The Anonymous Alien
Indian-produced television shows stink. You know it, I know it, and even the producers of Indian TV shows know it. Want to know why they stink? Because Indians aren’t smart enough to watch ‘intelligent’ or ‘sophisticated’ television shows, so there’s no reason for producers to make them.
Or so Indian producers would have you believe. How do I know this? Because I have asked, repeatedly, and across several years, many many Indian producers this question. The conversation goes something like this:
Me: “You make such beautifully produced, beautifully written commercials in India, so why can’t you make beautifully produced, beautifully written TV shows in India?”
Typical Producer: “The Indian audience isn’t _____________________ (fill in the blank with “intelligent enough” or “educated enough” or “sophisticated enough”) to watch quality television.”
Back in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, when the United States was producing such nonsensical junk-television as “Dallas,” “Knots Landing,” “Falcon Crest” and “Beverly Hill, 90210” I heard the exact same arguments from American producers. They believed — really believed — that if they put on quality programming, the American masses who watched “Dallas” would turn off the television and never turn it back on.
Then came the nineties. Maybe “Seinfeld” or “Law and Order” was the catalyst, but whatever it was, it started a bonanza of sophisticated, intelligent shows that were challenging and beautifully written and produced. Shows like “The Sopranos,” “West Wing,” “Six Feet Under,” “Sex and the City,” “X-Files” and many others that were frequently of better quality and more entertaining than feature films. And you know what happened when these intelligent, challenging shows hit the airwaves? Did television ratings drop off a cliff? Did the world end?
Nope! What happened was the ratings went through the roof. The “masses” that use to watch “Dallas” tuned-in, and so did the “sophisticated” audience that had shunned “Beverly Hills, 90210” like it was diseased. And simply put, American television went through a renaissance.
The same thing needs to happen now, in India, and fast. Why fast? Because the ever-expanding audience of relatively rich (and, from an advertising perspective, desirable) urban Indians is getting increasingly hooked on American television. And if they get really hooked, there’s no reason to think they will ever turn back to Indian television content, even if it does become high quality.
And that would be a shame. It would signal the slow death of the Indian television industry, and with it, the cessation of an opportunity to explore — in-depth and in a way only a TV series can — India society and government and family life. So, with that said, here are my suggestions for some terrific (and I think, non-existent) TV shows that Indian producers should jump on:
“PMO” — a witty, insightful, biting and completely fictional drama about the inner workings of India’s government at the highest levels. Get a front-row seat as the powers-that-be battle terrorism, domestic riots, industrial corruption, and a relentless press always looking for ‘breaking news’, while all the while battling corruption allegations targeted at them. Okay, I admit, it sounds a bit like “West Wing,” but why can’t we have a uniquely Indian version, at the same level of quality?”
“Fourth Rock” — a sit-com, following a 30-something female producer of a terrible Indian soap opera. Every day, she has to deal with the egos, the tantrums and the pain of producing a really terrible show that she doesn’t believe in and that drives her crazy. All right, it’s a bit like “Third Rock,” but way better, no?
“The Sharmalas” — an inside look at a smart, urban family whose patriarch just happens to run the Bombay mob. Yes, yes, sounds a bit like “Sopranos,” but from an India slant, it’d be fascinating.
Or, here’s a better idea. How about some truly original fare, uniquely Indian, from Indian producers that challenges and starts respecting the intelligence of the Indian TV audience.Now that would truly be entertaining.
A foreigner’s observations on living, working, surviving and thriving in India.