Remote Control by Shoma Munshi – Book Review
Indian Television industry is probably the most under studied phenomenon. Its perception of just entertainment fails to make the common person look at it as a sheer business. The impact it has created and the potential it has to make the impact on a scale cannot be compared with any other phenomenon. Think of it, how many hours do you spend on your Television screen. Is there anything else you spend so much time with, voluntarily. This is the key, the time consumers spend with TV is absolutely out of choice. There is no need for anyone to watch a program unless they want to.The author of Remote Control is set out to document or chronicle the TV industry. And TV content in particular in India in the first decade of 21st CE.
She has earlier written a book on the soap operas in India. And does seem to have interesting opinions in that space. A space that is well occupied by a large chunk of women viewers. And somehow never gets its due either as a business or as an insight into the consumption of the content by its audience.
Author talks about the three main genres of content on TV today – News, Reality shows, Fiction or soap operas. She takes TAM data as the base to look the success rates of various programs. There is a documentation of all popular programs. The opening TRPs, best ever TRPs and the average TRPs. This is a chronicle of all possible TV programs that happened over a period of time, people behind them, what they had in mind when the program was launched. How it was received etc. She talks about the Indianization of foreign formats that were brought to India. And how they eventually established an identity of their own. Localization of something that worked elsewhere is a key concept is adopting otherwise there will be a cultural disconnect.
Remote Control is a very academic book. Primarily usable to the TV industry professionals. But then would they not know all of this? As it is a mere collation of primary data and little analysis. There is a hell lot of repetition. So you would have to read the same description for a show many times over. Especially the Soap Operas that she loves to talk about. In fact, that is where she has made some analysis of how the themes have moved from Saas Bahu to social issues. And the acceptance of strong female characters.
One interesting fact that she shares right in the beginning of the book is that women as in female actors get paid at par with male actors in the TV industry. While in films they get paid way lesser than them. Now we know that women get paid less across the board in most industries. Even in the corporate world where equal opportunity is screamed at top of the voice. This makes it a very important data point in terms of establishing equality or acknowledging that it is the female actors who are driving the shows. She briefly touches the subject of children working in TV. Especially young teenage girls playing complex and mature roles. And the precautions that the production houses have to take while making children work. This was particularly relevant for the reality shows that can put a lot of pressure of all kinds on the participants.
At the same time, she highlights talents that have been discovered by the TV reality shows. And how it provides platforms for the common person as well as the industry. Having said that we have read and debated most of these issues sometime somewhere. And I do not see any new angles being presented. Like academic publications, both the data and the point are repeated again and again, sometimes to the extent of getting irritating. If I had read e-book, I would have told you how many times she mentioned ‘Saat Phere’. Some chapters almost seem to be co-written by Santosh Desai. He is quoted so heavily in the book along with few others that you keep waiting when the author would share her own views.
I do not see a point in reading this book Remote Control for pleasure. To me, it sounded like a reference book. It can be useful for those who need the information about Indian Television content at one place. About 70 pages of appendix carry crisp information about the TV industry, right from the listing of channels to their market share by region and language.