudh. At Rs 3 crore per episode, this is the most expensive show on Indian television. It, however, remains to be seen if local audiences get enamoured by Mr Bachchan in and as the brooding Yudh.
If the show succeeds then this may open the floodgates for big-budget, high concept shows on the local idiot box. The lead should ideally be taken by Doordarshan that once commissioned superb productions such as Govind Nihalani’s Tamas and Buniyaad but now doles out rubbish as an excuse for entertainment.
Indian television can then enjoy a true resurgence instead of subjecting viewers to a daily dose of prime time tamasha.