Nia Sharma pipped Katrina, Alia in a fan poll: Why that isn't surprising to TV buffs

Seema Sinha

Dec 26, 2016 12:58:55 IST

A week ago, news reports stated that TV actress Nia Sharma, most recently seen as the lead on the daily show Jamai Raja, had been named the 'third sexiest Asian woman' in an annual poll conducted by UK-based newspaper Eastern Eye. Considered among the small screen's leading names, Nia raced ahead of several Bollywood leading ladies, including Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt, in the list that is ranked according to fan votes. (Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra had claimed the top-two spots.) Making it to the third spot was certainly no mean feat.

Nia, who was overjoyed with the results, said, "It’s a huge thing for me! Looking at the past years' trend, I was expecting to be ranked 5th or 6th. But third was unexpected. I thank all my fans for this."

“I think it is the fan following and social networking that helped me in a big way," Nia acknowledged, in a chat with Firstpost. "I am an Instagram freak and social media has played a humongous role in my popularity. the youth connect is instant. Now I'm being talked of as a fashionista, even though I am experimental (in my look)."

Nia Sharma pipped Katrina, Alia in a fan poll: Why that isnt surprising to TV buffs

Nia Sharma. Image from Instagram.

Nia wasn't the only TV actress on the list. Her colleagues Sanaya Irani and Drashti Dhami also enjoyed a huge share of the votes — belying the general perception that television actors are the 'poor cousins' of Bollywood stars. Nia tells us that today, the kind of fandom TV stars enjoy is no different than that of their Bollywood counterparts.

“I don’t have any kind of experience in Bollywood. Film stars like Deepika and Priyanka have a much wider reach, they have an international audience among their fandom because their movies are released worldwide. I don’t have even one-fourth of the exposure they do. So if I am number three, and Drashti is on the fourth spot followed by Sanaya, then you can imagine our popularity," Nia says. "Viewers still remember my character ‘Maanvi’ from the daily soap Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai, which got over a long time ago. They are still loyal to me and flood me with fan mail.”

For anyone who's been following the TV industry for a while, this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Hindi TV serials inspire fandom that can be frenzied, devoted, passionate in a way that those who don't follow the 'scene' would not be able to comprehend.

If individual actors command a lot of loyalty then the fandom for TV couples — both onscreen and off-screen ones — has even more weight, and you'll find several contractions of star couple names doing the rounds. TV shows that went off air have been brought back thanks to an outpouring of fan requests (Ek Dujje Ke Vaaste being a case in point); characters have been brought back due to fan demand, and some shows have seen their TRPs dwindle away to nothing after much-loved lead actors decided to move on. Most recently, Kratika Sengar, the lead actress of Balaji’s ongoing show, Kasam Tere Pyaar Ki, returned to the show because fans asked for it. An excited Kratika had then told the press, “I had thought that my part in the story is over, but fans started a social media campaign saying that they were missing Ssharad's (Malhotra, the male lead) chemistry with me.”

A daily soap lets an actor into the homes of fans five times a week — the connect is immediate and intimate. Producer Rajan Shahi feels the brand equity of a TV actor is directly tied to his/her show's popularity, but the reverse is also true. "It works both ways," says Shahi, whose Director's Kut production house has brought out several hit serials like Bidaai and Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai. "As a show becomes popular, the actors too become popular. At the same time, the actor's popularity adds more value to a show."

Hina Khan, the leading lady of Shahi's show (she recently quit Yeh Rishta), is among the small screen's more popular actresses. Those who 'rule' the scene include Mouni Roy, Drashti Dhami, Sanaya Irani; and also Divyanka Tripathi and Sriti Jha. Mouni’s show Naagin 2 is a TRP magnet, while her Instagram account has two million followers at present (Nia Sharma's by contrast, has just over 6,19,000). When these actresses share photos from a holiday, they go viral. And they command hefty fees from their producers. Male stars too enjoy a similarly intense fandom, with actors like Karan Patel reportedly charging upwards of a lakh per episode.

While critics may label them regressive etc, Indian TV content has found viewers elsewhere: In Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey and Sri Lanka to be precise. Balika Vadhu is the most popular TV show in Vietnam; Shaheer Sheikh enjoys unprecedented popularity in Indonesia and since the days of Shanti, Sri Lanka has had a liking for Hindi TV shows.

Says Arjun Bijlani, who played an ambitious and suave tycoon opposite Mouni Roy in Balaji Telefilms’ Naagin and is currently playing the lead in Pardes Mein Hai Mera Dil alongside Drashti Dhami, “Fans are fans, be it Bollywood or television stars, it is just that Bollywood actors are highlighted in a different manner. I might be the Shah Rukh Khan or Hrithik Roshan, or Mouni may be Deepika Padukone or Alia Bhatt for those who are more into television viewing than going to theatres for movies. I hosted the IIFA Red Carpet in Madrid this year and found almost an equal number of fans rooting for Mouni and me as there were for Bollywood biggies.”

“TV actors can be more popular because we reach households every day," adds Arjun. "People may feel that Bollywood actors are bigger but the reality is that gap has really got narrowed. Films and ad film makers should consider us for their projects, too, because we work very hard and many-a-times, the audience can identify more with us as they are in love with the characters we play. They relate and identify more with us, we are approachable, too. Look at Hollywood, there the TV stars are bigger than movie stars.”

Siddharth Kumar Tewary, founder and creative director of Swastik Productions echoes the sentiment, “Television actors are extremely popular with viewers...unlike movies where an actor does varied roles, in television, an actor plays a character over a long period of time which leads to great emotional connect with the viewers as they start identifying with and idolising the actor. They become a part of the daily lives of viewers.”

However, Tewary believes that there is a clear-cut difference in the quality of fandom for TV and Bollywood actors. "The fandom of a TV actor is more character-driven and rarely do viewers know about the actors’ personal life. I have seen viewers recall television actors more by their character names than their real names, as they watch them every day,” says Tewary, adding, “I believe that the television actors are relatable whereas movie stars are aspirational. I also believe that television stars are more popular than the second rung movie stars. They can’t be compared to the Bollywood biggies, but as compared to the rest, they are definitely bigger."

"Television actors connect on an emotional level with the viewers," says Tewary. "Viewers live and breathe television actors on a daily basis.”

Updated Date: Dec 26, 2016 12:58:55 IST