Invasion of the mothers-in-law

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


Saas-bahu (literally 'mother-in-law and daughter-in-law') soap operas are hugely popular in India, captivating millions with their complicated plots and unexpected twists. And now mainlanders are set to laugh and cry along with much of the subcontinent at these soppy Hindi dramas.

Zee TV, one of India's leading private television channels, has finally acquired landing rights on the mainland for all kinds of programming - including reality shows, comedies and movies - after six years of negotiations and what Zee TV China chief executive Angela Lin describes as 'unremitting efforts'. Until now, the central government has played hardball not just about the entry of foreign channels - Rupert Murdoch's stations have had an on-off relationship with the mainland market - but also about what foreign content can be shown on local television.

Zee TV already operates in 18 areas in the Asia-Pacific region, including Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia, but has always kept an eye on the mainland market. At first, Zee TV will only be available in hotels with ratings of at least three stars, but, Lin says: 'In the near future, it is believed that more and more Indian visitors will be able to choose hotels with the Zee TV Asia Pacific channel during their stay in China.' She declines to speculate on when programming might be extended to households.

CCTV, the mainland's state-run television network, received approval to broadcast in India in 2008. And though it has yet to start operations, dubbed versions of Chinese martial-arts programmes (particularly those aimed at children) have been screened on Zee TV and local channel Home TV for some time. The most popular of these shows - which is discussed fanatically on internet forums - is Flying Fox of the Snowy Mountain, known in Hindi as Himgiri Ka Veer.

While Japanese and Korean soaps have long been popular across Greater China, it may now be the era of the saas-bahu. 'Chinese and Indian audiences share a love of family-based dramas that deal with interpersonal intrigue,' says Lin.

The mainland has been slowly but surely warming up to stars and films from the subcontinent. A few years ago, television and film actress Sandhya Mridul was invited to join the jury of the Shanghai Television Festival, late actor Raj Kapoor was hugely popular and one of the biggest movies on the mainland last year was blockbuster comedy 3 Idiots. And now, with Zee TV airing movies as part of its programming, perhaps more and more mainlanders will be dancing to tunes of Bollywood.