TV Wala Romance… Err… Love!

India “celebrated” a largely incident-free Valentine’s Day this year. In the past, Feb 14 has managed to irk the moral police, who have objected to V-Day on account of its foreign origin, as well as for the public display of affection that comes with it.

But despite (or probably aided by) the protests over years, Valentine’s Day has found its way into the mainstream in India.  For example, over the last three years, box office collections on V-Day increase by around 20%, despite it being a non-holiday weekday. Every year at this time, social media is abuzz with V-Day content, ranging from outright mushy to outright hilarious.

I scanned the telly last night to see if there was any V-Day content being offered. There wasn’t much that I could find. The odd reference or two was strictly in the passing, with no real content being woven around it. Even the most “romantic” serials on television didn’t acknowledge the day.

Contrast this to how television celebrates other special days or festivals. Karva Chauth gets extended coverage in many serials, with high points built around the festival lasting a month at times. In January, at least six serials celebrated Lohri, essentially a Punjabi festival, with such enthusiasm you would have been excused for assuming Lohri is India’s Christmas.

However, when it comes to “love”, the response is muted. Our cinema, targeting the college audiences as a primary segment, lapped up the V-Day opportunity many years ago. Yash Chopra filmed an entire song (Pyaar kar) in Dil To Pagal Hai in a V-Day situation back in 1997. But in television, there is little place for the young audiences. It’s ‘family wala pyaar’ that works in prime time, and V-Day doesn’t fit that box very well.

About four years ago, while researching several show concepts for television, I encountered the nuances of the romance genre on television. It started with the genre name itself. The word “romantic” generally inspired giggles in consumer groups, while “love story” was spoken of as a matter of fact.

Over time, it became apparent to me that “romantic” in India has a definite sexual connotation attached to it. It suggests physicality of love – hugging or holding hands in public, kissing and making-out. “Love”, on the other hand, is clean and pure. It is about an emotion attached to a person and a relationship. It is also about adjusting and sacrifice. Hence, two clear sub-genres exist: Romantic and love-story.

Several serials on leading GECs have addressed the love-story genre successfully over years. However, there have been only a few, sporadic attempts at offering romance in prime time. Star One was the flag-bearer of this genre, and that positioning proved limiting for the channel over time.

Housewives, a core constituent of the TV puzzle, are quite dismissive of romance as such, often branding it “outdoor wali love story”. But give them a Ram-Priya, Archana-Maanav or Sandhya-Suraj, and they are at home, literally, with the real thing: the familiar “indoor wali love story”.

Yes, the indoor love stories too get physical, but that’s a rare highpoint in them, than a routine. Back in 2011,about six serials were running in the ‘married but not consummated yet’ stage simultaneously!

We may as well leave the romance to the movies. The home-made love stories are doing just fine.

This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’

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About Shailesh Kapoor

Founder & CEO - Ormax Media. Film Lover. Media Insights Detective. Budding Author. Lifelong Student.
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