Horror and supernatural shows aren’t a novelty for Indian television viewers. The history of horror genre can be traced way back to 1993, when Zee TV launched Ramsay Brothers’ Zee Horror Show and then Sony brought to its audiences Aahat for the very first time in 1996, which thus far is considered as the longest-running horror show on Indian television today. Those were the days of gory scenes and typically white saree-clad women as ghosts.
Later, came X-Zone (Zee TV – 1998) and Ssshhhh..koi hai (Star One – 2001) which were thriller horror series. Each one of these shows captivated their audiences and ran longer than three successful years.
The next success in the genre was in 2009, (prior to Fear Files) when Colors launched Balaji Telefilms’ Koi Ane Ko Hai. The show based on paranormal activities got above-average numbers but sadly wound up within six months flat.
Two years after Sony’s Aahat got a bitter taste of failure in its last season (in 2010), Zee dared to launch Fear Files and not only attracted its viewers with magnetic force, but also prompted the other GECs to follow suit. After a monotonous series of show launches in this genre in the 1990s and early 2000s, the genre was in limbo and the ghosts ceased to frighten people, till Zee TV opened its real files in 2012.
Zee launched a show based on real-life incidents around paranormal and supernatural activities christened – Fear Files: Darr Ki Sacchi Tasviren and it was heartening that it did so well.
A year later (2013), SET too thought of jumping on the bandwagon with Bhoot Aya, but failed to grab eyeballs like Aahat did. Again, in the same year, Star Plus’s flanking channel, Life OK too experimented with a series titled Ringa Ringa Roses, but failed to attract the audiences.
SET is once again ready to keep its audiences spell-bound, with nerve-racking, sleepless nights with the sixth season of Aahat. After a gap of four long years, it is set to make a comeback this January. According to a source from the channel, the move is to rake in some healthy numbers on the ratings chart and is a question of the survival of the fittest in this space.
It has formerly run five successful seasons from October 1995 right up to November 2010. The series is produced by B.P. Singh and Pradeep Upoor’s Fireworks Productions. Notably, the acclaimed writer Sridhar Raghavan, who penned the spine-chilling, horror stories for the initial 300 episodes of Aahat will again be back on the show as writer. Raghavan has also written for Fireworks Productions’ long-running Sony TV show, CID.
Media experts believe that to recapture its viewership, it has to further re-invent itself: “Four years ago, the show was definitely successful for its time, but today, a lot of enhancements have taken place in the space, where it has to be much more appealing for audiences to start lapping it up once again,” says Lodestar UM Vice-President Deepak Netram.
Channels today are investing huge sums of money in the pre-production (research and casting) and production process to crack the code of a successful show. And yet, things go for a toss for Sony. Why is that so?
A media analyst states two key reasons for the channel struggling at the bottom of the chart. One, the channel relies too much on the single-point tent pole and big properties like KBC and Indian Idol for them to be able to garner the numbers. “They are finite. They don’t last forever. So the minute they go off-air there is a significant drop.”
Second, not having the foresight to look towards the future. “Channels like Star Plus and Colors are doing it from time to time. That kind of movement is very important. You can’t be stuck and do only crime, thrillers or horror,” adds the media analyst.
He further gives the example of Bade Ache Lagte Hai, which did pretty well in the initial stages, but later on lost a chunk of its viewers. “Doing too much of the same monotonous thing is not always the answer. Therefore, one needs to keep re-inventing in this space. If you are only going to tune into the metros and cater more to the males, the viewership pie will shrink.”
According to Madison COO, Karthik Lakshminarayan, Sony is going back to its tried and tested formula. “It is a very good strategy in itself by doing something which has worked wonders for the channel in the past. I don’t know whether viewers will accept the Aahat of old again. It depends on what time slot it is put on and other factors. Potentially, it can do well and it might also help the channel to regain its lost numbers.”
Shifting its agenda from a male-dominated channel to cater to family audiences was the biggest blunder that the channel committed, believe media experts. “Sony is considered to have male- focused content with a slight edge. From there it tried to change and be like any other GEC with their usual soap operas and that is something a Sony viewer will not accept. Going back to where they were is possibly the best thing for them at this point.”
On similar lines, Netram believes that it has to be a relevant mix of programmes and just can’t be singular or limited genre within the GEC space. He feels that if a channel has too much of a dose of crime and horror, it has its own set of disadvantages. It may get additional male audiences on-board, but might lose out on the female viewership.
Will Aahat make a successful comeback and be a resounding success? That is a million dollar question comparable to every Friday’s opening weekend’s successful release. “I don’t think so; if it repeats the same level and quality of programming that it was earlier doing. It would be unacceptable to see a similar quality of production that viewers saw four years ago. A sea of change would have to emerge and a channel cannot survive by the lineage of the earlier show. Now everybody is doing horror; why should one be stuck to one channel and not look at the others is a big question,” signs off an anonymous media planner.