The craze for stories about ‘icchadhari naagins’ in India shows no signs of diminishing. And that’s good news for Raj Nayak, chief executive of Colors, the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) from Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd. For, Naagin Season 2 on Colors became an almost instant hit when it launched on 8 October. It has been topping the TV ratings charts in Hindi entertainment for almost three weeks. ‘Icchadhari naagins’ are mythical female snakes who can take human form at will.
A few months ago, this column had asked if the seasons format in family soaps will click on Indian television as Naagin had taken a break to plan its second season. With the success of Naagin Season 2, Nayak seems to have got the answer in the affirmative. As mentioned earlier, while reality TV shows on Hindi television have always returned in fresh seasons, it is not every day that you see a fiction show making a comeback.
Last week, Naagin Season 2 was the No. 1 show in Hindi entertainment, both in urban and rural India, according to television ratings from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India. That is not all. In rural India, Naagin Season 1 (currently running on Viacom’s free-to-air channel Rishtey) and Naagin Season 2 appear among the top five shows. In urban markets, the story of the revenge-seeking female serpent is a clear No. 2. The show has helped Colors move up to the No. 1 spot among Hindi GECs.
“It is definitely the highest rated show on Hindi GEC and one of the top 3 rated shows across any channel in this country (all India urban+rural),” says Colors’ Nayak. “Finite series or mini series are very new to the Indian TV space, and we are proud to have pioneered this trend. We have been extremely careful, and strategically thought through the break period.”
As the numbers show, for now, Colors’ calculated risk has paid off. India’s predominantly female television audience, which has been used to daily soaps, seems ready to break its habit and latch onto a bi-weekly, weekend show if the content meets expectations. In this case, the snake, the deeply rooted symbol in Indian mythology, was the catalyst. Above all, these viewers lapped up the seasons concept too.
After running the first season of Naagin for a little more than six months, the channel gave the serial a break, which would make viewers miss it but didn’t keep it away long enough for them to start losing interest.
In Nayak’s view, the second season was perfectly timed keeping in mind the viewer preference, channel health cycle and the festive season which sees TV viewership peak, benefiting both the broadcaster as well as the sponsors of the show.
So, will there be more serials broken up into seasons on Colors? Nayak says that maintaining a balance between finite series and regular fiction shows is the way forward with the balance probably tilting somewhat in favour of the ‘finite’ series format in the next couple of years. He declines to share the concepts and names of similar such franchises on the channel, but promises they will be on air soon.
In the case of Naagin Season 2, both the seasons concept and the supernatural element which has mass appeal are clear winners. “The ‘supernatural’ content is integral to our Indian culture and tastes. We have been born and brought up on a lot of folklore and fantasy stories, so it is quite integral to our content preferences. Provided it is executed well, and Indian sense and sensibilities are kept intact, we have observed that such content has more often than not been given a thumbs up by our viewers,” says Nayak.
Agrees Ambi M.G. Parameswaran, adman and brand strategist who has written the book For God’s Sake on the business of religion: “Indian consumers, both young and old, continue to be believers and are seeped in religious rituals and practices.”
Parameswaran says he examined the phenomenon in his book and found that while consumers show signs of outward modernity in the way they dress, talk and behave, “deep inside, they are probably craving the ancient myths to be retold in their own language”.
And Naagin is a part of Indian mythology that cuts across all caste and class boundaries.
“When the power of Balaji Telefilms and Colors decided to reinterpret it for the new generation, they seem to have got all the ducks or should I say all the snakes, lined up for the perfect shot. TV star power, interesting twists and more drama. All good stories are timeless and deserve to be retold in new language and idioms,” says Parameswaran.
Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.