By Nadeem Badshah
THE lockdown has sparked a boom in families re-watching classic south Asian soaps and dramas, figures show.
With filming for Bollywood films and serials being paused over the pandemic, fans have welcomed TV channels such as Star Plus, Colours Rishtey and Zee all replaying serials from the past.
Star Plus topped the UK ratings among Asian channels on May 11 with drama Saath Nibhaana Saathiya the most popular with 36,400 viewers, followed by hit 1980s series Mahabharat with 27,100 viewers and Ramayan in fourth place with 15,200 viewers.
Saathiya – last shown in the UK in 2017 – was again the channel’s most watched show on May 12 with an audience of 36,200, with Mahabharat in third place with 14,400 viewers and 1980s show Ramayan enjoying 12,700 viewers.
On Colors Rishtey, Balika Vadhu, which was first shown in 2008, was its most popular show with 16,400 viewers, according to data by website B i z A siaLive.
Rajinder Dudrah, professor of cultural studies and creative industries at Birmingham City University, told Eastern Eye: “You have nostalgia retro television of south Asian shows and drama serials. Mythological ones like Mahabharat and mother and daughter-in-law serials. It is epic TV.
“It is allegorical, there is a lovely, religious [element] that reaches out to a manner of people about fasting and overcoming hardship. For a certain generation it is revisiting their favourite moments and soaps. For third and fourth generation British Asians, they have never watched them previously or their parents perhaps had it on in the background.
“Families are bonding over the programmes; it provides talking moments in the house.”
Other classic serials which have been reshown since the UK went into lockdown in March have been Hum Paanch on Zee TV and Star Plus dramas Ek Veer Ki Ardaas… Veera and Diya Aur Baati Hum.
Professor Dudrah added: “People are rediscovering television and the plethora of channels. We have taken them for granted due to busy lives.
“The pandemic has forced us to entertain ourselves and keep ourselves occupied.
“It has taken us back to a post war or inter-war period, a source of news, entertainment as you cannot go out, we are discovering new days of engaging with TV.”
Mariam Ali, 29, from London, has enjoyed the retro soaps as an escape from the Covid-19 news bulletins and the daily UK government briefings.
The finance worker told Eastern Eye: “Growing up we watched these soaps with our mother and grandmother, this was our way of spending time together every evening as a family. We are now watching these soaps again during lockdown and reminiscing over those good old times. Hum Paanch was one of my favourite sitcoms.
“I watched this with my sisters and we would have a lot of fun as this show was also about five sisters. Mahabharat was also a good watch.
“When the doorbell would ring in Hum Paanch, one of the show’s characters Sweety would open the door, but before opening the door she would do a little dance. This is something my sisters and I would copy and have fun with some of the story lines.”
The re-runs of classic shows has led to pleas on social media for other shows such as drama Ishqbaaz to return and debates on which serial is the best.
Mayank Bajpai wrote on Twitter: “There can be no other show best depicting the story of Mahabharat than the show on Star Plus. “That’s why people connect themselves with this show.
“That’s why we humbly request Star Plus not to make too many cuts.”
Neha Singh tweeted: “It’s a fact that old Mahabharat was far better than the Star Plus drama. “The characters were selected on the basis of description, as explained in ancient books, in the old Mahabharat while characters were selected in new Mahabharat on the basis of their looks and popularity.”
Meanwhile, the trend for escapism was shown in figures which showed that BBC dramas have driven record iPlayer audiences. The online service has recorded its best viewing figures during the crisis, with Britons tuning in almost 927 million times since the lockdown began.
Initial interest in iPlayer content was driven by demand for news with daily briefings and prime minister Boris Johnson’s first address to the nation causing spikes in the BBC audience, the broadcaster said.
Drama, romance and comedy fuelled a record week for the BBC with fans tuning in to programmes 146 million times at the beginning of May. April was its most successful month on record with 564 million hits.