Thoughts on Tamil television

There is almost an invariant formula for a Tamil television serial: a catchy title song with an amateurish dance, three units of sentiment, one unit of crying (with joy or sorrow), and one unit of suspense towards the end. The formula gets repeated at least ten times a day across television channels. Where is imagination?

The schizophrenia of the production houses between producing movies and television is fascinating. Women in Tamil television come through as strong, thinking, acting characters. The woman of the movies is typically a diva in trouble dependent on the hero to be rescued. Heroes have the license to humiliate, dictate terms and harass women in a display of manliness; after all, the most enduring image of a Tamil song is that of a hero chasing the reluctant woman. The woman of the small screen is refreshingly different and stands up to herself. I wonder if this difference is due to the fact that women are the predominant viewers of television: if it is so, it is something to feel happy about. But then, I don’t even want to start speculating about the typical movie goer.

The ultimate reality thriller comes in Tamil Television. “Should I shift my job?”, asked a viewer. “Which subject should I study” asked another, all on telephone. The responses are candid and cover issues such as marriage, jobs, education, children and every big ticket item in life. The advice is based on two bits of information: name, date and the time of birth and that is all. Nothing gets spookier. It scares me no end to think that people may actually base their decisions on such major issues in life based on a computer generated advice using just their name and time of birth: but that seems to be the sad reality. Such is their popularity that every channel devotes mornings to these reality shows, “Dravidian” channels included.

The Sunday morning prime time show includes one on marriage. A listless set of people appear briefly on TV to introduce themselves and to place their demands for the bride or the groom. The standard questions including what caste they are, the occupation, will the bride be allowed to work, etc. I find it difficult to understand how anyone who is interested in marriage watches it as the route to finding a partner. What beats me completely is that people who have no interest in getting married (or getting someone married) too watch the programme. What is it that is attractive about monotonous repetition of some strangers’ caste, income and bridal preferences? I shall always be a stranger to the Tamil sensibilities.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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