Decade from Hell: A Review of Indian Television in 2000-2009

On December 24, 2009 By pramitsingh Topic: Television, Bestofdecade

One watched TV these ten years as if one was already in hell for one's innumerable sins, watching TV when one was allowed to, forcing unbelievably loud sensations to seep inside one's frying brains, believing the crude and painted and scheming and shouting fair women were the real things, accepting stars for what they truly were - greedy, sad people, just like all of us, willing to do anything for anyone with the money. In hell, I learnt, there is no magic.


We entered the new millenium hoping the new decade would bring prosperity, better entertainment, better governance, better education, and a better genaration? Some of us got rich in the new shining India, feeding off the pent up demand for stuff, allright. Rest was sheer consumerist, aspirational hell mastered over by horrible tastemakers and decision makers with wicked personal agendas. The decade began promising a million jobs in media and so it did. Imagine an army of a million involved in the mass production of bad taste if you will.

On that bright note, let's begin this rundown of the highlights of my TV nightmare.

Kaun Banega Krorepati - This copycat (albeit licensed) show relaunches Amitabh Bachchan's dying film career, and he goes on to star in 50 mostly forgettable films in the decade. KBC also gives rise to 1. Buzzwords: “Lock Kar Diya Jaye" and "Computerjee" and 2. Giving rise to copycat games shows such as the quickly following "Sawaal das Karore Ka" starring Anupam Kher which flopped like many others down the line. KBC also helps Star Plus break out in the entertainment channel race

Kyonki Saa Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi - Launched around the same time as KBC - Gives birth to the 'K' serials from the Ekta Kapoor Indian Nightmare Factory down the decade. The Daily TV serial format which grew during the “Shanti”/”Swabhiman” phase during the late 90s has taken over the Indian TV industry in the decade and we are all the poorer for it.

Another KBC clone "Jeeto Chappad Phad Ke", starring Govinda launches and dies soon after. The actor is having a bad decde so far.

The 'K' Saas-Bahu serials take over - Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar ki, Kasauti Zindagi Ki, making garish middle class heroines out of small time actresses Smriti Irani, Sakhshi Tanwar and Shweta Tiwari.

During the Makeup/Costume/Mansion serials craze, Madhuri Dixit's reality show, based on what else, the evergreen Indian hunt for suitable brides and grooms, titled 'Kahin Na Kahin Koi Hai'. Damp squib drowns under all that fake smiles and tears.

Shows of note: Kumkum (about a heroine in distress) and Sanjivni (a very poor copy of “ER meets Scrubs meets General Hopital")

Mandira Bedi, of the 'Shanti' fame in the 1990s and that bit role in DDLJ, makes a comeback as a sexy girl in noodle straps in the 2003 Cricket World Cup in South Africa as a 'commentator', horrifying genuine cricket lovers and portending for the mess of IPL to follow in some years.

Karishma Kapoor tries her hand in TV serials, taking easy crores from the Sahara people who are always so eager to throw away their depositors' money. The serial is called "Karishma - The Miracle of destiny". As the bombastic, egotist and language massacring title went, it would have been miracle (Karishma) if the serial had really made.

TV's shining star of the year is the throaty-voiced Mona Singh who stars as Jassi in the hit show 'Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin', a copy of a hit Spanish show. Many remember he show for the way the producers made the actress appearing in public as Jassi, 2003 was the year we mistook fakeness for the genuine thing.

Indian Idol, a copy of the hit Pop Idol show makes it big in India, giving us the first of the singers who can't sing to save their lives, Abhijit Sawant. This show also gives a rise to a wave of talent shows in the next half of the decade, most whose winners are unable to mark for themselves outside the show. The winners are limited to making a living doing stage shows in their respective home states. The rise of local stars, you may call it that.

Channel V also did two seasons of Star band finding, the short-lived "Pop Stars" series, giving us two bands as winners, who soon faded away after doing their first albums, only to reappear in an afterlife of reality shows in the later half of the decade.

TV Serials of note: While Jassi began deteriorating, having been extended beyond its lifespan, "Karina Karina" a comedy serial and "Yeh Meri Life Hai" a poor girl with ambitions show stood out. The other stand out show was "Astitva: Ek Prem Kahani" about the love life of a Doctor played by the beautiful Nikki Aneja and giving us a TV star in shape of Varun Vadola.

Film actress Ravina Tandon, the 'Dhak Dhak' girl tried her hand with TV serials, again with the Sahara people. A period show based on Sharatchandra's "Saheb, Biwi aur Ghulam". The show is well done and finds its audience but not that much. Better than the Karishma endeavor, and Raveena can take heart from that. If she has the time. Like Karishma and most Indian actresses, she is now settled into a marriage to a rich businessman.

The Reality show that stood out in this year was The Great Indian Laughter Challenge on Star One that gave a stage to stand up/stage comedians in this country as well as the neighbors where they could tell their jokes and win prizes. The first season, like the first season of American idol, is the best season and gives us stars in the shape of Sunil Pal (the winner), the inimitable Raju Srivastava, the cutely rhyming Ehsaan Kureishi and the great mimic Navin Prabhakar among other good ones. Prabhakar's Bar Dancer routine, Raju's Gajodhar Bhai routine and Sunil's Drunk man routine are a real hoot. For this writer, these are the saving graces of the decade.

KBC-2, aka KBC Dwitiya does well. The one thing Amitabh Bachchan has done well in this decade is to remind us again and again the importance and beauty of proper hindi, especialy the respect in the diction. A decade from now, teachers will teach city-bred kids how to speak  inrespectful (not the 'tu' kind) Hindi using youtube clips of the show as example.

A dance show also makes it name, based on a mish-mash "Strictly come dancing" and "Dancing with the stars" in the UK, “Nach Baliye” makes it somewhat, giving second life to out of work TV actors. It reminds you that TV is a most competitive business, where the daily shows depend on novelty to survive, and it is easily achieved via freshly minted fair Punjabi/Gujarati girls from the numerous acting studios.

"Baa, Bahu aur Baby" is the breakout comedy show of the year. Normal people, normal drama, with a touch of genuine familial love. After "Sarabhai and Sarabhai" starring the inimitable Ratna Pathak Sha and Satish Shah, "Baa, Bahu Baby" doesn’t force fake laughter on us.


Amidst all this busy TV season, TV actor Aman Verma finds the time to get involved in a casting couch scandal. Or, may be it is always happening away from from the spotlight. Either way, one doesn't care.

Jassi took a long time to die and when it did, few noticed. Zee overtook Star Plus with two hit TV shows, "Kasam Se" starring a 17 year old Prachi Deasi who makes it big and "Saat Phere" starring the eponymous Saloni. However, both hit shows continue the tradition of telling stories of people living in mansions. Even poor people live in 'clean, well lighted places' in our TV serials.

Madhvan, the cute Shahrukh clone tried his hand at TV reality show "Deal Ya No Deal" again a copy of the US TV show but Indians do not warm up to the format.

The reality show has reached epidemic proportions. It seems there is no Indian left who doesn't want to be a filthy rich star. "Main Bada Banana chata hoon" means "Main Bada star bana chahta hoon" not ” Main Bada teacher banana chata hoon."

This is the year when fights between judges of reality shows become common. Most of the judges are rejects from their fields and plenty of time to build their career again through these shows. Then, there are fights between participants, between families of participants, between judges and participants, between judges and families of participants...

KBC-3 is launched with Shahrukh Khan as anchor. Coming fresh off the remaking of Amitabh Bachchan's "Don" many people run down Shahrukh as a 'clone' but the man holds his ground with his own brand of energy and enthusiasm.

The big reality show of the year is "Big Boss",  a licensed copy of "Celebrity Big Brother" . The breakout 'Z' stars from this show are Bhojpuri film's Amitabh Bachchan Ravi Kishan (his rustic quote "Zingagi Jhand Ba, Phir bhi Ghamand Ba" is a classic, the quote of the decade) and Rakhi Sawant, India's answer to UK's Jade Goody. Rakhi goes to give a master class in "How to stay in the news using antics, with no discernible talent, and still make a decent living". Her cause is helped by 24 hour TV news channels eager for the 'scoop' and the primal need to fill the 24 hours with programming. Madonna, self promoters of the world, take note. Did I forget to mention that the winner of "Bigg Boss" season was out of work film actor Rahul Roy, who was out of the limelight for more than 15 years before the show and who disappeared out of sight after winning the show for another 15 years.

The only thing of note on the serial front was the replacement of Smriti Irani as Tulsi in the long running "Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Thi".

Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki end their 9 year run. Even the return of Smriti Irani could not save Kyonki Saas...When it ended, the story arc had move to the fourth generation but Baa the great-great-grandmother was still as young as we saw her in 2000. Mother India Zindabad.

Colors becomes the breakout channel of the year with its SOCIALS - serials based on social ills - Balika Badhu (child marriage), Uttaran (poor maids) and BhagyaVidhata (marriage on the barrel of the gun) and Is Ghar Na Ana Lado (female foeticide). The first two star child actors in leading roles and for some time there is furor, echoed even in the normally somnolent Parliament about perils of child labor.

Star Plus and Zee follow with their own 'socials', "Bandini" (child marriage - between a girl and an older man) and "Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo" (selling of brides).

While we are on the 'socials': Like the people in the 'K' Saas Bahu serials, the people in these 'socials' live in mansions and heavily lit, garishly painted boxes called homes, when the whole country is boiling under the sudden sun and the severe power cuts. Like the women in the 'K' serials, the women are loud and often villainous.

And, aren’t these 'socials' a little late on the scene? The social ills mentioned in these shows are there in our country, but with a lesser intensity. Methinks the impact would have been greater if these shows aired in the 70s and the 80s, but I suspect the people these shows are aimed at would be viewing satellite TV. And if people in villages watched Colors channel by magic, could these people pay the Rs. 12/month Colors charges? Let us not waste time on the matter. We all know these shows are not for these people. These shows are there to sell the uniqueness of the channel. It is all marketing.

On the reality show front, Shahrukh's "Kya Aap Panchwi Paas Se Tej Hai?", a copy of "Are your smarter than the Fifth Grader?" and Salman's "Dus Ka Dum" make their mark.

The finalists of "Bigg Boss- 2" are a Professional Reality Show participant who has already won a reality show and a Wife Beater. Guess who won?

Shows that started in the earlier millennium and still going strong: Sony's CID (crime show where cops work in offices swankier than Mukesh Ambani's Digs and where the lead actor's bulging eyes are in danger of falling out of their sockets), Boogie Woogie(Javed Jaffrie's endearing dance show) and Zee's Saaregama (singing talent show). Zee's Antakshari was good show that ran for 10+ years and was stupid to throw host Anu Kapoor out.

Reality shows of the year:
"Raakhi Ka Swayamwar" (where Rakhi chooses her man from 14-odd mostly fame-hungry young men, settles for a NRI, and now plan to leave him as well), "Pati, Patni aur Woh" ( a distasteful show where greedy parent leave their kids in care of another bunch of out-of-work actors and then there is Rakhi and her chosen husband from the first show), Akshay Kumar's "Khataron K Khiladi" Season 2( Copy of "Fear Factor" where the macho Film Star doesn't miss a chance to impose his macho ness upon a bunch of terrified girls. Compare that with the reticent Joe Rogan in the American "Fear Factor") and second season of "Dus Ka Dum" (A confusing format which is reduced further to showcasing Salman Khan's forthcoming films and becomes butchered version of the "Tonight Show", full of celebrities, who apparently do not need the crores).

Another Reality show, a mash of "Survivor" and "Big Brother", that we liked was Real's "Sarkar Ki Duniya" where normal people like you and me cursed and fought and cursed more, even the women were not spared. This was us. Pure us. But the winner was a wuss, a man who like the shrewdest of us all, cursed and schemed away from the limelight, like our champion politicians.

TV shows that were different: Sony's realistic "Ladies Special" (about lives of four women in Mumbai who share the daily train ride to work) and "Bhaskar Bharti" (the man becomes woman story, like "She's the man" or 'Man Trouble') which is enlivened by a chirpy performance of its characters, especially Ragini Khanna.


2009 was also the year when more Film actors appeared on TV than ever, hosting reality shows, appearing as Reality judges (this is for you, gorgeous Sonali Bendre) and often invading the fake relaity of shows to promote their upcoming films. This surreal mix of reality+unreality+reality+unreality confused the already befuddled viewer trying to make sense of the mess on the screen. Too meta for one's taste, I say. The stupidest one must be when Salman Khan enters the CID TV serial giving the cops DVDs of his film "Wanted". Get him out of here!

The Stupidest show of Indian TV's Dumb Decade

Let’s end this meandering summary with awarding a title.

The title for stupidest TV show of the decade is a tie between MTV's "Roadies" and the same channel's "Splitsvilla". Both shows are a reflection of how mature men, TV executives, can manipulate the immature, ignorant and highly impressionable young people into thinking they can become winners in life by "being bold". This is especially true in case of "Roadies", where men in lates 20s and 30s, led by a bald man in specs, who looks straight out of a bad drawn cartoon, bullies, slaps aspirants and participants alike, on the pretext that this brings the best out of these poor kids, who are only after that free bike or at least free bike rides.


The genius psychiatrist is the modern version of the teacher in "Another Brick in The wall". So serious, I am sure he has never seen the 4 AM Army-training/Tough love in NDA. Friends, MTV is not the MTV of the 80s and 90s. The music of this decade is resurgent and good.  But, MTV is done and so over.

Churchill said, “When you find yourself in Hell, don’t stop, keep walking.” Must change channels. BTW, did you like Battlestar Galactica’s underwhelming last season?


Update: A friend read this and asked whether there was any show that One liked. Well, "Sach Ka Saamna" in 2009, the licensed copy of "Moment of Truth" is worth watching where people faced the truth of their own free will, for the catharsis offered by speaking the truth, and for some money. Last one heard, the show raised the Parliament from its stupor, the second time our elected leaders have come to the rescue of bad television this year. The next season, if it happens, can be more watchable if politicians and celebrities appeared on the show and answered the big questions. That would be the day of days, boss.

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