You would normally not associate positive emotions with the word ‘noise’. It’s generally assumed and accepted that noise is bad. In context of television too, the media has propagated this notion for a while now. But there is very little real evidence to accept this belief. In fact, there is telling evidence to the contrary.
For many of us, the first association with noise on Indian television would be Arnab Goswami. His rival channels even start their bulletins (the 10pm news on NDTV, for example) with the line ‘where you get news, not noise’. Yet, the high viewership of Arnab’s show speaks for itself. In the noise and the cacophony lies a sense of power the viewer feels. When you see the privileged political class being put in the docks and spoken to like they are criminals (words like hypocrite and hooligan are routinely used by Arnab to describe his guests), you feel empowered by proxy. And that would be impossible without the noise.
Gauhar Khan is by far the most popular contestant on Bigg Boss 7 (Source: Ormax Characters India Loves). But she’s not someone who will die wondering. She’s out there, raising her voice, which gets rather shrill at times, at the slightest excuse. But like Arnab, her ‘noise’ comes from her conviction. And conviction is an unequivocal sign of strength. One of the top-rated shows on television for the last five years is what you would classically label ‘a loud comedy’. Yet, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, with all its executional hyperbole, continues to enthrall audiences, especially in Western India. I haven’t seen anyone who even remotely resembles the serial’s female lead Daya in mannerisms and talking style. A relatively moderate husband (Jethalal) provides a good contrast and the couple has been the most popular ‘jodi’ Indian television for a while now.
There are many other examples across genres where one can sense that the mellow and the soothing is finding it hard to seek attention, while the noisy and the high-pitch manages to get viewership and media talk. One of the biggest successes of this year, Comedy Nights With Kapil, is a fairly loud show itself, even though it incredibly manages to keep its aesthetics consistently in place despite the noise. And the consistent performance of slapstick comedies and dubbed South action films on Hindi movie channels further propels the noise-works theory.
Sometime earlier this year, I made the mental shift to accept that on Indian television, ‘noise’ and ‘loud’ are not undesirable, negative terms. Here, the viewer equivalent of what the US audiences will call ‘noise’ is ‘over’ (as in, “bahut over dikhaya hai”). ‘Over’ stands for over-acting or screenplay exaggeration. But ‘noise’, when not ‘over’, is perfectly desirable.
In several discussions within the industry on this topic in recent years, the most interesting reason on why this should be the case goes as follows. There are more than 100 channels on an average consumer’s TV today. Even though she may watch only 8-10 of them regularly, the idea of multiple channels is still intimidating to the Indian audiences. So, the ‘surfing experience’ is still a stressful one, whereby the viewer is trying to come to terms with the plethora of choice available to her, often not knowing where to stop. With the number of channels on a perpetual increase, this intimidation is not going away anytime soon.
In this context, in a ‘surfing’ scenario, a channel gets only about 5-10 seconds window to ‘attract’ the undecided viewer. This is where ‘noise’ comes in. It’s like a sales pitch or the good old Aussie art of ‘spruiking’, whereby you sell through showmanship of speech. There may be other reasons too, but ‘noise’ is in for sure. Let the drum rolls begin!
This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’