Indian small screen 'thrills' with paranormal, plays up superstitions (Entertainment Feature)
New Delhi : With frequent media reports of helpless women in the hinterland being branded as witches or stigmatised for being possessed by "evil spirits" -- often resulting in their persecution and even muder -- the Indian small screen is focusing on shows that highlight the paranormal and feed on people's dark side -- despite these being called "regressive" by many.
According to reports, over a 1,000 women have been killed across the country in the past decade for "practising witchcraft".
Content on TV has been often been criticised for being regressive -- be it "Sasural Simar Ka", where the lead actress Dipika Kakar's character shape-shifted from a "daayan" (witch) to a "makkhi" (fly), or actor Nirbhay Wadhwa's character of "tantrik-turned-rakshasa" in Star Plus's show "Qayamat Ki Raat".
Talking about the fantasy thriller being tagged as regressive, Dipika told IANS: "You watch ' Game Of Thrones'... does that not come with a feel of fantasy thriller or supernatural... I think a lot of people need to accept the fact that, yes, our shows can be good too. Try watching it."
Apart from this, several shows like "Aahat", "Fear Files", "Kaun Hai?" and "Nazar" have spotlighted archaic tales about "jinns", "tantriks" (practitioners of the black arts) and witches.
Abhimanyu Singh, Founder and CEO of Contiloe Pictures told IANS that Colors' show "Kaun Hai?" is "completely fictional" and that "it does not propagate the practice of black magic or propagate blind faith".
"We are selling an experience and not a faith as storytellers, and create an experience for the audience that is beyond their cognition," Singh said.
He said the channel only wants to bring the viewer's insights into the paranormal realm and give them a thrilling experience.
As per data shared by the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC), the viewership share of horror shows on Hindi entertainment channels has gone up from 0.40 percent in 2017 to 0.60 percent in 2018.
Even across language channels, the viewership share of horror shows has gone up by 33 per cent. The top markets contributing viewership to such shows are Maharastra, Goa, Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
"Qayamat Ki Raat", which revolves around a young couple who find a way to survive an evil curse from a "tantrik-turned-rakshasa" is topping with 5.9 million impressions, while "Kaun Hai?" is second with three million impressions, the BARC India data indicated.
Karishma Tanna, lead actress of "Qayamat Ki Raat", told IANS she does not find the supernatural and fantasy genre regressive.
"I would not say it's regressive; but I would say that's the kind of shows which are entertaining the audience right now. At the end of the day, everyone is (doing) business here. Everybody is trying to entertain the masses and that's what every producer is doing," she said.
Karishma's co-actor from the show Dalljiet Kaur compared the show to "Prison Break" and "Dexter".
"I think it is just the mentality. The people who are calling it regressive are probably watching 'Prison Break' or 'Dexter'. It is okay when Hollywood people do creative things... It's okay for people in Hollywood to explore their creative limits, but in India it is all about thoughts. It is so beautiful that you can explore so much creatively," she said.
Currently on Star Plus, "Nazar" is making waves with the lead actress Monalisa's look, where she is seen sporting long nails and a serpentine ponytail for her "daayan" get-up.
An episode of "Nazar" showed witch hunting, where Monalisa's character is shunned with her hair chopped off and tied up in front of the entire village. The show's promotional campaign has involved imposing billboards with the long braid attracting attention.
In reality, witch-hunting involves the tagging of victims, especially women, as witches, after an observation made by a "witch doctor". The woman labelled as a witch is subjected to torture like burns, paraded naked, raped and tonsured to get them in control.
"As actors, our aim is to purely entertain our viewers. We do not want to portray any negative message. 'Nazar' as a show is only meant for audiences' entertainment since supernatural dramas are now in trend," Monalisa told IANS.
Actor Harsh Rajput, who plays a 'Daavansh' -- half human and half 'daayan' in "Nazar", told IANS that the show is not sending any "wrong message."
"We live in the country of stories... It is a pure work of fiction and we don't promote, neither we support any kind of superstitions," he added.
(Durga Chakravarty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )