This article was published on the Lakbima News.

Sinhala Tele dramas are focused towards the middleclass who are entangled in a “rate race” of their own. As a result they blindly copy and follow their neighbors and the majority has lost their creativity. However, they continue in an endless struggle to climb the social ladder at any cost. It appears the mega tele dramas are addressing the stupidity of the middleclass and source of consolation to the personal sorrows (most of middleclass viewers like to sneak other people’s tragedies). In contras the Japanese TV series titled “Oshin” displays the positive side of the middle class.     

Commercial movies/television dramas are very popular in Western and Asian countries and have been a highly profitable industry for many decades. The majority of them are creative productions with interesting themes and ideology to change the viewers’ perceptions towards the betterment of the society. However certain Sinhala commercial tele- dramas continue with many episodes without a theme a meaning. Further they moot negative attitudes in the minds of the viewers.

Sri Lankan tele-dramas are very popular among a cross section, and all age groups of society. TV channels allocate their prime time to telecast them that in turn fetch a premium price for TV commercials. Especially housewives and children, grandparents and domestic aides are the main target audience and are known to be addicted to these tele- dramas, watching them irrespective of the quality or artistic presentation. As a result, valuable time is lost, time that could otherwise be utilized as quality family time to discuss important family issues.

Negative impact on society

Some of these dramas are of Indian origin and without much legendary value while some local dramas merely highlight the negative aspects of the middle class. It is very seldom found to be enterprising or creative with the roles personified being incapable of facing challenges, or being role models for mothers, housewives, bosses or entrepreneurs. The never ending sorrow and misery, endless jealousy and stupidity are the popular themes that underscore these dramas.

Further some directors are more interested in presenting an immature love story confronted with ‘class war’ and some try to portray middle class demands such as housing, schooling, university entrance, jobs and promotions- all in the same story. The competition within the middleclass is also highlighted without identifying the root causes of the issues in question. Most dramas don not have identified themes and are merely a jumble of unconnected events. It is difficult to grasp any continuity toward accomplishment of a vision while they continue to be telecast for years.

Before the colonial era we had our own cultural values but subsequently we were influenced by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British cultures and presently we are stuck in the middle without an identity. We follow many traditions and customs which are of British, Indian and Sri Lankan origins. We have forgotten the values of living in an extended families respecting and living in harmony with neighbors and relatives. These tele dramas are a representation of our deteriorating cultural values and hamper the upbringing of generations to come. A Japanese tele drama titled Oshin became very popular in Asian countries and it can be identified as a story appealing to the middle class to boost their positive attitudes and social values. It was very popular in Sri Lanka with over 200 episodes being telecast. In this series Oshin, the heroine, serves as a symbolic figure with perseverance most times, showing that a person should never give up, even in the most trying times. She finally becomes a highly successful entrepreneur, owing a large supermarket chain.

 The story of Oshin

In 1907, seven-year-old Oshin is sent off by her father to work as a baby sitter in order to support her family. Though verbally and physically abused by her employer, Oshin sticks with her job for the sake of her family. However, when she is accused of stealing money, she runs away and for days suffers through blizzards as she walks to her home to be with her mother. But the blizzard is so rough on her that she nearly freezes to death. She is rescued by the soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army and she stays with them during the long winter. Thereafter a senior soldier wanted to escort her home but she declines the offer saying she knows the way and goes on her own. On reaching her home, Oshin is once again sent out this time to Kaga-Ya in Sayaka to work as a baby sitter. In Kaga-Ya she becomes good friends with her master’s daughter, who is of same age, and stays at Kaga-Ya until she turns 16. After returning home she discovers that her father wants to work as a barmaid. As a barmaid’s job is a cover for prostitution.  Oshin runs off to Tokyo to follow her older sister. Haru’s dream of becoming a hair stylist. Working a hair stylist, she meets Ryozo and the two get married. They survive the Great Earthquake of 1923, their house and businesses are destroyed forcing them to return to her in laws house. As the marriage was not approved by her mother in law, Kiyo Oshin suffers greatly, while living with them. She breaks her arm while attempting to escape and suffers a miscarriage because of the hard labour she had to endure the working in the fields. She finally leaves her in laws with her child and attempts to rebuild her life. Subsequently she finds out she can no longer be a hair stylist because of her broken arm. She then takes on a job as the pastry chef of a small restaurant, and also trades in fish. Her business booms and with her husband’s help, Oshin establishes a small but bustling, raw seafood shop.

Oshin’s courage in facing challenges from her own family and business rivals whilst managing small businesses during periods of economic recession are lessons to learn. Oshin carries a decent theme for a middle class centered tele-drama.

Konosuke Matsushita, founder of National Panasonic Corporation is a similar life example from Japan:

At the age of 9 years, Konosuke became an orphan without any means and he was not privileged to have a formal education. He started working in 1904 as an apprentice in the Semba district of Osaka. At that time many apprentices underwent severe training to become fully fledged merchants and it was in Semba that he learned the ins and outs of business through firsthand experience. At the age of 15, he joined the Osaka Electric Light Company, at 23, founded Panasonic, at 28 developed a bullet shaped bicycle lamp, and at 37, recognized the mission of the company to last for 250 years.

In contrast most Sri Lankan tele-dramas portray unsuccessful business ventures without entrepreneurial qualities and inculcate negative thoughts among the viewers.

Sri Lanakan tele-drama producers must select themes with enterprising and ambitious characters that show courage in facing the challenges of society, and can be trusted and followed by others in achieving ‘win-win’ solutions.