Serial Chiller: From family melodramas to romantic comedies, who is watching Tamil television?

Ranjani Krishnakumar

Feb 01, 2019 09:40:00 IST

Serial Chiller is Ranjani Krishnakumar’s monthly column about all things Tamil television

As someone who moved to Chennai just a couple of years ago from Bangalore, the biggest cultural shock isn't the traffic-free roads, but the omnipresence of cinema. I am not talking about the cut-outs, politicians and paal abhishekams that anthropologists are curious about. I am talking about the city's timbre being made of films. Cinema becoming both the medium and the message for Chennai folks. Let me explain.

A taxi driver once asked me if my destination is near Kamal Hassan's house. I had no clue! But I set it aside considering it’s perhaps a landmark locally. He then encouragingly added, "Avar inge enge madam irukkaaru. Ippo avar ECR-la pudhu veedu kattittu poyitaaru" (he isn't here anymore, he has moved to ECR). Aravind Swamy's house, Trisha's house, AR Rahman's house — apparently, everyone knew. It's not uncommon to run into some big film star in one of the city's cafes — I've been told to look for Gautham Menon in multiple places in the city (I still haven’t spotted him, if you must know.).

IT companies having 'fun activities' describing their work in the words of Vadivelu jokes is also all too common — I was part of one such activity where someone's dancing skills were described as the same as Vijay Sethupathy's in Dharmadurai. I even know of another IT company intranet that has Tamilrockers links to latest films.

You might think I'm an outsider from a city, where most of its people almost actively reject its cinema, being amazed at a Chennai-vasi's everyday life. You’re right. Just a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't get tickets in Chennai for Viswasam on the first day. So, I went to Bangalore to watch it (I’m sincere Sigamani like that!). And watch, I did, in a theatre with less than a dozen other people. This was the 11 am show on the first day!

For long, even during my Bangalore Days, I've been a film writer. I write essays, reviews, rebuttals and research papers about cinema, primarily Tamil cinema. Much of my circle of peers have at least a tangential interest in cinema, and most of my Twitter timeline has a strong opinion of it. The number of publications and Youtube channels around Tamil cinema are nearly endless. In an environment like this, one would expect that Tamil cinema's creative cousin — television — would get half as much, if not the same attention. But nah!

Serial Chiller: From family melodramas to romantic comedies, who is watching Tamil television?

Zee Tamil's Sembaruthi is the most watched Tamil programme. Facebook/sembaruthi765

Apart from my reluctant mother-in-law, some Bigg Boss fans, a few retweets of KTV film schedule, and one or two men forced by their wives to sit in front of the TV to watch serials during dinner, there is very little conversation around television, forget any scholarly/serious intervention. In the English language, there is nearly none. In fact, whatever serious attention television gets, it is often one of derision and neglect — yours truly also sometimes guilty of this.

Yet, Sun TV is the most watched Indian channel with over 93,24,80,000 views in the last week, having held this place for years together. Zee Tamil's Sembaruthi is the most watched Tamil programme.

I had imagined all mega-serials are the same, but that’s not true either — boo me! I was surprised to see the coherence in multi-genre mega-serials. A family melodrama turning into a gruesome murder mystery, pivoting to become a police procedural — it’s all in there! There is also Radhikaa’s poor-woman’s Bahubali — Chandrakumari on air right now.

The web isn’t far behind. ZEE5 has recently escalated its efforts to buy/produce exclusive programming — it bought the film Sigai, and has been commissioning several shows such as the romantic comedy What's up Velaikaari, the police procedural Alarm and others that I hardly have time to catch up on.

The OTT platform Viu, on the other hand, has an exclusive with Sun TV for Shruthi Hassan's talk show Hello Sago, which isn't streamed on Sun Nxt, the Sun Network's own OTT platform. Speaking of talk shows, Vijay Sethupathy and Vishal have a weekender of their own. So much is going on in Tamil television, how can we miss!

In 2019, I'm watching Tamil TV. Indiscriminately across cable, web and even Youtube — I plan to scout the waves for interesting Tamil content. I don't care so much if it's mega-serial, reality TV, Pongal sirappu nigazhchi, if it's on television, it will be watched. And I will send monthly dispatches to you about what to watch, what not to watch, and everything else in between. I hope to set aside existing judgments, unrelated expectations and watch them for what they are.

So, who's watching Tamil TV with me?

Ranjani Krishnakumar is a writer, obsessor and a nascent Chennai-vasi. You can reach her at @_tharkuri

Updated Date: Feb 03, 2019 12:07:16 IST

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