Having watched nearly a hundred Bengali language serials produced by Indian studios, I’ve become quite accustomed to the sheer ridiculousness and trope filled chaos that occurs in these shows. Like telenovelas, there’s no lack of love triangles, scheming villains, murder, thieving, face swaps, amnesia, and the list goes on forever.
However with the COVID related shutdown and filming just returning to normal in late July, Indian serials of all languages have shifted considerably.
For example, pre-COVID there were six or seven Bengali language channels for people to view in Kolkata and elsewhere. Of those, Star Jalsha, Zee Bangla, Colors Bangla, and Sun Bangla were the four most viewed networks with the first two constantly competing for the highest rank.
Unfortunately during the shutdown, the studios working with Colors Bangla were told their scripted series were no longer needed and Colors Bangla has finalized its shift into re-airing content or airing dubbed serials from other language networks. Zee Bangla too canceled a show partly due to its low airings and because it required more than the allowed 30 people on set per India’s COVID rules. Most of the leads from Colors Bangla’s four scripted series have found new homes as side leads or are leading their own shows now.
While Sun Bangla has continued apace with their current offerings having only launched in February 2019, Star and Zee have used COVID as a way to accelerate the endings of multiple shows regardless of genre and launched a handful new ones.
This is notable because in the six years that I’ve been watching these shows lasting longer than three years is now the pipe-dream. In the past shows were allowed to meander to an end three years in, but with ratings continuing to drop as viewers of all ages switch to other offerings, all the networks began to cut serials even before they reached a natural mid-point in the story. The early cancellations would lead to hastily wrapped up plot lines since each episode is filmed about a week to two weeks prior to airing.
In fact earlier this month Star Jalsha ended its second longest show Irabotir Chupkotha at 595 episodes just 24 days short of hitting two years on the air. On the other hand, their longest running show Ke Apon Ke Por reached its four year mark on July 25th.
Amazingly whereas KAKP is your quintessential village girl marries rich guy (but then becomes a lawyer due to time jumps) meets every trope in the book serial, Zee Bangla’s longest running series is the historical drama based on Rani Rashmoni, famous for clashing with the British and pushing for women’s rights in the 1800s.
Serial Studios and Stories
Clearly the audiences like variety in their lives, even if the common refrain on the networks’ social media is that people are tired of the love triangles. Like broadcast series on American TV, a handful of studios produce all 30 something serials on Star Jalsha, Zee Bangla, and Sun Bangla. Even more similarly, there’s one or two major producers who work across all the studios, and one of then affectionately known as Leena Di loves herself a love triangle.
Unlike American soaps, Bengali serials have the same hundred actors across all their shows so one woman might play a sister-in-law on three shows, while one actor may be the dad character on four!
Still due to COVID filming regulations which include not having more than six people in one scene (though it definitely looks like that’s been flouted for episode promos, see below) and no children under the age of ten, the shows have had to do time jumps and strategically place their actors when filming entire families in one scene. Considering one of the new series has twenty some people, I’m not sure the rules are truly being followed.
Where actors test positive for COVID (which has already occurred with eight actors), they’ve had to film from home which results in some hilarious editing.
Then of course there’s the romantic scenes to tackle. Bengali serials don’t do much by way of physical touch except a hug here or there anyways, but that’s no longer allowed either. Instead, the really hardcore eye contact with sweeping music from Bollywood movies has intensified or everyone’s favorite fade to black is utilized.
I’ll take that over the blow-up doll approach American soaps are using.
Still, the networks are also using COVID as a way to experiment a bit more with some of their new shows, ostensibly leaving out the love triangle aspect with one series following a Deaf girl who wants to become a pilot even if there’s still other drama. Hopefully more inventive series will follow as currently airing series end around the three hundred episode mark.
Images courtesy of Star Jalsha