When TV shows went off track

A lot has changed in the world of Hindi television series since the mid-1980s when the first lot including ‘Hum Log’, ‘Buniyad’ etc. began to air on Doordarshan, the state-run broadcasting channel. Television serials were an instant hit in India with people thronging their tv sets across the country to follow the lives, trials and tribulations of their favourite tv show characters. Eventually there were light hearted shows as well along with some comedies, suspense thrillers, horror shows and many other genres.

With time the plotlines, content, subject matter, themes and aesthetics, in other words everything associated with television series has changed including the title track. For tv serial watchers of today, the concept of title track may be alien. Hindi tv shows on most major channels nowadays start one after another with a slender break separating them with a statutory warning in between and nothing more. As one show ends another begins with so little space in between that for an uninitiated viewer it could be confusing if the two shows are in fact two separate ones.
Title tracks at the beginning and the end of the shows were an integral component of television serials of the yore. The initial music of the title track signalled the beginning of the show and also the excitement for the viewers to catch up with their daily stories while the ending music either brought disappointment or anticipation for the next episode. The opening credit visuals also featured either creative graphics or clips from the show or brief shots of the actors. Some were instrumental pieces and others were complete songs, often quite catchy and sometimes very meaningful especially those penned by Gulzar.
But these title tracks were more than just bookends to the tv shows. Unlike movie title tracks with opening credits, these tracks were not a one-time deal. They were the pre-cursor to the show every time it aired. The sombre tracks for the serious dramas, peppy songs for the more mellow ones, occasional philosophical ones for the really profound ones used to set the tone for the next half or one hour.
It was not often that the title tracks narrated the story of the show. They mostly denoted the mood of the show and occasionally its theme. But even so the tracks had an important role to play. As the viewers began watching a show, they associated its story, theme, plot and even actors first and foremost with its title track and with its repeated playing with every episode the link got forged even stronger. Thus for instance if someone was watching ‘Saans’ which aired on Star Plus, the song “Saansein Sadaa” written by Gulzar and sung by Jagjit Singh reminded them of the love triangle that was the main plot of the series. Similarly the instrumental track of ‘Shaanti’ one of the longest running daily soap on Doordarshan and Indian television history was a reminder of the strained relationship between the daughter and her estranged father, the central plot of the show. Another doordarshan classic, ‘Neem Ka Ped’ would start with the song “Moonh ki Baat” again written by Gulzar and sung by Jagjit Singh, and story of Budhhiya would resonate with it.
With time as the shows progressed they followed two paths. Either they ran their course with stories reaching their logical conclusions and winded up nicely or they stretched out way too much with shows losing their plots, sense and direction and sometimes their viewership as well. The problem arose in the latter scenario. The title tracks in most cases remained the same and so did the identification of the show’s idea with it. But as the story, plot and theme of the show lost its way, the track rather than a reminder for the show’s content became a reminder of its lostness. In many cases the shows changed so drastically that the track almost became a eulogy for the original version, reminding the viewers of what was and how it came to be.
The ingenuity of Indian tv series makers as it was, they found a solution to this predicament as well. Many shows such as Star Plus’s “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” and Sony’s “Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi” changed their entire title track altogether, completely eschewing references to the original format, plot and theme and sort of starting afresh right in the middle of the long course of the show’s life. At this juncture tv shows were no longer telling a story but rather filling a space in television media ripe with opportunity for advertisements and promotions. That is to say as the story of tv serials became unimportant so did their title tracks.
Title tracks thus, in a sense, were akin to rail tracks for these shows. As shows became too long and deviated from their plot, their title tracks only reminded the viewers that the shows have gone off track too. With time as the tracks disappeared the concern with maintaining consistency of the story also vanished.  Tv shows no longer fulfil the need of storytelling. They have become mere modes of passing time with mind numbing over the top audio-visual aesthetics and cliched and repetitive stories. Most shows begin with an idea which is to be sold to the viewers. But the story or rather subject matter of the show needs to be open ended so that the series can be manoeuvred in whichever direction it bodes well for longevity of the show.
To keep anything directionless and open ended it becomes essential to remove all reminders from public memory of what was promised. That’s why title tracks became a casualty as tv shows got derailed and went off of their tracks.


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