Fifteen years ago, when Sony launched CID, it would have been just another television show. Today, it is one of the centerpieces of the big story of our television – crime programming.
While CID is entirely fictionalized, India’s Most Wanted on Zee brought in the crime reality genre, where a crime story was told through a combination of anchor narration and dramatized reconstruction. News channels followed suit, with their own versions. Sansani on Star News (now ABP News) was a success story that even went onto inspire spoofs, both on television and in films.
There were several attempts in the fiction crime genre, such as Sony brining the cult series Karamchand back a few years ago, the more recent Adaalat on the same channel and the latest entrant on the block, Arjun on Star Plus. None of these properties have managed to achieve CID’s success. It is not easy to match iconic characters built over 15 years. Arguably even more so when they are comic-book in nature!
But the real action has happened in the crime reality genre. Crime Patrol, easily one of the best-produced shows on Indian television today, has found success that even its makers would not have imagined. A seemingly niche concept (and launched as such) has acquired mass proportions over the last few years. It is gritty. It is topical. It is even edgy. And its anchor has the job with probably the most favorable fame to effort ratio in the industry today.
Channel V runs the very popular youth property Gumraah, which also occasionally repeats on Star Plus. Life OK launched Savdhaan India, and now Colors is out with its piece in the genre, called Shaitaan. Between the four programs, crime reality is a category in itself. Of course, there are regional versions too, of which Panchnama on Star Pravah has found good appreciation amongst the audiences.
What sparked this trend? Why would shows in a genre that’s seemingly dark and not for everyone in the family work better than comedy, for example?
A part of the answer lies in news headlines. In a trend that can’t be dated back to more than 10 years ago, the proportion of crime headlines in our newspapers has gone up significantly. Print editors figured out that such stories tend to get their reader’s attention. Over time, they moved from Page 5-6 to the cover page. It is now well understood that the benefit drawn from reading such stories is more vicarious than social. But the social layer helps. It comforts the soul and convinces you that reading such a story is a good thing after all.
The argument is not very different for television. In fact, the content becomes more interesting and vicarious with visual support. The reassuring social factor gets amplified too, with an anchor sharing his pearls of wisdom at appropriate points in the episode.
What makes crime reality immensely engaging is that it offers genres within the genre. There are stories that rely purely on suspense, that is, the whodunits. Then there are those where the viewer is in on the plot right from the first scene. There are some with a gut-wrenching, emotional theme, while others that are more macro-social, covering issues such as political corruption or female foeticide in hospitals. You almost never know what to expect. The intrigue that most of our serials lack, because being predictable is first nature for them today, comes alive in crime shows.
I find the campaign for Shaitaan interesting in this context. There is no social story here. It is entirely focused on the “thrill” of the crime. The premise of a man who killed his wife and then kept her body in a refrigerator for five years managed to shock even a veteran crime show viewer like me. But you can rest assured that there will be a veneer of social sanction that the anchor Sharad Kelkar will bring into the actual show.
Crime never pays, Anoop Soni says repeatedly in Crime Patrol. Ironically, for television channels in India, it’s paying off very well!
This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’