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Home / News / India /  Inside the incredible fanverse of Hindi TV serial Anupama

There’s very little in common between Monish Chaudhary and Mahendra Jain. In age, they are half a century apart. Chaudhary, 20, is a paramedic from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. Jain, 70, runs a garment shop in Assam. A day in the life of Chaudhary is very different from that of Jain’s—except for a 30-minute slot where their lives converge. This is when they watch Anupama, a Hindi TV serial about a middle-aged woman that airs on StarPlus and streams on Disney+Hotstar. It traces the life of an ‘adarsh’ (ideal) and undervalued homemaker who reinvents herself as an entrepreneur after overcoming several challenges in her midlife, including—and not limited to—a cheating husband, a divorce, and a fatal health hazard.

The show is not an original, but an adaptation of a Bengali serial from 2019 which inspired four other language adaptations before it got remade in Hindi. At a time when the plot points of Indian TV shows get more outlandish every day—think the couple that gets ‘accidentally’ married when the man unknowingly sprinkles sindoor on the woman’s forehead or when a bahu reeling from a slap from her mother-in-law hits a curtain and manages to get strangled by it—Anupama seems to be rewriting the Indian television playbook.

How it started

Chaudhary got into Anupama in September 2021—over a year after the show started—because his mother would take control of the TV remote between 10pm and 10:30pm in the middle of an ongoing IPL match. “I liked that it was not full of clichéd shadyantra (conspiracy) plots one associates with Indian television," he says. “It touched upon topics like depression and therapy which can have a huge positive influence on housewives watching the show," he adds.

Chaudhary says he now “loves Anupama as much as Stranger Things", the Netflix series popular among zoomers like him.

Jain took a shine to the series after hate-watching it for a couple of days with his wife. “Soon, I started appreciating how they show a woman fighting social taboos to prosper in life."

Over the last year, Jain has got 4-5 other men in his social circle hooked to the show. “We discuss it every evening now," says the businessman. “The show has made me see how men, including me, can be too full of themselves, not realizing the role everyone around them plays in their success," says Jain. Someone who once dismissed his wife for watching “such shows", he says he doesn’t like to be disturbed between 10pm and 10:30pm on weeknights now.

Men gushing over a Hindi TV show, featuring a woman (Rupali Ganguly) in her 40s as the lead character, is unheard of in the Indian entertainment landscape. We are more accustomed to seeing male actors in their 50s romance women half their age or even younger on screen instead. Yet, Anupama—adapted from writer-filmmaker Leena Gangopadhyay’s Sreemoyee—has topped the TV rating charts for 85 out of 89 weeks in the Hindi entertainment category, according to the last available data from BARC for the urban Hindi-speaking market comprising male and female viewers above 15.

On Instagram, multiple unofficial accounts related to the show upload scenes from the previous episode in a reel format and delete those reels in 24 hours, perhaps to prevent copyright strikes. Each of these reels fetches hundreds of thousands of views.

Disney Star claims that Anupama is viewed by 100 million viewers on TV every month. To put this in perspective, Netflix claimed that 142-million member accounts the world over tuned in to watch at least 2 minutes of the global hit Korean show, Squid Game, in the first month of its release.

Advertisers pay anywhere between 2.25 lakh and 2.5 lakh for a 10-second slot during a commercial break on Anupama, media planners told Mint. This is roughly 40-45% more than what they shell out for a spot on the second and the third top-rated Hindi entertainment show. “The rates are around 160-180 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) for Anupama on OTT because streaming platforms allow sharp targeting compared to broadcast on TV, which has mass reach amongst the TV viewing universe," says a media planning professional on condition of anonymity.

How it’s going

“Where most shows are struggling to touch even a 2 TVR (Television Ratings) across primetime on Hindi GECs (general entertainment channels), Anupama has managed to consistently score a 3+ rating for weeks on end," says Keerat Grewal, partner at Ormax Media, a consulting firm that tracks theatre, TV and OTT content. “Anupama was the first character to enter Ormax Characters India Loves (Hindi), a tracker of popular television roles, at the second spot within just one month of the show going on air," she adds.

Besides Anupama, the original show, Sreemoyee, has been adapted in six other languages since October 2019, including Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil and, most recently, Odia. Each of these adaptations is known to have occupied leading spots in their respective markets.

Kevin Vaz, head of network entertainment channels at Disney Star, prefers to use the term “reimagined" over “adapted" to describe these shows. Each show is developed by a local content team to ensure that the viewer “feels this is their show, that it originated in their milieu". So, a Sreemoyee chooses to pursue a career in singing in Bangla, but Bhagya in the Tamil version, Baakiyalakshmi, which was conceptualised during the pandemic, turns to her culinary skills to set up a masala company. An additional character is infused in the Telugu version, Intinti Gruhalakshmi (Goddess of every house), for comic relief, given the market’s taste.

While Anupama remains the biggest phenomenon of them all, these shows have their exclusive fandom. For instance, @DrPyaricetamol, a Twitter user, has not seen Anupama, but never missed an episode of Aai Kuthe Kay Karte! (Marathi for What does a mother do even?), one of Sreemoyee’s earliest adaptations from December 2019.

“It’s a feminist show written by a feminist writer, Mugdha Godbole," says the 37-year-old internal medicine specialist from Mumbai, who is impressed with the way the show has woven topics like date rape, menopause, and hysterectomy into the plot. “I also like how Arundhati, the female lead, doesn’t hate her husband’s second wife. She holds both of them equally responsible for his infidelity." Aai Kuthe Kay Karte is the only show, across languages and genres, that @DrPyaricetamol watches on TV. She also loves the life it takes on the internet.

Serial stats
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Serial stats

Meme’s the word

Five out of 10 posts uploaded by the meme page Shit Marathi Serials Show are from Aai Kuthe Kay Karte!. “The mother-in-law is the most panned by the audience and a comic character called Shekhar is the most savage. Together they provide a lot of fodder for memes," says Siddhesh Korde, one of the admins of the page that has over 35,000 followers across Facebook and Instagram.

“Some of the show’s key production heads follow our page and the male lead Milind Gawali has collaborated with us," adds Korde, a 21-year-old social media manager from Mumbai. In the Tamil version, “Bhagya’s husband’s character is written like a caricature of a male antagonist, which lends itself to memes quite easily," says Anantha (@anantha on Twitter), an IT project manager from Chennai who follows the serial.

The memeverse loves the Anupama empire and the Hindi version makes the most noise in pop culture, primarily because of a much larger Hindi-speaking population.

A catchphrase “Anupama and cry", which is a riff on “Netflix and chill", often trends on Twitter—a way of describing how much of a tearjerker it can be at times. Anupama memes have come in handy even for the Delhi Police. “Three things you should never talk about," reads the caption of a cybersecurity-related post on Delhi Police’s official Instagram account. “1) Anupama spoilers in front of your mother, 2) How much salary is left in your account at the end of the month, and 3) Your password."

“The success of the Anupama empire is proof that the majority of people follow one sentiment," says Ramsai Panchapakesan, senior vice-president and national buying head, integrated media buying at Zenith, a Publicis Groupe company. “Otherwise, in India, the taste buds and dialect are known to change every 70 km to 80 km," he adds.

Star ratings
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Star ratings

The return of good content

The fans are also some of the show’s most vocal critics, though. “I think I have a love-and-hate relationship with the show," says Aakash Jain, who develops unscripted shows for broadcasters and OTT platforms. Jain cannot stand the “supremely preachy monologues that Anupama bursts into," he says. “The show still has most of the tropes of a masala show, which I’m not too fond of," he adds.

Anupama’s IMDB page has several negative reviews from people who argue that it encourages unrealistic expectations from women in a country that already puts the burden of sacrifice and righteousness on their shoulders alone.

“I hate that the female lead is shown to be a tad too helpless, too unrealistic, and too good to be true," says Mishka Rana. That said, the 22-year-old content creator loves that the show has something for everyone. “My grandmother watches it, so does my brother, my 11-year-old cousin, and my Twitter friends."

Some, like Midhu Saji, hesitate to admit that they watch and enjoy the show’s adaptation in their native language. “I got into the habit of watching Kudumbavilakku (Malayalam for ‘light of the family’) while spending time with my grandparents," says the 26-year-old content manager from Kochi in Kerala. “Even though my husband tells everyone I watch this show, I don’t talk about it with my peers because only the elderly watch Malayalam TV serials," says Saji.

Vaz of Disney Star gets this all the time, he says. “Ask people if they watch the show, and they’ll vehemently deny. Five minutes later, they’ll be telling you everything that’s happened in the story till now," he quips.

This isn’t the first time Disney Star has tried the reimagining route to programming. Diya Aur Baati Hum from 2011 was adapted in five regional languages. Karuthamuthu (2014-19), one of the longest-running Malayalam shows, was adapted into six languages. 2015’s Potol Kumar Gaanwala from Bangla led to five language remakes, too. But this is certainly their most successful attempt.

The popularity of Anupama—it also has an online 11-episode spinoff streaming on Disney+ Hotstar called Anupama: Namaste America—proves that good content still has takers, says Grewal of Ormax. “TV had a similar phase during the waning days of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi," she recalls.

Shows like Balika Vadhu became popular on the strength of strong writing and a sharp focus on women’s rights. Then somewhere around 2015-16, TV began to lose the plot again with family dramas suddenly veering towards outlandish plots. Since then, the Hindi GEC category has been struggling to regain its glory days. Anupama launched immediately post the pandemic-induced lockdown and went on to become an instant hit. More channels have launched shows with progressive themes and strong female leads, she notes. “But the category is yet to find its feet again."

Television has phases and then it has ages. If the 1980s were the age of Buniyaad, the 1990s were about Shanti. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi dominated eight years of the aughts and is relevant in online pop culture even today, 14 years after the show got over. While Anupama has surely managed to replace the disdain for TV content among certain audience groups with applause, it is hard to say if it’ll be able to enjoy a similar legacy 10 years from now given how fragmented the internet is and how fast it forgets. Perhaps, only time (and a trending meme on web 3) will tell if this will be remembered as the age of Anupama.

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