Naagin, Makkhi, Pataali Devi: Why Indian TV's obsession with the supernatural doesn't seem to end
Naagin, Icchapyari Naagin and Sasural Simar Ka - the one trend that doesn't seem to die down on Indian television is the supernatural. Will this ever end?
I spent the whole of 2011 preparing for my pre-boards. That is also the year when Sasural Simar Ka debuted on Colors TV. Six years and two degrees later, the time has come for me to link my aadhar card to my salary account but Sasural Simar Ka is still running, in all its glory.
In the interim, Simar has turned into a makkhi (housefly), defeated Pataali Devi after being possessed by her, while Roli, her sister, has undergone a life and face changing plastic surgery. She is now a part-time bahu and a part-time ichhadhaari naagin. Simar’s career graph has always been at an all-time high as she continues to save the Bharadwaj family from unforeseen, life-threatening situations and simultaneously lap up as many ‘jeeti rahos’ as she can from Mataji, who, by the way, has been wearing the same wig for six years now.
This is 2017 and Sasural Simar Ka will have completed 2000 episodes just before we ring in the new year. To put things into perspective, Game of Thrones is also going to end after 70 episodes, once the final season airs.
But that’s not what the actual tragedy is. What’s truly tragic is, the supernatural and the superstitious has made a comeback on Indian television (as if sh*t wasn’t already hitting the roof).
And the question remains: Do we ever get a break?
“Never,” says writer Varun Grover, who has films like Masaan and Accident On Hill Road to his credit. Although he stopped writing for TV a long while ago, he firmly believes that “TV will stop existing the day we get rid of these regressive elements, be it the naagin or the evil saasu ma.”
Maybe he’s right because most people will not be able to point out a current decent Indian TV show if you ask them to. Because Indian television has forgotten the art of balancing. If there is one naagin, there will be another naagin, which will outdo the previous one by wearing tackier clothes and lighter contacts.
Some see this as a conscious business decision which wants to exploit the insecurities of the Indian masses and cash in on them and some believe that it’s merely a trend, and will soon fade out.
“When a show works, the most natural reaction of other channels is to replicate it. Therefore, in a way, one hit does more harm than good to a channel,” says Purnendu Shekhar, creator of Balika Vadhu. That explains why a string of daily soaps set in an obscure Rajasthani village were produced in quick succession after Balika Vadhu.
Similarly, there was Naagin, which was closely followed by Icchapyaari Naagin. So, trends do have a shelf life but that does not keep them from coming back in fashion. Similarly, although most of the shows featuring a naagin are currently off air, they might come back sooner than we think. “For all you know, there might already be Naagin 3 in the making,” he adds.
But if Indian TV thrives on trends, then why isn’t anyone looking at a reboot of shows like Remix, Hip Hip Hurray and Dhoom Machao Dhoom? What’s stopping this trend from taking over?
According to Nupur Asthana, creator of Hip Hip Hurray and Maahi Ve, in a country like ours, there are no simplistic answers. She does, however, think the rot lies in the way these ‘genres’ are executed. “Fantasy and the supernatural are huge in the United States, too, as a TV genre but these themes are executed very differently in India.” She points at Game of Thrones, which, come to think of it, is nothing but a fantasy set in a world of make-believe. But what is the Indian equivalent of a GoT? Definitely not Brahmarakshas by any stretch of the imagination.
The bitter truth is, we are not pleased with characters which can make their own decisions — characters which falter because of their flaws and not because of some tantric’s conspiracies. “These shows have stood the test of time because there was honest storytelling and the audiences were not treated like idiots,” says Asthana.
But again, do the existing Indian TV shows annoy only a particular rung of society or have we started reserving our coldest rejections for just Bollywood? Why else won’t we have a TV equivalent of a Newton to co-exist with a Golmaal Again? “Because viewers do not have a choice. There is no alternative. There’s no channel which will not give you bullshit," says Grover. And so, the possibility of rejection is eliminated when it comes to Indian TV shows.
A sidenote for those who genuinely enjoy watching these TV shows — Chetan Hansraj is going to play a 'reptilian' named Mahish in Shaktipeeth Ke Bhairav. If you're pumped about this, do not watch this space. I repeat, do not watch this space.
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