Is someone asks you “What is India’s most viewed TV show?”, what would you answer? Perhaps with a popular soap opera or a reality show. But the actual number one TV show in India is not a saas-bahu serial or some scripted reality show. It is a progressive and forward-looking infotainment series, known as ‘Mai Bhi Kuch Kar Sakti Hu’, aired on Doordarshan.
Launched by the Population Foundation of India, the story follows Dr. Sneha, a Mumbai woman who gives up her lucrative practice to work in a poor village. But the show is not just meant for entertainment. It also talks about important health and social issues such as the prevailing social and cultural norms around family planning, early marriage, early and repeated pregnancies, contraceptive use, domestic violence and sex selection. The people and their stories often reflect real life, and the show is aimed at providing them with the information and courage they need to make the right choices under difficult life situations.The show also received a boost from celebrity endorsements. Sharmila Tagore, Soha Ali Khan, Shabana Azmi and Farhan Akhtar have all lend their star power to the show, hoping to have it reach a larger audience; and it has.
The show has clocked nearly 400 million viewers across all its episodes and seasons, making it the most watched TV show in India’s history. And better still, the show’s message is having a positive impact. The awareness about the Child Marriage act has increased up to 15% across the country, After watching the programme, 77% of the people understood the need of girl education and that they should be not be married before the age of 18. Women became aware of family planning methods, thereby dropping the percentage of women who had never used any methods from 51% to 37.6%.Women who believe are equal to men in terms of leaderships and work increased from 56.7% to 77.1%.
A unique feature of the TV series is the Interactive Voice Response Service (IVRS), which provided a discussion forum for viewers as also a platform to share feedback. IVRS received huge response with over 1.5 million telephone calls having been received between Seasons One and Two on a designated call-back number. Thus, not only can people watch stories that break the norms, they can also receive help on how to do the same.
Among all the shows and movies that seek to glorify child marriage, patriarchy, age old notions of love and family and societal expectations, Mai Bhi Kuch Kar Sakti Hu is a breath of fresh air!