Return of Tvrajas
Move over the eternally suffering daughter and the scheming mother-in-law. Despite their middle age spread, men are back on Indian soaps.
Despite their middle age spread, men are back on Indian soaps.
The weepy women of Indian television have made way for the dashing older men. A portly Ram Kapoor plays a middle-aged tycoon in Bade Acche Lagte Hain, Mohnish Behl plays the quiet and brooding Dr Ashutosh in a relationship with a young intern in Kuch Toh Log Kahenge, and Ronit Roy is the guardian of justice as a lawyer in Adaalat. Samir Soni battles his demons in the male-centric show Parichay. One of Indian television’s longest running shows, CID, on air for more than 14 years now, is fronted by Shivaji Satam. To top it all, queen of the woman-driven soap, Ekta Kapoor, is working on yet another middle class series, where the male lead is an everyman.
People can watch the same story only so many times, says Kamlesh Pandey, 60, who has adapted Pakistani writer Haseena Moin’s story Dhoop Kinare for Kuch Toh Log Kahenge. Television has reached a saturation point and the audience feels a psychological need to have strong male characters they can look up to, he adds. “TV often replaces real gossip for women as they like to look at other women, their clothes and jewellery and talk about them.” But he believes the time is ripe to introduce the silent, mysterious man to television as this is the kind of character women get attracted to, even if he is slightly negative. “Mohnish is the new silent, brooding face on TV,” he says. The audience is also craving alternative genres like crime, thrillers, horror and legal stories, all of which will lend themselves well to male leads, says
Adaalat producer Abhimanyu Contiloe. “Pankaj Kapoor in the detective show
Karamchand was so iconic,” he adds. While producers are creating new content for an audience exhausted with common kitchen themes of gossip and scheming, Television Rating Points ( TRPS) still remain the main focus. Some shows like Ekta Kapoor’s Bade Acche Lagte
Hain have hit the bull’s-eye, clocking TRPS ranging from 3.2 to 3.9, others haven’t fared as well— Kuch Toh Log Kahenge has managed a rating of only 0.9. It’s been a month since the show went on air and analysts have given it six months to prove its potential. As several soaps compete with each other for higher ratings, the older, bankable stars are being brought back with big ticket roles.
Shailesh Kapoor, CEO and managing director of Ormax Media, thinks the actors bring a lot of credibility and equity to the show. The acting is of better quality. “These are not TV performances, where every dialogue has to be punctuated. It is real,” Ekta Kapoor says. It helps the show open well and sustain itself over a period of time. Bandini, which aired on Imagine
TV from 2009 to 2011, was the first soap in a long time to have a strong male lead in the form of Ronit Roy who played Rishabh Bajaj in Kasautii Zindagi Kay during the heyday of saas-bahu soaps.
It works both ways. Known faces stand out in the clutter, helping the show gain a wider audience, even outside the target group. Strong male leads bring in an additional male audience, as well as women outside the target group of 35 to 50 years. Saurabh Tewari, producer and former programming head of Imagine
TV, points out that 18-30-year-old women find Ram Kapoor cute so the show gets an additional audience there as well. Ravindra Gautam, Bade Acche
Lagte Hain’s director, says people relate to the middle-aged characters— they’ve married late and have started falling in love. “I personally know a doctor and a navy commander who follow the show.” Ekta Kapoor’s next soap takes it further. It will talk about a middle class marriage 10 years down the line and address the question: “How do you wake up with the same person every day?”
Seasoned actors add to the character in a way a new actor rarely can. Says Shailesh Kapoor, “Bade Acche
Lagte Hain survives on the special moments between its leading actors that a new actor cannot match.” Like the time a newly married Ram Kapoor orders enough food for two people for his own breakfast and offers to order more food for his wife. “An ordinary scene like that
is transformed into something else.” Television also becomes a second innings for many. Mohnish Behl is faintly disappointed with the TRPS of Kuch Toh Log
Kahenge but maintains the character interested him. Not only are the two leads of the soap 18 years apart, they are strikingly different. His maturity is in sharp contrast with the childlike mannerisms of Kritika Kamra—he is restrained and smiles shyly, she sulks like a little girl and plots ways to catch his attention. “People are surprised that I am looking pretty good in the show. As an actor I would like to get a higher volume of work but how many such roles am I going to come across? I may get the main villain’s role, or the father of the boy or girl, but the narrative would eventually shift to the young romance,” says Behl, articulating the quandary of the ageing male actor.
oriented scripts have been few and far between. Shivaji Satam has played asssistant commissioner of police ( ACP) Pradhyuman in crime show CID for close to 14 years since January 1998. It started as a show airing Mondays to Thursdays and is now a weekend show from Fridays to Sundays. But that is no indication of a decline in popularity as it continues to get an average TRP of 3.5. “Not a single day have I got bored of playing the character. CID has sustained till now because the characters have been established as being larger than life and people look up to them,” says Satam. His common dialogues “Daya darwaza tod do” and “daal mein kuch kaala hai” have spawned reams of jokes but also cemented his place as an icon. He believes a male lead will succeed only when portrayed in a positive way.
As in Adaalat, that has Ronit Roy playing a sophisticated lawyer with a knack for winning cases and freeing the innocent. It has a TRP of 2.2. Roy is seen as someone who stands for justice, mouthing dialogues like “Main yeh kaam paison ke liye nahi karta.” Even Samir Soni, who plays a has-been lawyer
in Parichay, gets ample space to display his heroic side—he gambles to make Rs 30,000 to buy a new suit for his brother, fights off a bunch of policemen to keep it and haughtily declares, “Race mein ghode aur choohe bhaagte hain, sher nahin. Sher apna raasta khud banata hai aur nikal jaata hai, akele.” His character has shades of grey but is portrayed as a man who would rather be scrupulous than financially successful, bringing in ratings ranging from 2 to 2.4.
Tewari says shows with female protagonists, often single dimensional characters portrayed in a very typical manner, led to stagnation. “Now people realise that we need to think out of the box, have good stories and more roles for men.” But, he warns, multiple shows with male leads may or may not work—
Bade Acche Lagte Hain was a success but Kuch Toh Log Kahenge opened to mixed response. A third show with a 40year-old male lead may not work. Ravindra Gautam counters this, “Shows like Bade Acche Lagte Hain have the potential to grow into a trend. The saas
bahu shows of the early 2000s gave way to rural and issue-based shows in the past few years. Now we’ll see more men in the lead because this is what is also happening in real life, people put off marriage till they are older.”
Siddharth P. Malhotra, creative producer, Cinevistaas, insists that content is king and that good stories need to be told because people are tired of seeing women suffering and girls crying, “though channels do not encourage male-centric shows as research has shown that the audience relates to and sympathises with female characters”.
What the audience wants now is good shows, and it can be with a male protagonist if the story is well told. “Producers would want to make shows like the American hits Entourage and
Everybody Loves Raymond that have male leads, but often the channels don’t give them the go-ahead,” says Malhotra. A handful of hit shows will not turn the tide in favour of TV’S leading men but they have made the industry sit up and take note. Prime time TV may just start looking a little more muscular and masculine.