Spotless and... unreal
Medical drama as a genre seems to be growing on television viewers, despite the synthetic gloss and unnatural depictions of ever-empathetic hospital staff. Credulity takes a beating, where fantasy rules the roost, says SEVANTI NINAN.
"Sanjivini"... a candyfloss depiction of the hospital scenario.
SO OUR soap factories have discovered medical drama as a television genre. On Wednesdays South Asian audiences get a bellyful of it, with "Dhadkan" on Sony followed immediately by "Sanjivini" on STAR. It took a little getting used to, this candyfloss depiction of Indian hospital life. The walls are mauve or soft yellow, the sheets are pink and orange, the doctors look like models, the hospitals like hotels. And there is such cloying concern and compassion on display that even as fiction it strains credulity somewhat. Gosh, if you got doctors like that in India we'd all be clamouring to be sick.
Which isn't to say that the genre is not growing on viewers, it is. If you discount the frosted lipstick that nurses and doctors here are forever sporting, there is some effort to raise interesting ethical issues. Both serials are improving, better still, may be a third channel will come up with a harder nosed version of hospital-based fiction.
"Dhadkan"... again the feel-good factor touches unnatural levels..
Until then you have all these smart dressers (including "Daksha Bhabhi of Kyunki") and good lookers. The hero of "Sanjivini" is Doctor Shashank. He is tough and incorruptible and his heart is in the right place. He is also tall, dark, handsome and usually unsmiling. Medical drama is tailor made for television. Traditionally in the West they have had huge followings. "ER" was once the most popular show on TV. The genre offers fast-paced, interlocking stories, maudlin scenarios, and life-and-death crises. Watching these series is supposed to get your adrenalin racing. The only catch is they have to be credible. And picking a hospital that looks like a real life hospital helps.
Abroad they have moved on to sub-sets of hospitals: the serial "Wonderland" is set in a psychiatry ward, with all the dramatic potential that it offers. "ER" which stands for Emergency Room, glamourised emergency medicine to the extent that research showed that it led to more fourth year medical students opting for this specialisation. It was action drama. "Chicago Hope"s episodes often had a more intellectual, ethical dimension.
"Chicago Hope" on STAR World...intellectual and ethical for the most part.
Two other shows have chosen to set their stories in more realistic hospitals, rather than those catering to the wealthy. Steven Bochco of "NYPD Blue" fame made a series set in an inner-city hospital in "City of Angels", likewise "Casualty" which is one of Britain's highest-rating drama series and one of the most popular shows on BBC America, is built around the accident and emergency department of Holby Hospital, "meant to depict the beleaguered frontline of Britain's crumbling National Health Service."
Hospital stories are about life and death decisions as doctors and nurses and paramedics struggle to cope with the horrific results of accidents and illness, with births and deaths. Personal and professional lives are juxtaposed. "Sanjivini" has at its core four interns, "Dhadkan" has six doctors. Sony, the channel that has mounted the latter show, claims that the idea came from the medical chief of the Hindujas hospital in Mumbai the idea of a group of six surgeons battling to save lives. Serial makers in India whether they are churning out saas-bahu sagas or NRI romances are so hell bent on creating upper class fantasies to grab the socio-economic category A advertising, that they are devoid of any degree of realism. There's the couple where the army guy whose cancer is discovered late is determined to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife in the hospital. The doctors and nurses are all at hand to rig up a party with cake and decorations, to smile and simper. As if they have all the time in the world. At other times they chase around tracking down relatives and friends of patients in a bid to solve family or emotional problems. Nothing wrong with feel-good, look-good serials, except that they are an insult to the intelligence of the genre. Every time a bunch of nurses and doctors are racing down the corridor with a stretcher in "Dhadkan" what do you notice? The snazzy, black and white tiles of the corridor. Straight out of an interiors advert. Between them "Dhadkan" and "Sanjivini" have episodes dealing with cancer or childbirth gone wrong, amputation or mastectomy. Even AIDS. There is a car accident episode where an industrialist's son kills a child and ends up in the hospital himself. The big man attempts to bully the hospital staff, the cop tells him off repeatedly in no uncertain terms. Now that is fantasy all right. The sort one would love to see come true.
"Chicago Hope" on STAR World
Sony is at pains to describe how much care they took to ensure authenticity in "Dhadkan". Hospital layouts were studied and design principles were taken into account when utilising the 9,000 to10, 000 square ft. space. The operating theatre floor was elaborate and for this modular sets were designed probably for the first time in India, we are told. The actors underwent extensive drills on how to use instruments and carry out basic medical procedures. If only they had remembered to throw in a bit of dirt, and some real people.
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