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Under the same sky, a challenger lunges past
- Mega Serial meets its Trp match

The benchmark for quality television in Bengali serials, especially the daily soaps euphemistically called ‘megas’ in Tollygunge, for the past three-and-a-half years has been Ek Aakasher Niche, directed by Ravi Ojha, on Alpha Bangla.

Even as the megas began to splutter and die out on their own, Mumbai-based Ojha imparted his professional touch to Ek Aakasher Niche. The daily soap, whose 890th episode was aired on Monday night, has ruled the airwaves all the way. Alpha’s “channel driver”, as it is called, is the big-dad serial all others want to grow up to be.

But the Monday-to-Friday serial has finally been overtaken by ETV’s 8 pm challenger, Shishir Gupta’s Aastha, which was launched on November 4 last year, directed by Sumanta Mukherjee, actor and chief assistant to Rituparno Ghosh, and notched up only its 291st on Monday.

With one TRP approximating an 11-lakh viewership, the daily viewership of both the soaps together averages 11 TRPs, which translates to 121 lakh pairs of eyes glued to either soap every day at 8:00 pm!

Aastha began with a 10-track storyline,” says producer Shishir Gupta. “Then, we identified one track, eliminating the other nine without changing the story, really.” After Sumanta Mukherjee quit Aastha, it has been directed by Avijit Banerjee, “a new boy compared to either Mukherjee or Ojha,” as Gupta puts it.

The TRPs of Aastha sent out the wake-up call to Ek Aakasher Niche on October 22 and 23, when it recorded 4.54 (against Ek Aakasher Niche’s 3.73) and 5.62 (Ek Aakasher Niche 4.28), respectively. In the next week (October 27-31), the gross rating points was 24.89, against Ek Aakasher Niche’s 23.49, with the average TRP being 4.98 against 4.69. Considering that the TRPs were based on the weakest target group (age four+, and all sections), this was heartening news for Aastha.

In the first week of November, the respective average TRPs of Aastha and Ek Aakasher Niche stood at 5.65 vs 3.14; the next week 5.85 vs 4.29; the third week 4.67 vs 3.07 and the last week recording 6.33 vs 4.78. Thus, Aastha not only beat Ek Aakasher Niche by a significant margin, it has maintained a consistent lead in the last recorded five weeks.

Gupta gleefully points out that Aastha’s budget is Rs 65,000 per episode and it is competing with Ek Aakasher Niche’s Rs 1.20 lakh, “the highest in Bengali serial history”. Both being family dramas, what reason does Gupta attribute to the eyeball grab' “There is identification with the sacrificing housewife, Khuku (played by Bidipta Chakraborty) and the turnaround of the bigamous husband Soumen (played by Kunal Mitra),” explains Gupta. “The housewives are now all worried about Khuku.”

Ojha explains that all daily soaps being basically the same themes, “Ek Aakasher Niche succeeds in bringing out the inner, unstated emotions and drama”. Shrugging off the current fall in TRPs, Ojha says: “In a daily soap, there is a high point, then a lull, and it picks up the track again.” Then, he echoes the title of his Bengali feature film currently being shot: “Aabar Ashbo Phire…I’ll be back.”

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