Small screen gets its silver sheen

When Kamal Haasan received flak for opting to host Bigg Boss Tamil, the actor defended his choice with one explanation: The show would take him to the living rooms of the people of Tamil Nadu. And that it definitely did. The first instalment of Bigg Boss Tamil percolated into the daily conversations of normal people, and proved to be a formidable alternative to the serials that constituted primetime television.

While a star anchoring a TV show wasn’t new to the Tamil industry (we had previously had Sarath Kumar hosting Kodeeswaran, and Suriya, and later Prakash Raj and Arvind Swami, hosting Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi), the success of Bigg Boss appears to have truly opened the floodgates. Several younger stars, who have now realised the potential of television, have signed up to be hosts for various kinds of shows. Actor-producer Vishal has his talk show named Naam Oruvar, that attempts to be a bridge between the haves and the have-nots; Varalaxmi Sarathkumar is hosting Unnai Arindhaal that discusses social issues; Shruti Haasan has an informal talk show named Hello Sago; and Prasanna hosts a show named Soppana Sundari — all aired on various leading television channels.

The stigma of ‘stepping down’ to television has now worn off to a great degree and the tables have turned, says Khushbu, who hosted one of the earliest successful game shows, Jackpot. Recalling the days when Amitabh Bachchan was written off when he chose to do Kaun Banega Crorepati, she says she is glad that the times are changing. “People used to think television was not for big stars. Now, it isn’t like that. Television stars enjoy the same kind of popularity as film actors. If you go to rural areas, they would get a reception similar to what a new heroine would get,” she adds.

Shruti Haasan agrees that television provides a wider range of audience. “It’s great that it’s changing! Rules are made to be broken or changed and we have to move ahead with the times. I loved the format of Hello Sago and the idea that it was based on something positive such as friendship,” says the actor, adding that it was the unscripted quality of the show that attracted her.

The unscripted nature of such shows was also one of the perks for Vishal to host Naam Oruvar. “I see this as an opportunity to be myself. The production is different; it’s new to have a talk-back mic, for example. I was so irritated with the first episode that I ended up requesting them to not interrupt even if I make mistakes.” The actor feels there shouldn’t be a disconnect between the big and small screens. “I hate it when film stars are perceived as stepping down to television. That isn’t the case. It is a different platform; that is all. You will now see more people coming in.” The reception for his show, he says, is evident from the donations he receives for the underprivileged people on his show from abroad.

If these television shows benefit stars by helping them reach a wider audience, the channels too seem to benefit in terms of the numbers such shows accrue. According to data provided Broadcast Audience Research Council, Bigg Boss 2 opened with an average impression figure of 229 lakh, significantly higher than the 215 lakh that previous shows in the same time slot had garnered. Similarly, Varalaxmi’s Unnai Arindhal opened with an average impression figure 2.15 lakh, compared to the 1.76 lakh other shows were getting in the same time slot earlier.

However, Mohan Raman, film historian and industry expert, says that the gap has not really reduced between the small and the big screens. He argues that talk shows and game shows cannot be put in the same bracket as regular TV programming. “The stigma is around serials, not talk shows. Our stars have begun to dabble in talk shows after Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and others have done it.” He further insists that this argument only applies to lead actors of the younger generation. “For character artistes, there was never a gap, to begin with. It was always a matter of convenience. The inflexible schedule that the medium demands was what proved to be a hurdle. While the older heroines are able to balance both mediums, it’s not really possible for the younger stars. Even those who start out on the small screen and transition to films, will not be able to return to the former.”

Nevertheless, he believes the distance between the mediums will reduce, not with classic television, but with the rise of digital content. “There is a good market for these ventures and since these are being made with good budgets, stars will begin to do more projects for the digital medium. That will bring the different mediums closer.”

This was first written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.

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