By Siddhi Pathak
Ironically, while teen dramas made by the west are seeing an all-time high when it comes to popularity among the Indian youth, there’s been a dearth of shows from this genre on Indian telly scene. Yet, the ones that were made a few years ago, are still remembered vividly by the viewers. For instance, actor Vatsal Sheth is still remembered for his character as Jai in Just Mohabbat which enjoyed a run from 1996-2000. Remix, which went on air in 2004, continues to be reminisced by many. Now however, channels like Channel V are again exploring this genre.
“It’s very exciting to produce youth shows because then you’re not doing the regular things that are going on these days. You can break conventions and make your own rules with youth shows. It’s a very unexplored space,” says Yash Patnaik, producer of Sadda Haq on Channel V. Sadda Haq is a show about Sanyukta Agarwal, played by Harshita Gaur, a girl aspiring to be a mechanical engineer, who faces a lot of discrimination and comes out shining. Channel V has converted from being a music channel to one with original programming for six hours, which may have been a huge risk for the broadcaster at that time, but now, with great viewership, the shows have proven their worth. On the other channels that focus on youth programming, such as MTV India and UTV Bindass, there is a pertinent lack of original fiction. They have a lot of shows that are fictionalised stories of real-life incidents of teens but originality remains unexplored.
“There was time when there were shows like Just Mohabbat. But even at that point of time, there were just a couple of them that ran for one or two years. So there’s never been any special focus on teen drama. Also because we still are one-television homes, what broadcasters really focus on, is the mother who has the remote control,” says Vikas Gupta, the programming head of MTV India. Prem Kamath, the General Manager for Channel V, is of the opinion that teens are not consistent viewers. He says, “Major GECs cater to married women who are over 25 years of age, as their loyal viewers. Hence, the stories are centered around their lives, leaving very little scope for shows centered around the lives of teenagers who, as per conventional wisdom, don’t spend enough time on TV.” Another reason for this trend could be the maturity levels of the audience and the market.
Producer Sudhir Sharma, of Sunshine Productions, known for producing teen shows like The Buddy Project, explains, “Satellite TV in India is hardly 15-16 years old whereas in America it’s a 40-50 year old industry with niche channels. When we started off, in 1995-96, there was a phase of saas-bahu sagas. But today, there’s more diversity and market is hence becoming mature.” As diversity in fictional programming has grown, more niche channels have been introduced on Indian television by broadcasters. Star One was one such experiment. “Star One went a little haywire with programming, where 2-3 shows were not in line with their other youth shows. It left viewers confused as to what they were watching on Star One. However shutting it down was a big mistake. It was a big brand at that time,” says Sharma.
Meanwhile, actors on Indian television feel that there is a huge demand for teen dramas that were a rage when they had begun. “Even after so many years, people remember me as Jai and tweet to me asking why can’t we have Just Mohabbat again,” says Sheth who feels the channels are unwilling to take risks and makers don’t want to do anything out of the box. “There’s a huge demand for teen drama but I don’t see it being fulfilled. The makers and the channels seem a little scared to experiment and so they just keep making what has worked well with the audience,” says the actor who was the heartthrob of many Indian teenage girls with Just Mohabbat.
The dearth of creativity, immaturity of the market and unwillingness of broadcasters to take risks, may be the various reasons that don’t allow youth fiction to take the forefront on Indian television, the genre still holds a lot of promise and has evolved over time. “The advantage of focusing on this target group is that if you make compelling content, they will always find the time to watch it. This helps in giving a single-minded focus leading to better content,” explains Kamath. Earlier, for a long time, we saw only college romance in the name of teen drama. Other struggles of youngsters went unnoticed. Recently however, that has changed. “The audience is asking for variety. For instance, Paanch and The Buddy Project on Channel V aren’t love stories. The idea for Paanch came to us after the Nirbhaya case in Delhi,” adds Sharma. Even on GECs, there are shows only once in a blue-moon for youngsters. Sapne Suhane Ladakpan Ke on Zee TV is one such show. The evolution of this genre, however, holds a lot of risks and challenges. “Currently teen drama accounts for very small percentage of GEC content but with Channel V creating successful teen shows we will definitely see mainline GECs following the suit. This has already started with GECs programming shows targeted at a younger audience during early prime time,” says Kamath explaining the current trend and future of this genre.
Very optimistically, Vikas Gupta states, “We need to generate content that is fun-loving, gripping, engaging and has substance. Like Dharti Ka Veer Yodha Prithviraj Chauhan on Star Plus was almost a historical teen drama and it was the number one daily show. Hence, the potential of the youth watching TV is huge. We are after all, the youngest country in the world.”
Here’s to a bright future of this genre.