The Unmaking of a Women’s Show: Guest post by executive producer Shital Morjaria

When we started Naveena, a women’s show (daily) in 2006 on TV9, a 24 hour Telugu news channel in Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh (South India), we were flooded with ideas from various quarters for producing makeovers and for introducing cooking and diet concepts. As we struggled to put across our vision and wriggled our way out of the suggestions being offered, people around found us strange and difficult. It was because through our show we chose career over make-up, women’s news over fashion and ordinary women’s inspirational stories over sensational coverage. Of course it took us a little while to be able to effectively package our show. But we did succeed against all odds and Naveena evolved into a daily program in the afternoon band focused on empowering women with information on their rights and questioning the discriminatory norms against women. What motivated us towards developing this kind of show was our disappointment and anger with the stereotypical portrayals of women in Indian films, television soaps, and news coverage in the mainstream media as a whole. Women in soaps were being portrayed both as victims and wrong doers, home makers and home breakers! In films they were sex objects conscious about their looks, but also vulnerable, sentimental and easy to tears. There was a clear gap between women’s everyday lives and the exaggerated representations of them.

Still from the show "Naveena"

Still from the show “Naveena”

Regional television in Andhra Pradesh had already defined the women’s show as a “homemakers” show. The shows were, and still are, about makeup, lifestyle products, and about how to be perfect housewives. What was interesting was that some chat shows also focused either on women’s traditional domestic roles or showcased them as achievers. Then there were also the weekly chat shows on current issues. Through their treatment of the subject matter, the broadcast media seemed to reconfirm traditional gender roles and promoted unrealistic ideals of chastity, passivity and dependence by women in a way that reinforced a patriarchal outlook.

TV9 “Naveena Song”

 

The “everydayness” of women’s emotions and aspirations as they went through their personal and professional lives were missing from these programmes. And this is where Naveena stepped in to fill the critical gap. For example, Naveena focused on gynecological problems that many women face on a routine basis but for which they do not seek help. When it came to economic independence, we informed our audience about how to execute simple things like opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license or a PAN card. We aired episodes on the legal rights of women whether it was maintenance, property rights or the effective procedures through which domestic violence could be tackled. Naveena took up various campaigns like “Eve Teasing”, “Dark is Beautiful,” “NRI fraud marriages,” “Unknown Faces in Sports,” and “Marital Rape.”

“Illegal Hysterectomies” episode of Naveena:


While the first year was dedicated to the campaign mode, in the second year we moved to a magazine format where we introduced the viewers to women’s news and careers, discussed nutrition for girls and women, and also included a segment on cooking that was addressed to men. In the third year we got into a more interactive mode where women (either by being present in the studio or through phone-in’s) shared diverse kinds of problems in their personal or professional lives, and through Naveena, we tried finding solutions to their problem. We also brought in experts to directly talk to our viewers on breast cancer, career counseling, and mental health. Apart from these segments, we incorporated investigative stories focused variously on women prisoners, joginis (servants of Gods driven into prostitution) and hijras (the third gender), and also on issues such as security concerns women face in the public domain during nights.

Naveena managed to distinguish itself from other women’s shows not only in terms of its content but also through its packaging. Where most women’s shows opted for a softer look through their use of pastel shades, Naveena’s look was bold, making no concession to received wisdom about what women’s show should comprise. The music used for the show was strong and made even more so through the use of hard-hitting bites. The promos for the show provided telling statistics on the subject that was being discussed and the Anchor of the programme was portrayed as a strong and modern woman. The idea was to create a new image of the contemporary woman who was self-sufficient, confident and bold about voicing her opinion. We also included toll free numbers of different help lines on our show. When women approached us for help we directed them to our regular panelists of guests who were lawyers, activists, feminists, counselors and doctors. I am proud that Naveena took up issues that no other programme had done, whether at the regional or national level in India. For instance, we did a series on breasts: right from the correct bra size to campaigns on breast cancer. On air, we talked about marital rape. We did episodes on problems women have if their partners suffer from premature ejaculation. And in a lighter vein we also had a cookery show for men, which was called “Superman!” I wish to emphasize here that the range of issues we tackled and the impact we were able to make would not have happened without the regular inputs from every member of the team  All the persons associated with the making of Naveena owned the programme completely and worked as a team right through.

“Domestic Violence Act” episode of Naveena:

 

On January 2006, Naveena introduced its own contest — the Naveena Mahila Contest. Fed up with beauty contests in the country we decided to honor women from the grassroots level who had shown extraordinary courage. The Mahila Contest was an effort to showcase the struggles of these women and also to share with the public their inspiring stories. The awards were instituted for three categories: i) fighting for one’s right; ii) fighting against a social evil and iii) showing courage in any situation of their life. Beginning with 2006, the contest has honored women on March 8th on the occasion of International Women’s Day every year.

Still from the show "Naveena"

Still from the show “Naveena”

In the context of mainstream television where stereotyping of women and sensational journalism, sans ethics, easily takes over, I strongly believe that a program like Naveena is important. And while I accept the criticism on behalf of my news channel for perhaps being a part of the breaking news genre, I would also like to say that no other channel could have sustained Naveena every day for three years. It occurs to me that a show such as Naveena was only to have been expected from a channel like TV9 that has the line ‘For a Better Society’ as its motto. In fact, this tagline was my inspiration when I joined TV9 as a reporter. It continues to motivate my work with the organization.

Thinking back on the journey that Naveena has been, I have also realized that when one breaks norms, does something bold, unmakes or redefines something, there are many hurdles. For instance, we were branded feminists when we talked about domestic violence, as men haters when we spoke about marital rape and lesbians when we spoke of same sex love. We however continued to take up topics that mainstream society would find uncomfortable but that would eventually help vulnerable women navigate their lives better.

Winning the Ramnath Goenka award (the highest award for journalism in India) was hugely encouraging because the fight can get lonely at times. However, when the same work gets recognition, its worth is reconfirmed. Such recognition is especially important for us within the broadcast media because of the immense pressure exerted by the system of TRP’s [Television Rating Points]. The awards become that much more significant because unfortunately we in the mainstream media have not developed a method of measuring the impact of a show focused on social change in ways that can counter the pressure of TRP’s. Naveena is a show about our lives, our struggles and our aspirations as women. Though social change in a patriarchal society is slow it is sure to happen. I believe that this fight of ours for social change will succeed when it takes place in diverse spheres. The mainstream medium of television is one such critical domain and my location here enables me to contribute to the many efforts that seek to redefine the world.

Learn more about Shital Morjaria and her work at:

Naveena: tv9naveena.com
Banayenge Films: banayengefilms.com

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Guestpost-Morjaria-bioShital Morjaria has done her Masters in Mass Communication from the University of Hyderabad. Shital started her career in media with creative writing and television reporting and has made many documentaries on social issues. Presently she is working as the Executive Producer for TV9 a television channel which is based in Hyderabad. In 2008 Shital won the Goenka, the highest award in journalism in India for her show Naveena, based on women’s issues from a gender and rights perspective.

About Naveena:

Launched on 8th March 2006, Naveena started as a daily show on contemporary women’s issues. After being on air for three years every day Naveena’s format has recently changed to a weekly chat show.

Naveena takes up subjects that are taboo in the society and often dismissed as controversial issues. Naveena believes in questioning discriminatory norms for women through many debates and campaigns. For many a woman’s show has meant a make over show, a beauty contest, a recipe-based program however these are the very definitions that Naveena has tried to keep away from. Priority has been given to career over make up, women news over fashion and women inspirations over recipes.

Naveena’s goal has been to initiate a small revolution through mainstream television on women issues from a gender and rights perspective. Naveena has also tried to create a network with activists, lawyers and NGOs for women who have approached it for help.

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