What's the soap tonight? TV audience in a fix!

New Delhi, Nov 13 (IANS) With an indefinite strike by workers halting the production of TV serials, millions of viewers all over India are being deprived of their daily soap fix - but many others are jubilant at this prolonged break from the daily staple of high voltage drama.

The strike by the apex body of cine workers, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE), began Monday, forcing Hindi entertainment channels to telecast reruns.

Entertainment channels are now re-telecasting their old programmes after FWICE failed to reach a settlement with the producers association over a hike in wages.

This has left 68-year-old Santosh Saraf, who like many others spent her evenings before the idiot box, at a complete loss.

"I don't know what to watch nowadays. I have already seen the episodes that they air. But I don't feel like watching them again. I am waiting for the strike to get over now or I will get totally bored," a grumpy Saraf told IANS on phone from Chandigarh.

Uma Khanna from Jaipur, another avid TV watcher, said that she has started watching spiritual channels like Aastha and Sanskaar instead of her daily dose of TV soaps.

"But I am craving to know the story in my favourite series like "Santaan", "Balika Vadhu" and "Saat Phere," Khanna said.

For many women, however, the dispute has brought in a happy change - they have switched their choice of programmes for the time being and taken to news channels.

Smita Mishra, a Chandigarh-based working mother, says her family is getting to sleep much earlier now.

"Earlier, we never used to sleep before 11 p.m., but now we sleep much earlier. Thank god! My mother-in-law loves watching soaps and she used to grab the remote all the time and now she has no excuse. So we get to watch a lot of news channels and shows on educational channels like Travel and Living and Discovery. It's a welcome change for my kids," she said.

Aashu Jaivir, a 28-year-old gym instructor, used to go home late to avoid watching "weeping women" on the TV screen as his parents keenly followed many soaps. The situation has changed for the better now thanks to the strike.

"These days I happily go home on time and watch what I want to. I can't stand saas-bahu serials. I am happy my family is not going crazy over watching saas-bahu serials because right now old episodes are being aired," he quipped.

It's not only the viewers who are affected by the stand-off. Studio owners and channels are bearing the brunt too.

"Since the beginning of this month we hardly had any bookings for serials. It is a 100 percent loss for us as we have to pay our maintenance and other liabilities," Imtiaz Hamid, manager at Essel Studios, told IANS.

Hemal Trivedi of Sankraman Studio added: "It is a huge loss for us. There has been no shoot of serials for the last 10 days because of the dispute."

Rajesh Kamat, CEO of entertainment channel Colors, said: "It's a deadlock. It's unfortunate that we had to reach this crisis point. Our audience, especially for 'Balika Vadhu', is going to be deeply disappointed."

FWICE has, however, conveyed to the television producers that it would "not compromise" on the issue. The producers have said that unless the channels provide them the extra financial resources to meet the costs post the hike in the workers' wages, they would not be able to pay them the same. So it seems viewers will have to put up with re-runs for some time to come.

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

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