Sincerely yours: Key to longevity in the Hindi GEC category

Here’s the reason behind India’s love for sincere characters on TV.

MUMBAI: From the start of daily soaps in 2000, Hindi GEC fiction has witnessed multiple ‘eras’: From the now-notorious saas-bahu dramas in the first decade, to shows addressing societal evils and women empowerment,to family-based love stories that brought in the younger viewers. With each passing era, characters in the Hindi GEC category have become smarter, more fashionable and more progressive in their outlook. What’s interesting, however, is that characters who have managed to retain long-term popularity among the audience have one aspect common to their personalities: they are generally over-indexed on the personality dimension ‘sincerity’.

In her brand personality framework, psychologist Jennifer Aaker identifies five dimensions to a personality –sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness. Most brands will have some image associations with these dimensions, but the more enduring brands largely have one emphasised primary dimension, and optionally a secondary one.

While originally designed for brands, the framework works equally well for celebrities and characters. In the Hindi GEC category, the one emphasised dimensionacross most long-standing popular fiction characters is the sincerity dimension. Five of the seven popular Hindi GEC characters between 2016-19 (based on Ormax Characters India Loves)had sincerity as their strongest, or a strong number two, dimension. These five characters span a width of age, profession and content genres. There’s themiddle-aged shop keeper and familyman Jethalalin a sitcom; young dentist Ishita engulfed in across-cultural family drama where she falls in love with a divorced father;the quintessential girl-to-bahu journey of Akshara; the young and quirky Pragya who marries a rock star accidentally; and the talentedvillage singing prodigy Kullfi,who moves to the city in search of her father.

The trend continues in 2020. The undisputed success story of this year has been Star Plus’July launch Anupamaa. The show has achieved record ratingsin a challenging and disruptive Covid2019 period. The lead character of the show raced to number two on Ormax Characters India Loves within a month of the show’s launch, a new record in character popularity tracking in the last decade.

Anupamaa’s rapid growth is a combination of various factors, such as a unique yet relevant concept (it addresses the ‘anti-family’ topic of extra-marital relationship in a very family-palatable way), strong writing and direction, and the performance by thelead actor herself. It is no surprise, however, that Anupamaa’s character too is heavily loaded on the sincerity dimension, even more than the five characters listed above.

So why do ‘sincere’ characters strikesuch adeep chord with the audience?

Storytelling on Indian televisionis different from films and web-series, because in serials, audience look for ideas that are important to them. They connect with characters that are ‘avatars’ of themselves. They feel their feeling, live their emotions. As a collectivistic society, most Indians value family cohesion and cooperation as a non-negotiable aspect of their identity. They take great pride, and seek comfort, in the strong emotional bonds they share with their family members. Watching stories driven by characters who reinforce family values give these shows a higher purpose beyond entertainment. 

In this context, characters like Jethalal and Anupamaa are the quintessential Indianfamily man and Indian family woman respectively, who value their families and relationships above everything else. While the former is in a sitcom and the latter leads a family drama, it is their fundamentally earnest personalities thatendear them to the Indian value system. Coupled with good storytelling, such characters build long-term equity, engaging the audience with their journeys that fundamentally revolve around their large families in a manner that’s truly Indian at heart, i.e.,sincere!

Story and storytelling will continue to get more progressive with time. But the cherished place characters high on sincerity have in the hearts of Indian TV audience is unlikely toweaken anytime soon.

(The author is Ormax Media partner. may not subscribe to their views.)

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