Why We Need Better Malayalam T.V. Serials

Back when Game of Thrones was at its peak, I would instruct my mother not to disturb me on Monday evenings. There was a great TV show I wanted to watch, I’d explain, and until I was done with it I could neither talk to her nor go online.

“Uff,” she chuckled, shaking her head. “When did you become so crazy about some T.V. Serial?”

Even the impending death of Hodor didn’t shock me as much. “What? No way! This is not some stupid T.V. Serial….it’s a – it’s a – T.V. show!

I finally understand why I was so particular about the difference.

*

Technically, my mom and I were both correct. What we in Kerala refer to as T.V. Serials are basically Television series that consists of several episodes per season (television year). To be more specific, these ‘T.V. Serials’ are almost always Soap Operas, a subcategory of T.V. Series that deals with a specific genre and style.

T.V. Serials (Soap Operas) deal with families, romance, or other domestic themes and are usually shown in the daytime. This is crucial, and I’ll tell you why.

So when my mom claimed that Game of Thrones was “some T.V. Serial” she was right in the sense that it was a Television series consisting of serialised episodes. If I’d been watching CSI, I could have said, “Ha! You’re wrong!” (Because, you know, CSI does not have a serialized structure and the episodes are more or less stand-alone? Okay don’t hit me!)

But to me, she was wrong, because I instinctively associated the phrase T.V. Serial with Soap Operas. Like many Malayali youngsters, I despised those terrible T.V. shows about hateful mothers-in-law and terrible husbands and whatever else they may contain.

And that’s what I’m hoping to change your mind about. No, I didn’t spend my lockdown falling in love with old episodes of Sthree. I don’t think the current crop of Malayalam T.V. shows is good. Granted, I have not personally reviewed each and every one of them. Which is part of the problem.

Right now, there is a huge captive audience for T.V. shows in Kerala. They are primarily targeted towards housewives. Interestingly enough, the same is true in the West as well. But their soap operas are broadcasted in the daytime, when women are supposedly bored at home. Remember Joey playing a character from Days of Our Lives on Friends? Yup, that was a soap opera, or as my mother would rightly say, a T.V. Serial.

But while both U.S. and Kerala have soap operas, the difference is we don’t have much of any other genre of T.V. shows. So does that really matter? Or am I just trying to replicate western practices in our homeland?

Well, the more I researched about it, the more I realized how important good T.V. shows are. I’m not saying that we should make a Game of Thrones-style T.V. show to fulfil some kind of ‘Atmanirbhar Kerala’. I believe there is great art all over the world, and we should seek out what satisfies us the best. But while our generation benefits from Netflix and Amazon and all the Korean, Turkish, Japanese, British and American pop culture that’s available through it, do you realise how little of it is accessible to our parents?

Forgive me if your dad and mom share your Netflix account, but a huge percentage of adults in Kerala still rely on television for their entertainment. Unlike the West, we have not “cut the cord”, that is, transitioned to streaming en masse. And while it’s definitely time for that to happen, the T.V. shows that are broadcast every evening to millions of Malayalis are extremely influential.

A few months ago, we saw protests erupt because of the killing of George Flloyd. A lot of us reposted content about it on Instagram and Facebook, in an attempt to educate, enlighten, or elaborate. But guess what made a significant change in the way Americans considered race and their attitude towards it? Back in 1977, Roots, a Television miniseries about a slave captured and transported to America, was viewed by 130 million people. At a time when the total population of the United States was 221 million. More than half the country watched that T.V. show, and it directly influenced their thought process about African Americans, the effect of slavery and racism within America.

Two decades later, Ellen DeGeneres had a popular sitcom that was watched by millions. She decided to publicly come out as a lesbian. While the network pulled her show, her actions helped to change public opinion about gays and lesbians.

The history of television is littered with many such examples, where the actions of fictional characters on screen and the behaviour of actors off-screen directly shaped society’s thinking.

Which is why we need to revamp our T.V. shows.

For far too long, the T.V. serials that our mothers, father, aunts, uncles, and grandparents watch have had stale storylines that perpetuate silly stereotypes and recycle old tropes. They’ve become a captive audience to networks that have no incentive to break the mould and try to achieve anything of artistic or educational merit.

Some of you might say that it’s up to the market to decide. That’s exactly what was said about Malayalam cinema a while ago when it was going through a slump. The idea was that if movies were bad, then people would stop buying tickets until good ones came along.

That is technically true, but also incredibly simplistic and ignores several factors. Forget movies, when it comes to Television, the same logic doesn’t apply. Even if your grandmother doesn’t particularly like the T.V. serial she was watching, what other option does she have? Sure, she could turn off the television, but that doesn’t solve her boredom. Plus, after years of watching T.V. at a fixed time every day, she will obviously be seeking some form of entertainment. No matter how mediocre it is.

If you doubt that, wait till your WiFi stops working and see how long before you start watching whatever is on T.V.

The reason why we never got addicted to T.V. serials is because we grew up with countless options. We were lucky enough to experience the Golden Generation of Television. We benefited from it. We learnt about the world because of it. We learnt how wonderful it feels to experience great dialogue, intricate storylines, and passionate filmmaking.

But while we are shut in our rooms, gradually becoming woke and aware of the nuances of the world around us, our parents are glued to their television sets, watching pictures that entertain without expanding their minds.

Here on PinkLungi there’ve been countless posts about important topics that are particularly relevant to Malayalis. Topics such as gender equality, feminism, toxic relationships, parental pressure, societal pressure, and so on. While it’s great to spread the word and enlighten our peers about all of it, sadly, none of it will shape our parents’ minds.

If you want your parents to understand concepts about sexuality, gender, religion, and politics, you won’t achieve it by showing them a funny meme.

But if their favourite T.V. Serials had storylines that incorporated such themes, they’ll start questioning and confronting their prejudices and blindspots.

I don’t mean to imply that we are enlightened and our parents aren’t. Just that more often than not, progressive ideals that we learnt through art, aren’t available to them.

Unfortunately, this is an incomplete article. Because while I have a solution, I do not possess the abilities or knowledge required for you to achieve it. I cannot think of a way to revamp T.V. serials. I do not know of any T.V. producer from any network. I’m not even sure they’ll spare a second to listen to anything I have to say. Perhaps the current business model is extremely lucrative.

You might also like: Kerala Is Ready For A T.V. Revolution

But maybe you’ll allow this thought to marinate in your mind. Picture what it would look like, if a year or two from now, you were passing by the living room when you hear your grandmother and aunt argue. You stop to figure out what they’re talking about. And it turns out they’re discussing why Saritha, the 28-year-old, was planning to leave her husband Rajeev and go to the States for higher studies.

“But he is such a good guy! Rajeev is perfect!”, your aunt would say.

“No way! Remember last week’s episode? Where he got angry with her for not calling him back right away? Appazhe enikku thonni….chekkan peshaga…”, retorts your grandmother.

You’re slightly intrigued and want to see this fictional character they’re talking about.

Three weeks later, in the season finale, you and your grandmother exchange high fives when Saritha finalises the divorce and walks away. As the credits roll, you, your grandmother, and your aunt have a frank conversation about an issue that’d never been broached before.

“What did you think of her last scene?”, you ask.

And your aunt, still looking at the credits, nods softly. “I – I never thought that way. You know…about marital rape.”

As the T.V. is turned off, you realise that you’re living in a better household. A more informed, more empathetic, more introspective one.

All thanks to those “T.V. Serials”…

While he hasn’t yet written a Malayalam T.V. show, check out Marwan Razzaq’s novel “The Man Who Found His Shadow”, a fast-paced crime thriller available now on Flipkart!

2 COMMENTS

  1. […] “Why We Need Better Malayalam T.V. Serials” came out on August 12th, 2020. A few hours prior to it being posted on Instagram and the PinkLungi website, I was heading to a campsite with my friend Arjun. We’d planned an impromptu two-day camping trip, and I was excited. It was deep in the wilderness, far from our homes, as attested to by the lack of bars on my phone. […]

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