Tuesday, 29 March 2016

ETV Marathi, ZEE Marathi and Home Minister

The language Marathi is part of my culture and something I am immensely fond of, even though I cant speak it. My mom’s from Aurangabad, and this was the lingua franca at her home, even though Konkani was our mother tongue (Konkani, which is very very very similar to Marathi)

But the influence of Marathi was everywhere. Most of the best Bhajans (IMO) are in Marathi.  I have spent a lot of time in Maharashtra, and the neighbouring Goa has similar cultures to my community of the GSBs

So finally when ZEE Marathi (and ETV Marathi) was launched, it was a great showcase of everything that I like about Maharashtra and Marathi culture from food, to music, to arts, events, lifestyle etc. 

My mom was a big fan, and a large part of the day was devoted to watching programs on ZEE Marathi and ETV Marathi – right from Good Morning Maharashtra (now called RAm Ram Maharashtra), followed by Ved Bhavishya, as well as the cookery programs (Mejwani and Amhi Saare Khavayye) in the afternoon and travel programs in the evening. And then there would be the non-fiction genre which was mostly about singing talent contests – an exceptional one being that for Middle-aged and elderly folk hosted by Pallavi Joshi (around 2012, I think).

Its hard to describe, how relatable the talents are.  Unlike in Hindi GEC (General Entertainment Channels) Marathi TV always had extremely middle class roots right from the days of DoorDarshan.  Most of the talents were always from Middle Class families and plain speaking, simple and how do I put this… glamour wasn’t the mainstay.

It was pure talent that drove their popularity, and you could meet them anywhere (mostly in the Dadar's Ranade road markets on weekends or evenings) or at temples or restaurants or in Pune, and they’d be the same salt of earth folks.  This was an important quality of their personality which I will explain soon, was the reason for their success.  Sadly nowadays Glamour is infesting the Marathi channels.

What is hard to describe and perhaps one doesn’t need to defend this, is that a large part of the culture showcased has a lot of devotional Hindu customs appearing in the shows.  The cookery program would begin with an invocation to Annapurna, the Goddess of food.  The prayers even to the state and nation would be in a devotional tone. The songs in talent contests would have a great deal of devotional songs, and it was hard to not separate this from the religion.

The program that has served the longest so far and one which has remained un-changed in its broad format has been ‘HOME MINISTER’.  I have been seeing  countless episodes of this and it is still one of the most watchable programs on TV for me, and half an hour well spent, and it warms our hearts.

The format is simply the host visiting a home and interviewing the housewife and carrying out a small contest between her, and a neighbouring housewife and then the conversations between the host, the couple and the interactions, dynamics are great fun.

If you are into ethnography or want to know how people live this is one of the best showcases ever – no other program has successfully managed to enter a woman’s domain – her home, kitchen and most importantly her mind.

Adesh Bandodkar the host is superlative.  One doesn’t need to know the language, which is easy to follow even if you know basic Hindi.  The questions he poses are usually the same, how did the couple get to know each other, how the alliance was established, introductions to the family, and any key highlights in their living.

It is not very surprising to see most Marathi homes are the same and they seem to live similarly.  There are always a lot of generations and close family members who turn up at the show. The home maker has to introduce the folks standing around, and this sometimes runs into minutes.  But one gets a great idea of both the neighbourhood and the people there.  (it is surprising that there are still areas not covered given that this program has been successfully running daily for nearly a decade now).

Mostly there’s laughter and fun during these chats the host has, but at a lot of times there are frank discussions on difficult relations, or estranged parties.  But the ones which stood out for me and etched in my memories are houses where children had problems physical or mental, and the host would take time out to understand this and put in a few words of encouragement, and understand the aspirations of the home maker for her children and concerns in helping her for the future.

But when I look back, almost all the hosts of the programs on Marathi channels had this strength of chatting up and connecting with the middle class and instantly connecting with them and getting them to trust them and open up.  I saw this even in the cookery shows, where hosts like Rani Gunaji would visit homes in various parts of Maharashtra and get the entire family to talk about their daily lives and what kept them going.  It is something to cherish and celebrate.

Might seem like an ignorant vain boast – but I simply haven’t seen this much connection and zero-distance between TV personalities and the audience.  In Marathi TV sometimes the host almost disappears and is part of the background, its an exceptional quality.

When I watch Home minister the showcase instead is the folks and their homes that the host is visiting, he is the sutradhar (the narrator) who introduces the topic and lets the play begin and enacted in front of people.  And for that half an hour one is immersed into the lives of PLU (people like us) and a small celebration of what it is to be a Maharashtrian….

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