July 21, 2008. New Hindi GEC ‘Colors’ launched, with much of its hype centered around Akshay Kumar starrer Khatron Ke Khiladi. In the next few weeks, the channel turned out to the one of the most fantastic success stories of Indian television. At the heart of this success story was not Akshay Kumar, but a sprightly little girl called Anandi, and her show Balika Vadhu. A show that completes 1,000 episodes today. A show that changed so much on Indian television that you can also make a show on its impact itself!
Balika Vadhu has been extremely special to me. Ormax Media was founded on July 28, 2008, a week after Colors launched. Most of our early projects centered around Hindi GECs, where understanding audience habits & preferences related to serials accounted for about 90% of our work. During this period, we could not escape Balika Vadhu, even if we wanted to. No matter which channel we did a research for, we ended up discovering Balika Vadhu in the progress. After a point, our understanding of the program was so deep and wholesome, I almost felt I knew more about it than the channel and the production house itself.
Personally too, I was enamored by the show. Till then, daily serials had a certain “low-life” feel to them, in my mind. With Balika Vadhu, this perception took new shape and form altogether. The characters were real. The situations were unfamiliar yet believable. The visual authenticity stood out. The serial was so, for the lack of a better word, charismatic.
Balika Vadhu can take the credit for several trends it has set over the last 200 weeks. Social issues, now milked to near-death across GECs, came into the forefront after Balika Vadhu succeeded. The serial’s success also meant that stories moved out of living rooms and kitchens to various parts of India. Soon, we had “UP wala serial” and “Bihar wala serial” being used to described serials. A trend started by “Anandi wala serial”.
Those who aren’t closely associated with GECs with struggle to appreciate this, but Balika Vadhu infused the “seekh” element into the life of the GEC viewer in a more heightened manner than ever before. It was about hope and positivity, about being an enabler of change in the society at large, about being a guide and a teacher to its viewers.
Notice how most of my post has been written in the past tense. Yes, at some point, I began to lose touch with the serial. Once Anandi grew up and the actor changed, it took me a while, like most viewers, to reorient myself to this change. I have to say my loyal viewing days of the serial are now behind me.
But here’s the thing. Every now and then, I sample it. And whenever I do that, I know that the purity has remained completely in tact. There is no adulteration. For example, Balika Vadhu will never use a Hindi film song in its background. The slogans in the end are still powerful and well-written. Anoop Soni and Surekha Sikri remain these great actors who have become the part, over years of playing the part. I may not be a loyalist any more, but I’m a fan for life anyway.
I’m going to be glued to the TV screen tonight to watch the 1000th episode of the oldest running daily show on Hindi GECs (a week older than Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah). I’m rooting for Anandi as she gets set to meet a new guy in her life. And like all special episodes, I know they will play the magical title track at the start.
Once a fanboy, always a fanboy.