Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Jamaica’s Indian fever

Published:Tuesday | March 29, 2016 | 3:00 AM

You dare not schedule a meeting in Jamaica at 1 p.m. on any given weekday. The issue won't be that you're cutting into office peak productivity time or perhaps that you're disturbing lunch. No. What's more important is that you'll be interrupting the watching of CVM lunchtime Indian soap operas Strange Love and It Seems So Beautiful.

Both shows anecdotally appear a national priority by all indications. Restaurants and office canteens switch the channel religiously, and at 12:55 p.m., call-centre staff jostle with each other for the 1 p.m. lunch slot. Administrative assistants for some senior executives, who shall remain nameless, have been given strict instructions to schedule no meetings between 1 and 2 p.m.

One friend told me about being asked by staff at a funeral home to wait while they finished watching a particularly juicy episode two Fridays ago.

CVM'S PRIME HOUR

If only for that one hour, productivity seemingly comes to a halt, and CVM's viewership is higher even than cable.

When CVM, more than a week ago, decided to replace one of the shows (albeit with a similar Indian soap), there developed a Jamaican 'support group' of sorts on Facebook, where updates and insider previews were shared. I'm reliably informed that, unlike other promotional pages, these were formed purely by fans; like-minded people who just couldn't get enough of Kushi (one of the show's lead characters). The fans have also formed a WhatsApp chat group for the same purpose.

I'm truly amazed just how well the shows have taken off and how invested Jamaicans are in the lives of the characters. So popular have the shows become that they are not only aired as a marathon on the weekends, but are rebroadcast every midnight. Some of my own factory staff come to work with bags under their eyes because, according to them, sleep is a small thing to sacrifice for Kushi.

"Hello. Hi. Bye-Bye", a catch-phrase from one of the shows, is slowly seeping into Jamaican vernacular, and many fans, impatient with the CVM pace, have progressed to watching the series on YouTube, keen to know what happens next.

A decade and a half ago, it was Oshin on TVJ. A Japanese drama about the rise to prosperity of a poor country girl, and all the cruel hardships she faced and overcame along the way. We were equally fanatical about that series, and in my own home, it became mandatory Sunday watching.

It all just shows me how much we are one world. And how much our realities, even across the continents, are relatable. I can see people take scenarios from the various dramas and relate them not just to the Jamaican experience, but closer home, to their own lives. Issues surrounding family and love, failure and triumph, draw people in and vicariously give them hope.

Oshin, I understand, was syndicated in 58 different countries. Strange Love was dubbed in six languages. The point is, good TV translates. Caribbean culture and content can be equally engaging. It would be exciting to see a syndication of a local television drama not just to diaspora markets, but to non-traditional markets, perhaps like India and Japan. If we are such big consumers of their stories, perhaps they will reciprocate and connect with ours.

JAMAICAN STORIES

The charge is for the new film commissioner, the newly appointed Film and Television Association (which is a beautiful mixture of tried-and-tested experience and imaginative and talented youth) and industry players to tell our stories.

Let's find a way to have the funding agencies believe in the power and earning potential of television. And in the same way food manufacturers and tourism leaders are reaching out beyond the shores of North America to the big, wide world, our television content developers should do the same.

Film and TV present real opportunities for us to live our motto, 'Out of Many, One People'. The American cash cow may one day dry up, and before that day comes, let's take note of the green grass on the other side of the world.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.