Every time I introduce myself as an ‘entertainment journalist’, with immense excitement people ask me if I have interviewed the likes of Amitabh Bachchan? Shah Rukh Khan? Salman Khan? The moment I tell them that I cover television, I see clear dismay on their face and the excitement fading off to oblivion. Not that it affects me a bit, but this clearly shows that the perception is ‘film’ is what constitutes the entertainment industry and ‘stars’ only exist in the Bollywood universe.
Recently, a similar thought emerged after a controversy on social media. A senior editor’s comment on Hina Khan’s presence at Cannes created a furore. He mentioned how ‘Cannes has become Chandivali Studio (a place where most TV shows are shot)’. From fans to actors everyone dismissed this elite mentality. But is this mentality really an outsider’s perspective? Not really!
In my more than half a decade career in television news, most actors that I have spoken to say that ‘Bollywood is my ultimate aim’. The small screen for them is actually a small step to learn acting, become popular and mint some money. Recently, an actor, who after a reality show made her TV debut, told me that she took up the project so that she could polish and groom herself for the big screen.
Personally, I feel acting is a job which should be platform agnostic. They should be able to display their craft on any and every medium. But to say that taking up a television show is like doing an internship to get a job in Bollywood is insulting the medium.
Television is by far the most reached mass medium with more than 83.6 crore television viewers in India. The average time spent on TV is 3 hours and 46 minutes per viewer, per day (more than the run time of any film). From the executives to the house helps, from housewives to grandparents, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Silchar to Saurashtra, television is spread all across and caters to all strata. Segmented across regional languages, television does not even let one worry about running out of data or burning a hole in one’s pocket at cinema halls.
I have done more than a thousand interviews so far in my life. Very few actors actually say that they love doing what they do on television. So it came as a surprise when Krystle Dsouza once told me she knows which show airs on which timeslot on every channel. Believing TV to be her home, Krystle said that she betters her craft by watching actors perform. And then there was Shaheer Sheikh, who shared how he feels more responsible as a TV actor as it reaches out to more people. For him, stardom won’t be a Bollywood film but the love of his fans.
I also remember reading Surbhi Chandana’s interview a few years back where she mentioned how she aspired to be a TV actor. Then there was Shrenu Parikh, who shared how she did numerous workshops, watched films to prepare for her role in Ek Bhram Sarvagun Sampanna. Her hard work breaks the notion that a television’s actors job is just to put makeup and glycerine. It is the same kind of effort or more than a Bollywood actor would put in. So what makes you go wide-eyed at the mention of a film? While being ambitious is not wrong, bagging a Bollywood film shouldn’t be the only way to say that you have finally arrived.
Ironically, barring a few, most actors after their filmy career don’t fly off, have to tread back home. Television, in it’s most earnest way, has time and again welcomed them back with open arms. As for fans, well, gods would be put to shame, when it comes to the love they have for their actors. When they don’t discriminate your work according to the medium, why do you?
Another fact that’s both surprising and hypocritical is how actors look down upon the content being produced, yet enjoy the fruits it bears. Multiple times actors reveal that ‘we don’t relate to the kind of shows we have on TV, we only watch international shows.’ Well, one has the right to choose. But it does make me wonder what makes you do it for 25 days a month, for more than 14 hours, every day? Is it money, popularity or the fan following it brings along? Also, are all international shows or films relatable?
I won’t deny that we do not have the best of shows on TV today. And as much as the channels and producers are to be blamed, so is the audience. As Ekta Kapoor rightly said most people watch television for escapism. They don’t want to be bogged down with reality. From a business point of view, that’s legitimate and profitable. The TV industry is after all estimated to be an Rs 81,500 crore business.
But as an industry, that shouldn’t stop us from making good shows. Let’s make content that can hold its own, on any platform. Not taking away from Hina Khan but she was at Cannes to promote her debut film Lines. Wouldn’t it be more special to have a small screen actor representing a TV show on an international platform? Let’s work towards a time when #TelevisionAtCannes trend more than #TelevisionToCannes.
With the rise of digital, the lines are indeed blurring between the various mediums. No actor, hopefully, in the coming days will be categorised according to the medium they work in. There should be a time when television shows are spoken highly of and not just become a source of memes. And actors proudly say that they got their most challenging role on a TV show. But till then, stop treating television as a stepping stone to your Bollywood aspirations. Treat it as an equal and not a poor cousin of big brother Bollywood. Only then will the shaming stop, externally and internally!
A proud ‘television’ reporter