This kind of ‘murderous rage’ is hardly new to any self-respecting South Indian cinema goer’s ear; an ear that is pickled from childhood in many forms of ‘pa pa pa paan’ percussions brought to life on screen by heroes who have fine-tuned the art of knotting the dhoti and breaking into a jig at the precise moment when the nadaswara strain is overtaken by the skin drum. Which is probably why many of this particular species are wondering more than singing ‘why this Kolaveri Di’.

Make no mistake.  The song is a rage down south as much as it is in Japan and Pakistan and its mind-numbing success has meant that many South Indians, especially Tamilians, will brook no criticism about the song anymore, whatever misgivings they might have had about it earlier. Pride, you see. But there is undeniable puzzlement at the extent of frenzy it has generated. This jaw drop is often accompanied by the wry smile of the underdog – it is as if the aforementioned self-respecting chap always knew that one day, the world would wake up to the joys of Dravidian rhythms. It seems like Dhanush himself can relate to this feeling. At a recent do, embarrassed by the adulation, he pleaded with the world to treat ‘Kolaveri’ as ‘just another silly, small song that you listen to and forget about’. That is often the sentiment reflected in blogs and status updates of south Indians who are questioning its runaway success. ‘You come here and we will make you hear better ones’ is essentially what they are saying. Precisely why, most of them openly laughed at Javed Akhtar’s derision. (Akhtar compared liking the song to praising the robes of the naked emperor). They knew he simply ‘didn’t get it’.

What clicks, clicks. Fuming about its quality is a futile exercise and most south Indians have a healthy respect for the mysteries that lie behind sensations. After all, they have grown up on films that routinely defy logic but appeal greatly. The snorts and titters that you hear from down south are directed more towards the addicted rather than the addiction.

Published in the February 2012 issue of Avantika, a magazine on the world of performing arts.
Find the magazine's website here

A day after Diwali, some breathless teenagers, equally breathless homemakers (along with their husbands quite resigned to their fate), and a considerable number of working women, breathless again, waited just like Khushi, her breath locked in her throat, for the kiss that never came. Her passionate adversary, Arnav, came tantalisingly close but lost his nerve at the last moment. If somebody had bothered to listen, they would have heard many elaborate sighs and ‘awwws’ that night.

What they were all watching, some on the telly, some on their phone (serious!) and many on YouTube was no Shah Rukh Khan starrer but a Star Plus soap. Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, a sizzling love story in the established tradition of Mills & Boon novels, narrates the love-hate relationship of a hot-looking angry tycoon with a dark past and a beautiful, sassy heroine from the hinterlands who has the temerity to stand up to his domineering ways.

The soap has caught the imagination of a whole new generation of telly soap watchers, so much so that some YouTube videos of scenes from the daily serial have notched up views of more than a lakh and busy executives are sneaking out time to provide live updates of the serial on online
forums to those who cannot watch it at the appointed hour!

Gone are the days when those younger than 40 used to snigger at Hindi television soaps and talk disdainfully about ‘those serials’ full of kitchen politics and saas-bahu bickering. It seems Hindi television entertainment, which was fast losing its way just a few years ago, appealed to Cupid for help. The plea apparently hasn’t been in vain and the cherub’s arrow has found its mark. A random Google search of Iss Pyaar Ko throws up many forums where people are eagerly discussing the story, earnestly analysing the symbolisms depicted in it, writing their own fiction and arguing passionately about its inconsistencies. And this is not an isolated case. In fact, it looks like Cupid went on an overdrive.

Love abounds on television at primetime. Star Plus, with a clear understanding of the needs of its women audience and flawless marketing, leads the brigade with four love stories on air at last count. If Iss Pyaar Ko works because of the undeniable chemistry of the lead pair, there is Diya Aur Bati Hum, where shy, old-world love is blooming between a halwai husband and his ambitious wife — he is ‘panchvi-pass’ and she is dreaming of becoming an IPS officer.

The third is another new serial, Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behena Hain, which despite its yawn-inducing title, is actually a story of two chalk-and-cheese sisters falling for two brothers. The fourth, Navya, is a straightforward college caper.

Sony is snapping at Star Plus’s heels with its own bombaat love stories. Bade Acche Lagte Hain from the Ekta Kapoor stable (yes, she too has abandoned saas-bahus) is a funny, warm and mature love story between a couple in their early ‘40s. A bona fide love story of a middle-aged couple is a remarkable step forward for Indian television and the show’s popularity is a sure-fire indicator of what its changing audience are demanding to see.

Sony’s second offering, Kuch Toh Log Kahenge, is a remake of the once hugely popular Pakistani drama, Dhoop Kinare, whose video cassettes were hot property in India in the 1990s. The Pakistani drama was a delicate narration of the inevitable pull of love between an older man and a younger woman and was an absolute delight to watch.

Kuch Toh has been unable to match up to the original but for those who haven’t seen the Pakistani
version, the soap is good timepass. Undoubtedly, all these serials come with excellent production values, decent acting and good looking faces. But, what’s really ticking is their determination not to ape each other. Each soap has its own USP and is working hard at maintaining it. This is a far cry from the days when every serial wanted to look and feel like a Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi or a Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki.

Love on the small screen is working big time also because the audience is being transported every night to a gentler era where adoration is about ardent eye-locks, stolen glances, accidental touches and timid courtship — providing relief from the unarticulated nausea on the big screen, induced by brash Munnis, high-strung Sheilas, in-your-face Chamelis and bodyguards who wobble muscles to express their ardour.

Unfortunately, Colors seems to be still stuck in a time warp with truly regressive serials and bizarre storylines — the kind that Ripley will be proud to showcase. Its long-running yawn, Uttaran, for instance, has seen so many affairs and husband switches that even its silver-haired matron is not keeping count anymore. The other day, I caught a teaser of a serial that promised to reveal why the colour of the heroine’s sindhoor would change her destiny. A round of barf bags to everyone please!

But light seem to have dawned on the creative directors of Colors as well, at least going by their latest, Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha. As the teaser reveals, a man in his mid-20s, fumbling with his phone and heaving his luggage, knocks at the door of a quaint house. The door is opened by two kids who call for their mother to attend to the guest. A calm woman with a gentle look of enquiry comes to the door, the portrait of her dead husband clearly visible behind her. The youngster fumbles a bit more while the single mother of two grows calmer. Cupid is obviously in no mood to rest.

Published in Deccan Herald on 05.02.2012. Find it here
A still from the soap Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon on Star Plus.