Saffronisation of Indian television
Written 14 years ago, this piece still resonates the harsh truth of the times
Ekta Kapoor and her counterparts like Dheeraj Kumar and Aruna Irani seem to be intent on saffronising television. Pick any soap on Sony, Star Plus, or Zee, and you will see some or the other pooja being telecast into drawing rooms across the country. Agreed, it’s a Hindu-dominated country and such rituals are part and parcel of the majority, but the frequency of such rituals has gone beyond tolerance levels. Remember, this is on national television and therefore needs to be tailored to every other religion in the country. What’s more, much of the customs and rituals shown in these serials are predominantly North Indian and find no resonance to South India. The TV channels seem to be happy overdoing one religion and ignoring the rest. If this isn’t a sign of national disintegration, what is?
There is more to this. When the odd serial does have a storyline involving members of other communities, it’s only by name. There are no rituals being shown, no pilgrimages being captured on film and no recitations of their sacred texts. Why these double standards? Why can’t an equal emphasis be paid to all the other religions and showcase their customs and rituals as well? And by this, I don’t just mean Muslims (sunnis and shias) and Christians (catholics and protestants), but also the Jains, Sindhis, Punjabis, lingayats, vokkaligas, Brahmins, vaishyas, shudras – each of them have their uniqueness, be it in the way they conduct marriages to the way they eat and dress. If the media is a mirror to society, then why is the mirror not functioning like one? Why can’t we show what is real and leave the interpretation to the viewers? There are numerous cases of inter-religious marriages of the famous and the not-so-famous. And like everything else in this world, some work out, some don’t. But the reality today is that there is more of an integration of cultures than ever before, and barring the fundamentalists, several others are co-existing in a multi-religious environment. Why isn’t this being reflected on the small screen? Why is there a bias not only towards non-Hindus, but also towards different regions, creeds and colours? Why can’t a real India be shown on national television?
Films are worse off. They do represent the minorities, but only to reinforce stereotypes. A Muslim crops up if it’s to do with terrorism, a Sikh is in the picture to convey colour and variety, and a Parsi couple figures to give a comical touch. This is particularly predominant in every other film, language no bar.
Thankfully, our regional TV channels are much more rooted in their portrayals. If there’s a pooja, it’s rare and it’s only because the script demands it. What’s more, they use non-Hindus to take their story forward. There isn’t any perceived religious bias. And even if there is, it isn’t so in-your-face like the Ekta Kapoor serials. Will she and her ilk drop their regional bias and become truly national?
Postscript: While the above piece was published in an English tabloid in Bengaluru in 2007, the situation has only worsened today with rampant fake news, deep fakes, communal rants, and extremist politics. Nobody talks about development, jobs, and growth anymore. They are hooked to religion and politics… the opium of the masses.
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