Horror makes primetime comeback on Malayalam TV

MUMBAI: After a gap of two years, it's comeback time for ghosts and ghouls on Malayalam channels.Two years ago, the top two Malayalam channels --- Asianet and Surya, fought hard, and sometimes bitterly, to telecast shows where sobbing housewives and hateful mothers-in-law of family dramas surrendered their supremacy to bloodthirsty demons and good natured ghost-busters.

Then suddenly, everything changed. Malayalam channels decided to pull the curtains on the horror parade. Programmes were either taken off the air or ended with a hastily cooked-up climax. The "dark period" seems to be over though and it could well be happy season again for the sellers of spook stories.Asianet vice-president, programmes, Sreekantan Nair has an interesting theory to explain the sudden demise of the horror genre in Malayalam TV and why it is making a comeback:

"Kids started losing their sleep. Naturally, the parents started distancing themselves from the horror serials. The whole thing left a bad taste. The reason was that those serials started getting more and more violent. The young and the old started having nightmares regularly."

Nair points out that the increase in the number of horror serials also proved to be fatal as the quality started deteriorating. "When shows went down in ratings, advertisers started backing out," says Nair.

"It depends upon the ever-changing tastes of our audience. People were fed up with poor quality horror serials and channels didn't want to experiment in this period because they had learnt a lesson. So the tactic was to cater to the audience what they wanted and that created this lull," offers Jeevan TV public relations coordinator Jyotiraj.

Thus started boom-time again for family dramas whose never-ending plots got them the pet name - mega serials. And now, as that pet name has started acquiring negative dimensions with an ever-increasing number taking these family dramas to saturation point, Malayalam TV is witnessing the re-incarnation of the horror genre.

As as already reported, Asianet decided to enliven the genre by bringing in the differently conceptualised horror serial Kadamuttathu Kathanar (KK). Surya TV could not resist the temptation as Asianet's experiment soared on the ratings charts. Surya has just launched (last Monday) Aayilyam Kaavu, and now Malayalam TV has two horror serials at primetime.

"We want to counter KK. We had approved this subject long back and decided to launch now," reveals Surya TV general manager programming, FJ Clement.

The gap of two years is reflecting in the technical quality of both these serials. Breathtaking graphics and special effects have oozed new life into the genre. Channels too, seem to have learnt a lesson or two from past experience and are not taking the audience for granted anymore.

"We have decided to telecast just one horror serial. We have no plans to introduce more horror serials in the near future," informs Clement.

"You can't take the audience for granted. They always look for innovative programmes. There should be something new to offer. We might think of another one after KK," says Nair.

Jyotiraj feels channels are bringing the horror genre back because they want to give audience something different."Now the comeback of horror serials could be seen as a tactic to hold the audience with different programmes. These days 90 per cent of serials being aired on Malayalam TV are family serials. The comeback of horror serials could be seen as a change for something different," comments Jyotiraj.

"Run-of-the-mill mega serials are putting off audiences. They crave something different," Indiavision programme consultant A Sahadevan agrees.

"KK can't be taken as a 100 per cent horror serial. Though it has violence here and there, it has elements that attract even the kids. So the search is for something different that can cater to all the sections of the audience and the horror genre is playing a role too," explains Nair.

Asianet and Surya have categorically stated that they had no more horror serials on the anvil for the time being. Indiavision has the policy of not airing serials. Kairali TV, which was also a 'serial-less' channel, recently compromised and started airing a mega serial. Though Jeevan TV is not planning any horror serial at the moment, they are conceptualising a programme that might have all the elements of entertainment.

"We are not planning to come up with any horror serial. But we have plans bring a show or serial that would be based on a piece of literature that is widely popular. I can't disclose more details because we haven't finalised the concept yet," says Jyotiraj.

Malayalam film industry comes up with horror films at regular intervals. Has this inspired the Kerala's television industry any way? Industry sources came up with mixed theories, though they agreed that the quality of Malayalam films have always been inspirational.

For Malayalam TV, it is time to romance ghosts, but not at the cost of quality. So, the love-hate relationship will continue.

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