Daily soaps are fine, but highlight health issues too: Unicef

By Radhika Bhirani

New Delhi, Sep 9 (IANS) There are a few serials highlighting women's issues, one on child marriage and lots of family dramas. Now producers should touch upon topics related to health like hygiene, AIDS awareness and immunisation, says the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), which has launched a series called "Kyunki...Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai" on Doordarshan(DD).

"We can't imagine producers of commercial theme-based TV shows spending a lot of time in dealing with issues like HIV-AIDS and polio, but I'm quite sure they can do it in a little way to help society," Alka Malhotra, programme communication specialist of Unicef India, told IANS in an interview.

"Basic issues like washing one's hands properly and general cleanliness can surely be highlighted in a subtle way. More critical issues can be interspersed in the script or if possible they can even build a separate track in their shows about health-related issues like diarrhoea immunisation for children, etc," she said.

"Kyunki...Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai" tries to promote pro-social attitudes and practices that contribute directly to the reduction of infant and maternal mortality rates.

Unicef identifies critical child-related problems through extensive research and works with a creative team to highlight the ways to avoid or overcome those issues in a wise way on the show, Malhotra said.

"Our research for the show is based on Indian data. Basically, we try and take up issues around the survival, development and protection of children. Issues like breastfeeding the child within half an hour of birth, etc., are the kinds of things we would like to create awareness for in society," she explained.

Popular TV actress Tina Parekh, who has been a part of successful commercial shows like "Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki" and "Kasauti Zindagi Kay", is also acting in "Kyunki..." and feels "social messaging in entertainment is a must".

"The fact is those who are aware of social issues mostly belong to the educated class, while the masses still don't have access to that kind of information. At the same time, the masses can be reached through the medium of entertainment, be it movies or serials...

"So it is essential that India has a serial like 'Kyunki...' that takes up social issues and tries to simplify things in a way that makes it easier for everyone to understand," said Tina.

"What 'Kyunki...' is trying to do is put HIV-AIDS awareness into a story that anyone can relate to, even those who don't know anything about it. By doing this, the common man can understand that an HIV positive person is not someone to be scared of or to be avoided. At the same time there is a message about preventive measures to be taken," she said.

"So, as educated people, it is our responsibility to share what we know with those who don't and in this situation using a serial to do it is an excellent method," the actress added.

According to Malhotra, it makes more sense to broadcast a show like "Kyunki..." on DD because of its wide reach.

"The kind of issues that we handpick to be showcased through the show are mostly aimed at creating awareness in our core constituency, which is rural women in the age group of 16-35. That is also why we chose DD to broadcast it. It has maximum impact across the country - more than any other general entertainment channel nowadays," she said.

Unicef, meanwhile, says it is open to helping a producer or channel if they wish to work around any of these social issues.

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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