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Selling sensation, reaping dividends

Almost every news channel today has a crime-based show. But more often than not, these real life sagas turn out to be sensational reality shows, notes SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

Most of the shows even play background scores so typical of a Bollywood flick

SENSATIONAL! Shivvardhan Trivedi, the anchor of the show, "Sansani" on Star Plus

Suhaib Ilyasi of India's Most Wanted fame says when he thought of a crime-related show on the small screen in the 1990s, no channel was ready to permit it on air. Zee TV, after some persuasion, contracted him and soon, an unknown Delhi boy became a name to reckon with. The tone, the tenor that he adopted to anchor the weekend show became its USP, dished out to an audience that saw a farm-fresh item on the box, oblivious of course to its `inspiration' - America's Most Wanted on Uncle Sam's telly in distant United States. And alongside an eager viewership, Ilyasi recalls, it also assisted the law enforcers in tracking as many as 80 wanted criminals.

Years after this shot at history, crime shows on Indian television are certainly most wanted. Particularly on the news channels. Born with the idea of being `a tool to track crime' and raise public awareness about one's safety, one show soon followed the other to shape an altogether new genre on the Indian tube in a short span. But in the process, shifting gradually to become a genre that is more often than not accused of crossing the thin line between sensitivity and sensation; a genre that often seems to blur the difference between a reality show and a real-life show. A genre that has so blatantly declared the weekly ratings card as its leading light, rather than its fidelity to journalistic ethics, the very core of the calling.

Says Ilyasi, "It is good to see that crime shows have picked up on TV. But it is also sad that their survival depends on their ratings. So the possibility of being sensational to attract attention is always there." Even Ilyasi locked horns with Zee TV over the issue of `showing gory details' in the name of abating crime on India's Most Wanted some years back, which made him shift the show to Doordarshan as Fugitive: The Most Wanted.

Reasons Ajit Anjum, the man behind the daily crime show Sansani on Star News, often accused of selling sensation to reap high ratings: "Crime by nature causes sensation. It is difficult to run away from it. Most crime stories make it to page one even in newspapers. So, it is quite difficult to swerve away from being sensational." Though Anjum adds, "I agree that we do our show with a lot of aggression, but the fact is that we are only aggressive against crime. We need a damdar voice to carry on the show, to send across a word of fear to the criminals. Also, being a TV show, we need to attract viewer attention, and so some dramatics will always be there." Sansani's anchor,


Shivvardhan Trivedi, being a National School of Drama alumnus, mixes theatrics with real-life tragedies with a punch that sends shivers down your spine. Often to an extent that a criminal act becomes soapy, almost to the level of preying on someone's misery for a few brownie points. But never mind that, he is bringing in healthy ratings to the channel week after week.

"But when he anchors the segment Lapata, which deals with missing children, his pitch is not sensational. His voice has an emotion which has made us bring many a lost child back to his family," defends Anjum, also counting exposes like busting of agents who con job seekers with the promise of greener pastures abroad, and corruption in uniform.

"After we aired the episode on Kabootarbaaz, about the agents who con innocent people with the promise of giving jobs abroad, we got calls from Malaysia, Iran, Nigeria and Kuwait where callers said they were trapped there, penniless and without a passport, and wanted help to return. We helped no less than 25 people to come back home," he says.

Ilyasi too enumerates 46 captures through his current show, India TV's Most Wanted. But should tracking crime not anyway be the norm, not an exception? Kudos to the two shows if they have really achieved this. But what keeps the pot boiling is not in just achievements, but flaunting them, almost to the extent of capitalising on them.

And talking of tactics, be it Jurm, Hatyara Kaun or Vardaat on Aaj Tak, Red Alert or Sansani on Star News, Masoom, Deewang or Raaz on Channel 7, India TV's Most Wanted, Investigation on NDTV 24/7, Crime Patrol on Sony TV, Crime Reporter on Zee TV... all used the hurl of the anchor's voice more often than not to exert a pull on the viewers. Most even play background scores typical of a tense situation in a Bollywood flick and also enact the gory details, often mixing the real with the reel to offer a product that would click. Giving an impression that they exist not for the sake of `bringing public awareness' against crime but only to compete against each other.

Time band

Also, due to lack of any stipulation on choosing a time band to air crime shows on television, each one chooses a competitive slot. Though the usual time band is from 8 to 11.30 p.m., shows like Investigation on NDTV 24/7 can be seen even at 4.30 p.m., when school kids are the prime viewers.

To add to the commercial hurly burly, Channel 7 took a step further by segregating the crime shows like crime committed by children (Masoom), crimes of passion (Deewangi) and the rest of the lot (Raaz). It has just added yet another variety to the palette with Mein Bhi Jasoos, an anchorless show which offers viewers a chance to solve a case.

Piyush Jain, Chief Operating Officer, Channel 7, thinks it is gaining good response "because viewers feel they are taking part in one of the reality shows that are gaining so much popularity on TV these days." Accuse Jain of trivialising a serious issue and he retorts, " But we don't sensationalise any story. To an extent, sensation and crime can't be separated, but I tell my producers, don't over sensationalise it." And he has just taken off air Masoom, Deewangi and Raaz, not because they were found guilty of over-sensationalising the contents but because "of the repetitiveness of the story patterns." Obviously meaning that their saleability had weaned.

"But we will soon re-launch Deewangi," he says. Only natural, perhaps. After all, passions are timeless.

Even Ilyasi is all upbeat about yet another show, Crime Hour on India TV very soon. "India TV's Most Wanted can fit in not all types of crime, and so we thought of having Crime Hour between 8 and 9 p.m. from Monday to Thursday," he says.

Clearly, this is one genre that is doing well on the tube. Ethics can wait for another day, another slot.

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