It has been over a week since I touched down in singara Chennai. Several things have changed in this city since my last visit here. One can get pretty much everything here for the right price. But the most outstanding change of all is the effect of the television ‘mega serials’ on our society.
Mega serials have revolutionized the social behavior of our society. It is truly an amazing phenomenon. Staying glued to those intensely melodramatic serials with a total disinterest and disregard to the world around it defines the society of today. Take any household in Chennai. Between 6 and 10 pm, you can’t pry anyone from the TV screen with a 2 feet crowbar if your life depended on it. If the Great God Ganapathy ever chooses to make an appearance before a devotee to grant a boon, I hope he can squeeze in sometime between the ‘Kolangal’ and ‘Enge brahmanan’ to do it or else he would be in for a rude shock.
Take, for example, the other day when I called up my aunt around 7.00 pm to chitchat. It wasn’t a conversation but a monologue. I talked while she watched TV barely hearing a word that I said. I could have announced that a volcano just erupted around the block leading to the entire neighborhood evacuating and she would have mindlessly said “yes yes good Meena”. After a long monologue, I got tired of hearing my own voice and hung up. I also heard a true story where someone left a restaurant and his family in it without quite finishing his dinner in a hurry to catch up with ‘Abhi’ in Kolangal who was returning on that day’s episode from abroad.
Watching the world fall madly in love with those serials, I decided to look for myself what the allure was. It was mind-boggling. If there was a clearly defined plot in any of them, I couldn’t find it. Most are family dramas highlighting predominantly dysfunctional families. Abortions, murder conspiracies, jealous lovers/husbands, adopted kids seeking their birth parents, damsels in distress waiting for their knights in shining armor are the distant mirages of plot in these Indian soap operas. That is not all. The same actors are cast across all the serials making it impossible to remember their many different character names and their roles in the various dramas. The actors are often overly made up with very little talent for acting and would do better with a modeling contract to showcase the recent fashions in clothing and jewelry than an acting one. Yet millions of people stay tuned day after day to follow the lives of these characters in hope of experiencing a few vicarious thrills through their lives. What is this magnetism? What draws our society to this brain-damaging mediocrity of an entertainment is the curious answer-defying question of this era.
Despite all this, there is one unshakable truth. No single thing in this world holds as much power over its inhabitants or brings them together as a unified identifiable group as this ‘mega serial’ phenomenon. Go figure!