A new channel, a new reality show and a new concept. Sunaina Kumar explores how Life OK aims to be different
ENTERTAINMENT CHANNELS, more specifically, Hindi General Entertainment Channels (GECs), try to stay as far from reality as possible, unless it is reality television, which is actually a wholly concocted version of reality, often stranger than fiction. But a new show on a new channel is set to change that. Sach Ka Saamna: Bhrashtachaar Ke Khilaaf, Sach Se Nayi Shuruat is not technically a new show, but in its second season, it has been repackaged as a show that takes into account the overwhelming anti-corruption sentiment in India. It made its debut on Life OK, the new GEC by the Star TV network.
Participants are encouraged to take the “sach ki shapath” pledge of honesty, and confess to their participation in corruption. Like the man, from a small town in north India, who rebels against his family and exposes their corruption. To the camera, he unburdens the sins of his family as the lie detector validates his honesty. The host, Rajeev Khandelwal, says that even though it’s a game show, it makes you introspect about the choices you make. “We have doctors, lawyers and people from all walks of life troubled with their conscience and choosing to confess on television. I wonder how they gather courage to do that. Is it for money? Sometimes it is, but often it is about experiments with truth,” he says.
Gaurav Banerjee, programming head, Life OK, expands on this: “Though we are an entertainment channel, we want to be part of the debate that has galvanised the country this whole year and do something about it.”
Star TV network, after ruling the cluttered Hindi GEC space for nearly a decade with Star Plus, has launched Life OK this month, and put to bed its other less successful sister channel, Star One. Though, the network refutes that the demise of one is linked with the launch of the other, in the end it comes down to TRPs. Star One, the seven-year-old channel oriented towards the urban youth, failed to garner TRPs, despite recent successes like the romcom Geet Hui Sabse Parayi and the medical drama Dill Mill Gayee. Television Measurement Audience Ratings, for January to November 2011, put Star One on No 7 amongst Hindi GECs, trailing behind Star Plus, Colors, Sony, Zee TV, Sab and Imagine TV.
The new entertainment channel, Life OK, has been so named to differentiate it from Star Plus, and to express its philosophy about appreciating life’s little moments in a society in transition. Take for example, the daily soap, Tum Dena Saath Mera, a show that delves into the lives of a young couple that comes to Mumbai from Bhopal and their struggle to make it big. Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India, says, “In the rat race that is life in India, we are trying to get ahead, fixed on a better tomorrow, and disconnected from today. We tend to celebrate success and achievement, and in that rut, we’re letting go of our traditional beliefs. Through this channel, we want to celebrate the small joys of life, that make life okay.”
The Hindi GEC space, which commands nearly 40 percent of the total TV viewership in India, has become increasingly competitive in the past couple of years, with an overcrowding of channels offering much of the same content to the estimated 150 million viewers of Hindi television. Hindi GECs, with their set of loyal viewers who tune in to the daily soaps, are the most lucrative for advertisers and claim the largest portion of the total advertising revenue at 30 percent. With more players vying for the same audience base, there has been a decline in the segment, the main beneficiaries of which have been regional and Hindi movie channels. And they have consolidated their TRPs and eaten into a significant share of advertising dedicated to the entertainment channels. In the dog-eat-dog world of Hindi entertainment, reinvention is the only option. Life OK is looking to differentiate itself from other GECs. The most obvious difference is in scheduling, as the channel airs three shows in one hour for 20 minutes each. All shows will air seven days a week, against the general norm of separate weekday and weekend programming, as TRPs tend to drop for the weekend programmes. With a seven-day package, the channel hopes to keep the audience hooked through the week.
The new channel is also hoping to cash in on India’s newest NRI returnee and popular screen idol Madhuri Dixit. Madhuri, as the face of the channel, will constantly interact with the audience through the different shows and provide a context to the story. “Through our narration and intent, we want to stand out. Yet, the audience base for the channel is universal. It is not aimed at housewives of a certain age group, or any specific target audience. It is television for everyone,” says Ajit Thakur, general manager, Life OK.
This ‘massification’ has worked well for Star’s flagship channel Star Plus, so far. While other GECs have made niche appeal their strength — Sony caters modern content, Colors explores social issues, Sab TV does family comedies — Star continues to experiment with multiple formats and cater to a wide mass of audience. Divya Radhakrishnan, media buyer and founder of media company Helios Media, says, “India already has more than 500 channels, and the next six months will see the launch of more than 100 channels. With many households having multiple TV sets, entertainment needs to become niche, just like cricket, which has divided itself into three categories — Test cricket, ODIs and T20. In the days to come, we will see niches getting further defined in Hindi entertainment.”
Participants are encouraged to take the ‘sach ki shapath’ and confess to their participation in corruption
Life OK’s agenda is entertainment for all, but will it work the way Star Plus has, is a question that will be answered only after a few months as the audience gets attuned to a new channel. The focus of the fiction shows on the channel is on gritty reality, and everyday issues and challenges of the middle class. Saubhagyawati Bhavah, a daily soap, tackles domestic violence through the story of a woman in an ideal marriage whose rich and good-looking husband harbours extreme possessiveness and jealousy. Sapno Ke Bhanwar Mein, the story of a young girl from Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh, who moves to Bhopal and gets enmeshed in the quagmire of power and politics, may be inspired by the Madhumita Shukla case, but could have been the story of any young girl with stars in her eyes. The channel’s strategy is in keeping with the recent shift in Indian TV towards more relatable shows, after beating to death the saas-bahu formula and soaps exploring social issues.
And even as Life OK seeks to break the mould, it toes the line with its primetime show,Devon Ke Dev Mahadev, proving that mythology is the one way of reassuring the Indian audience that life is okay.
Sunaina Kumar is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com.