A couple of weeks ago, a middle-class family in Lucknow was in mourning having lost their 45-year-old son that morning. The mood in the house was sombre as friends and family had gathered to grieve over the loss. But as the clock struck eight that evening, two members of the family couldn’t resist stealing a moment to watch their favourite television show Naagin.
Behind closed doors, the mother-daughter duo, who had arrived from a small town near Lucknow, was glued to the small screen for an hour watching Naagin at low volume much to the horror of the rest of the family.
Needless to say, it is devoted audience such as this that has catapulted Naagin to the number one show on Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs). The serial on the snake-woman has audiences in the Hindi-speaking markets hooked, making it the most-watched show on Hindi GECs.
Telecast on Colors every weekend (Saturday and Sunday), it had a total viewership of 19.8 million during the 2-8 January week, according to BARC India ratings. This was way ahead of its immediate competitor—Kumkum Bhagya on Zee TV that runs from Monday to Saturday. Colors is owned by Viacom18, a part of Network 18 Media and Investments Ltd.
With the captivating story of icchhadhari naagins (female snakes who can take human form at will), Ekta Kapoor, the promoter of Balaji Telefilms that has produced the show, has got her mojo back. Together with the Colors programming team, she has once again cast her magic spell, similar to the one that had pushed Star Plus to the top rank 15 years ago.
Today, Colors is the number one Hindi entertainment channel and it has been so in both the urban and rural markets for the last four weeks. Raj Nayak, chief executive of Colors, admits that Naagin has a big role to play in driving the channel to the top slot, although that is not the only show responsible for its recent success. To be sure, the channel has built a strong line-up of fiction shows and “layered it with cutting edge non-fiction programming”, he claims.
Colors’ programming head Manisha Sharma had been keen to make Naagin for a year. Nayak says that Colors ideated with Kapoor as she was best suited to deliver on a subject like this “and the rest is what you see on TV”. What worked for the show is its pace, storytelling, casting and the graphics, he says.
Scheduling the show on the weekend was also a bold initiative as most channels maintain that weekend fiction doesn’t fare well on GECs.
Why Naagin is a stupendous success is easy to see. First, Colors could not have picked a story with greater mass appeal than one of icchhadhari naagins. Besides, the story itself is intriguing, with all the elements—revenge, love, hate and suspense—required for a potboiler thrown in. The plot has two naagins who are out to avenge their parents’ murder. It is the Indian housewife’s Twilight Zone, says Mythili Chandrasekar, national planning director at J Walter Thompson in Delhi. (A psychological thriller, The Twilight Zone was an American television drama series comprising science fiction and fantasy.)
To be sure, the snake is a deep-rooted symbol in the country’s mythology and currently Indian television is swarming with mythological tales—be it Siya Ke Ram, Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanuman or Santoshi Maa. In the past, cinema has also presented snake-based stories as a concoction of folklore, horror and emotional drama. Harmesh Malhotra’s 1986 film Nagina, featuring Sridevi and Rishi Kapoor, was a blockbuster hit. While most serials on Hindi television are all about family politics, in Naagin mythology meets family politics meets The Vampire Diaries!
Clearly, there is an element of mystery and curiosity attached to stories of icchadhari naagins. While most of us have grown up watching, listening to or reading such stories, media magnifies such ideas, making people watch the serials with greater excitement. That is not all. According to Sanjay Chugh, a senior consultant psychiatrist, revenge, hate, jealousy, cruelty and aggression are some emotions that people often suppress as it is considered “wrong” to feel them, let alone express them. “TV shows where actors display these ‘prohibited’ emotions so blatantly, perhaps serve as an outlet for us to give way to those feelings. That’s why people probably get glued to them,” he says.
Besides television viewers are constantly looking for offbeat entertainment and make-believe stories as life is packed with the daily stress of work, family, children, commutes, deadlines and other pressures.
Chugh says that all of us seek some relief even if it means travelling to a world of make-believe for a few hours where one gets temporarily disconnected from real-life drama.
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.