Mass entertainers, do-gooders?

And all they want is world peace? The ‘beauty pageant‘ simile is not too far stretched if one accepts the criticism hurled at the "cosmetic nature" of the efforts mass entertainers engage in when "doing their bit" for poses some questions to the channels to ascertain whether the cut-throat entertainment television business really does allow for a kinder, gentlar side to surface.

Maybe it was a more a bid to plug new premiere title, but Zee Cinema‘s on ground event to celebrate children‘s week wasn‘t just your usual promotional splash. The channel organized a week long festival, inviting street kids for a variety of games and contests and the grand prize included a chance to interact with Tarzan - the Wonder Car‘s young leads Ayesha Takia and Vatsal Seth.

It is a ‘do-good‘ terrain that Sony is quite familiar with. Just recently, Sony along with their client Colgate, organised a songwriting contest on the occasion of Oral Health Month. The channel used the show Hum 2 Hain Na as a platform to create awareness among kids to send in their entries.

Conducted in over 210 schools, the programme was meant to be a direct school contact through fun-filled activities for the kids. Javed Akhtar, who penned the lyrics for the ‘Spread A Smile‘ song captured the essence of 36 chosen entries. The song, reciting the importance of dental hygiene and how it can improve one‘s life, was transformed into a music video and aired on both Sony and Max.

Prior to this toothy venture, Sony had also been associated with select causes and coming up with inventories to promote public awareness about certain issues.

"As a socially responsible corporate, we have associated with various social initiatives. But we are not aligned with any particular organizations," offers SET‘s executive VP Sunil Lulla. Loathe to offer financial details, Lulla said the channel‘s social initiatives were more or less driven by the on-air promotions.

The public service initiatives are generally divided into two arenas, occasion driven and generic. "We often conceptualise, in association with our clients like P&G, public messages during festive times and to create awareness about hygiene, Aids, child abuse. Just recently, we launched one with P&G about primary education - the Shiksha initiative," Lulla added.

The leader of the pack, Star Plus points to the overall management objective being to give back to society and they hand pick initiatives and find funding to do it.

When quizzed about its efforts, a Star Plus spokesperson offered, "We have constantly used our shows to educate viewers, like one where the leading ladies of (Plus‘ flagship show) Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhie Bahu thi, Tulsi and Baa, tell audiences how ORS should be administered to babies. The same was done this year in Sanjivani at the time of World ORS Day, where the story had an important segment where the viewers were told about the importance and timely use of ORS to babies.

Although not as public as Sony‘s social initiatives with Cry and Akansha in its shows like Meri Biwi Wonderful and Boogie Woogie, Star Plus had recently organised a fund-raiser for underprivileged children on its show Kyun Hota Hai Pyarrr. That apart, the spokesperson pointed out that in soaps like Kumkum, Kabhi Aaye Na Judai, Sonpari, Karishma Ka Karishma, some episodes were focused on educating underprivileged children and the girl child. These messages are very intricately woven into the storyline.

Earlier this year, Star Plus had organised a signature campaign (message to the brave men) to promote their Air Force-based show Saara Akaash. For each message Star India contributed Rs 1, which was collected and given to the Air Force Officers‘ Wives Welfare Association.

But the on air initiative apart, Star Plus‘ corporate social responsibility initiatives as a part if the network include academic partnership initatives. A set of scholarship programmes initiated this academic year with two institutes engaged in Media education --- Indian Institute of Mass Communication and AJK Institute of Mass Communication. The network is looking at extending it to MICA and the Pune Film Institute too in the next year.

The channel selects two students per institute on the basis of a competitive examination and an interview for this scholarship programme. The selected students are paid a monthly stipend of Rs 5,000/ - in addition to reimbursement of expenses like fees, books and periodicals etc. On completion of the programme, the students are offered a one year internship at Star.

As a part of its cultural social responsibility, Star Plus in a bid to protect and promote cultural heritage, sponsors Classical Music and Dance concerts by eminent musicians. The third initiative is donation of air time for Public Service Announcements. "We endeavour to donate up to one minute of commercial time for every hour of programming for deserving social, health and economic causes. Of course these donations are subject to availability of inventory," the spokesperson avers.

The third channel to complete the big players of the general mass entertainment, the Subhash Chandra promoted Zee, does not believe in talking about its social initiative though. When quizzed, Zee‘s corporate communications head Ashish Kaul offered, "We at Zee recognise the fact that an important part of being successful is to be socially responsible. But we would rather not tom-tom about what we do."

For the record, Zee has a special band created Zee Touch India initiative, which enables corporations to air films on the Zee network focusing on social causes without paying for the airtime. The free airtime across the Zee Network is extended to the public service ads / fillers like campaign on breast cancer, campaign for the visually impaired, campaign for HIV/AIDS for the International Aids day, Aids awareness campaign by Mukti Foundation and a campaign on Pulse Polio

Additionally the network has been closely working with NGO‘s like Taleem, Vipasana, and Braintrust of India foundation. The network also claims to have sponsored over 100 schools to support primary education.

The big guns apart, even SET‘s sibling Max has shouldered the network‘s social responsibility diktat. Besides airing regular features, the cricket and movie channel also spared some air time for the efforts of its in house talent, marketing executive Siddharth Tewary, who created a one minute film ‘Be Human‘ promoting basic human values.

Some might say it still isn‘t enough, but at least it is an effort and it‘s worth lauding. Also what makes it deserving of some kudos is that it is a completly pro-bono effort and there is no government binding.

Here‘s to mass entertainers, for having heart….

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