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July 13, 2018

How Sacred Games Is Bringing A Bold, New Narrative to Television

Text by Ameya Bundellu

Verve questions if this is a Californication moment for Indian television

The year was 2008. Saanson Ko Saanson Mein Dhalne Do Zara croons a captivated television heartthrob as he woos his rain-drenched heroine in one of most popular K-soaps of that year. I am enjoying this song on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Vienna with a bunch of friends on the only assorted Hindi channel in Austria, which is kind enough to showcase desi stuff. Suddenly my friend, an Australian, is a little amused to see that the camera had captured their pre- marital coupling only above their bare shoulders. Noticing that there was no kissing whatsoever, he remarked: “If Indians don’t kiss, do they come straight to the point?” Little did he know that their supple youth and luscious sensuality was exactly what television audiences probably needed 10 years ago. This obviously minus the kissing and the bussing.

Sex and gore have never raised their unembarrassed heads in Indian television, except maybe for the last couple of years when even in the better channels of mainstream soaps, characters have begun to revel in the joyousness of sex. And for me on the whole, 2018 is the year when the small screen for the first time is witnessing the genesis of a cutting-edge boom. A lot of the credit is reserved for the recently released Sacred Games on Netflix that is breaking new ground (I can confidently say that after watching just three episodes) and what stands out is Anurag Kashyap’s ability to make a dark theme like this entertaining for a millennial audience.

Can anyone, young or old who is hooked onto daily soaps and a has a fair grasp of the daily programming on offer ever forget how Star Bharat (formerly Life OK) rocked TV with seismic repercussions with its bold, sassy and supremely well targeted “Savdhaan India”  Suddenly, a woman on the small screen is no longer a coy bahu – She is also an adulteress who would like to do away with her husband, a happy prostitute who doesn’t mind aborting her baby, a drugged flower child or the gold-digger who willingly ditches her lover to marry Mr. Money Bags. Some others like SET’s Crime Patrol or MTV’s Roadies have discovered their own formula for success – go for excess. And if it’s based on dredged-up personal trauma, torture and blood – all the better.

It is also not necessary that the more offbeat the format the more its significance. The example that I trot out every time is that of 24, the Indian television drama based on the American series of the same name. A finite series, no doubt, but in its attempt to do something different it left viewers here justifiably baffled. And yes, while there are those multiple reruns of risqué western originals such as Californication on English GECs that one could watch, where foreigners are shown smooching, but sadly lip to lip here is still sternly clipped by the censors.

But hey, let’s give credit where it is due and not forget the daily soapwallahs as they are no fluke flunkeys either (the first daily soap began in 2000 and it’s survived till date) and the Indian audience continues to be largely driven by non-risque family content. Yes, these break no barriers and their Indian ethos milks the Hindu joint family myth for all its sentimental reassurance. However, these also work because of the care and intelligence lavished on them. Made for an audience with cable television attention span, these may be old-fashioned in content but they are modern in technique and form (notice the sheer number of tracks happening simultaneously in most daily soaps) Well, even daily soaps have had their moments.

What can I say then? Sweet ‘n’ stark different genres will continue to co-exist as the small screen approaches maturity in 2018.

Ameya Bundellu is a PR professional, budding Bollywood historian and a world traveller.

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