Why is there no Yuppie Programming?

So what is it about TV that inspired me to write arbit posts defining lalas, yuppies and hippies? Well, it’s like this. Ever since I started watching TV about four months ago (when I moved in with relatives in Mumbai), I’ve realised this about it – all Indian TV (fiction) programming is centred around lalas and hippies. But never yuppies. As far as the people who make Indian TV serials are concerned, yuppies don’t exist.

Now soap operas of the K variety are of course dominated by lalas. From what little I’ve seen of them (fortunately, my relatives in Mumbai are not devotees) they’re centred around gigantic business joint families where everyone is scheming against each other, often for control of the business. Very lala, really. Even when said soap operas are not of the Balaji K-variety, they tend to involve ginormous lala families.

My cousin watched two soap operas earlier in the year. One involved a female who was dark skinned, so she was married off to a spastic guy. As in, literally spastic. I am not making this up. But the spastic guy belonged to a giant lala family and his sister-in-law schemed against this dark-complexioned chick. So full lala fundaes again.

The other soap opera was halfway between hippie and lala. Like I said, these things are intersecting stereotypes on a Venn Diagram rather than properly mutually-exclusive-collective-exhaustive categories. So anyway this one is about a star kid who’s being launched by his bigger movie star (or maybe director or producer) dad. Now being a movie star is as hippie as it gets, but if you’re being launched by your dad than lala fundaes come into play again.

The point is that in all of this, yuppies are missing.

Cut to now. My aunt’s favourite thing on TV these days is this thing on NDTV Imagine called Radha ki Betiyaan Kuchh Kar Ke Dikhayengeen. It regularly scales new heights of hippieness. It’s about this woman from Meerut who packs up and brings her daughters to Mumbai so that they can be successful in life.

What’s amazing is the path to success these daughters take. The accepted path to success is the yuppie one – become an engineer, then become an MBA, then become a finance professional, and pay off your EMIs for the next thirty years. You would think that these daughters would follow it too. But no! The oldest one gets a job at a fashion design house, which is the borderline between hippie and yuppie. But then she quits to enter a dance contest, and abandons all pretensions of yuppieness. And in fact this goes on throughout the show. The three daughters and their mother perpetually have to raise money for some reason or the other. It’s like watching a Sunday morning kids movie every night at primetime. And instead of doing it the yuppie way and becoming management consultants, they do it buy selling songs they’ve written, taking part in dance contests, and providing Hindi tuitions. Something involving Excel, or even maths done with pencil and paper never crosses their minds. It’s amazing.

Then there’s the stuff my cousin watches. There is first this show on Star One about doctors who seem to spend all their time singing and dancing rather than taking care of patients. So you have singing dancing doctors who never worry about the price of bhindi, or how much rent they’re paying. Come to think of it, they don’t seem to have homes – they just sing and dance at hospital. The point is that yuppie concerns of day-to-day minutiae are given the go-by.

Now it would be okay if the total absence of yuppie characters was restricted to television. But it exists in movies also. There are no yuppie characters in Bollywood either. Everyone in a Hindi movie is blissfully unconcerned about where the money is coming from. When will you ever see a Hindi movie character worrying about rent, or who’s going to clean the toilet? Let’s run through some of the movies in 2008:

  • Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: everyone is hippie or lala. Aditi wants to do a course in filmmaking. I mean, come on. How much more hippie can you get? The guy she gets engaged to has a family business and is lala. Her brother is hippiemax. Even Jai never gets around to being a yuppie. To all indications, his mother doesn’t ever bother about rent because she lives in an owned house – lalaness, again.
  • Drona and Love Story 2050: Ok, the characters in these don’t fit any stereotype, but it’s still yuppie exclusion.
  • Singh is Kinng: Farmer with a heart of gold becomes head of the Australian mafia. Hippie, hippie, hippie.
  • Kidnap: Rich daughter of gazillionaire? Lala.

You see my point, yes?

So in all of this, do yuppies get seen at all? Well, yes. But only in the ads, which most people just surf away from. Now, let’s look at this in detail. With YouTube examples!

Usually, the category with the maximum yuppieness is life insurance. Which makes sense. Lalas don’t need life insurance because they’re already rich and have enough assets to take care of their dependents. Or if they do buy life insurance, they’ll buy whatever their CA-moonlighting-as-insurance-agent will sell them, not on the basis of advertising. Hippies don’t make financial decisions and just leave it to their private banker or lala family’s accountant. So you have to pitch to yuppies, who actually live on a month-to-month basis and have to worry about this shit. So it makes sense to have yuppie-focused advertising.

For a long time, the HDFC Standard Life ad was the yuppiest in India:

Consider! It has a daughter buying her father a car, which is the antithesis of regular lala relationships. Buying their parents stuff is probably what every yuppie dreams of. Plus look at all the other yuppie indicators – personalised checkbook from a new age private bank, shirt and pants instead of salwar kameez or sari, hair let down instead of plaited. In fact HDFC Standard’s slogan – Sar Utha Ke Jiyo – is the sort of thing that resonates more with yuppies than anybody else.

So yes. For a very long time, nothing could beat HDFC Standard Life in the yuppieness stakes. And then Airtel unleashed Madhavan and Vidya Balan. First, they established the young and urban part by showing them at an apartment building’s lift:

Having established yuppieness, they then set out to reinforce it:

Once again, we have the yuppie aspiration of giving money to parents instead of the other way around. Plus, check out the furniture. It screams yuppie. But in case you had any doubts at all, the next ad in the series set out to bury them once and for all:

Now prepaid recharges may not seem very yuppie. After all good yuppies have postpaid corporate connections. But set that aside for a while. And look at everything else in the ad. You have Vidya Balan telling Madhavan to make salad and do the household chores. This is the pinnacle of yuppieness. Hippies have domestic help to do the household chores. As for lala families, the woman telling the man to do stuff around the house is an exercise in futility.

But anyway. So there are yuppie characters in ads. But even this is in a very small set of ads. Usually for services, especially the financial sort. FMCG ads are dominated by celebrity endorsements (i.e., hippies). So are laptop ads for some bizarre reason. Confectionary ads have fantasy characters, and Fevicol actually goes so far as to show poor people. And like I said, people mostly surf away from ads, so it doesn’t really count.

So clearly the situation is grim for us yuppies. We get no representation in popular culture, and now the financial crisis is making the real world dark and depressing too. Now, we can only hope that the recent spate of yuppie suicides will mean that Sainath will give us some love. But honestly, who wants that?

PS1: I realise I’m only looking at lalas, yuppies, and hippies and ignoring poor people. But that’s pretty much because there have been no poor people in movies or on TV since the 1980s. People who watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and encouraged the secular trend in movies about hippie kids of lala parents, this is your fault.

PS2: Actually, even when there were poor people in the movies, they weren’t really poor. Even if they lived in chawls, rent never seemed to be a factor. Indian cinema and television is a fantasy world where everyone owns their house, no matter how poor or unemployed they are. (Insert subprime crisis/ NINJA mortgage/ Congressman Barney Frank joke here.)

PS3: Actually, there is one Hindi movie this year which has acknowledged the presence of yuppies. In fact it has covered all three stereotypes. But that will be discussed in the next post.

29 Replies to “Why is there no Yuppie Programming?”

  1. Radha ki what??!!! A 7 word soap name?! I thought you were making this up. Then I tried to see that video proof, but failed spectacularly – could barely watch for a minute.

    Even if somebody tries to make a yuppie soap, I suspect that market pressures would force it to morph into a saas-bahu saga. I remember this soap called “Sanjeevani” on Star about a hospital. Seemed to be sensible in the beginning. Slowly elements like scheming colleagues, love polygons etc. were added. I think the limit of any desi soap opera as time tends to infinity is a saas-bahu soap opera.

  2. Uh.. if FMCG ads are dominated by celebrities, and hence not yuppie.. then pretty much no ad from Airtel can be called yuppie. For a long time, they have been extremely heavy on celebrity endorsements (Shahrukh, Tendulkar, AR Rahman etc) and even this time, they had to get actors to play ordinary folks.

    Nonetheless, I get your point. And quite agree.

    The reason why we don’t see many yuppies on soaps is perhaps because yuppies don’t watch TV serials. You’ll find plenty of yuppies on MTV, most likely.

    Incidentally, Fevicol’s ads are probably targeted at the folks who actually make the buying decisions.. which is not you and me.. but the semi-skilled chaps who actually do the carpentry work in construction. I doubt if they are in the habit of channel-surfing and skipping all ads.

    PS: I am horribly out of date on Indian TV, not having watched anything in two years. *sigh*

  3. Just as well. It’s good yuppies aren’t portrayed as a part of Indian pop culture. Honestly tell me…do you really want to see an Ekta Kapoor soap with investment bankers and brand managers? Not me.

    Also, as far as ad films go, yuppies have a growing buying power – hence every marketeer out there wants to grab yuppie eyeballs.

    However, films are a wee bit better these days i guess…with Rock on! at least trying to show Mr. Investment Banker as lead.

    But more importantly, I guess yuppies form only a tiny percentage of the urban populace in India. Like it or not…majority are Lalas and hippies…and hence only current crap k-serials sell!

  4. there are not too many yuppie characters, because yuppie life is boring, for the most part. 9-7 grind, pay EMIs, what else? As you said yuppies themselves want to be hippies, but I don’t think too many hippies or lalas yearn to be yuppies.

    Though there have been a few so-called multiplex movies recently which had yuppies as central characters. Life in a metro, corporate, etc. There is this serial on Imagine – Jasu Behen Jayanti Lal Joshi ki Joint Family – which is pretty much Lala as can be guessed from the title (though not the K-serial kind), but there are some yuppie characters there. A recent graduate takes up a job as a store manager in Big Bazaar type chain, for example.

  5. i agree with VK that they don’t put yuppies in K serials because yuppies themselves don’t watch K serials. and i agree with mohan that the K serial watchers don’t want to watch yuppies filling forms and working on excel and paying EMIs.

    but that doesn’t explain the lack of yuppies in movies. i think a huge portion of moviegoers are yuppies. and also yuppie values are “aspirational”. for example, a lower-middle-class kid in school dreams of being a yuppie. even his parents will want their kid to be come a yuppie.

    there is a serious gap in the market and hopefully someone will come in to fill it. and hopefully they’ll pay you some royalty for coming up with this idea and analysis (and some part of that royalty will trickle down to me since it was against me that you initially bounced off this idea)

  6. VK – yeah, yuppies watch CNBC TV18 and National Geographic Channel and not soap operas. But you don’t find any yuppies on MTV. That’s all hippie again. In fact with programs like Splitsvilla and Roadies where the prize is to become a TV host MTV actually encourages people to drop yuppieness and take up hippieness.

    Prasanna – nobody does, but why should it be an Ekta Kapoor serial? There could be a yuppie sitcom.

    Mohan – what Skimpy said. Advanced yuppieness is aspirational for beginner yuppies. And Corporate was *not* a yuppie movie – all the characters did lala stuff like signing deals with the CM or hippie stuff like corporate espionage.

    Skimpy – if Rash Driving ever makes it to the screen, that will be the first yuppie sitcom in India. Then obly you me and Kodhi share the royalties.

  7. A few more ads which screamed out yuppieness.

    “Sanjooo” ad which ran during the IPL (for some insurance company)
    Another insurance ad where the wife is asking the husband who is getting ready to work to sign the insurance papers. That was a nice one. “mere jaane ke baad kya karogi with all that paisa” “doosri shaadi karoongi, world tour pe jaoongi”.
    Even the recent ad for Airtel DTH. What does a yuppie want to do after coming home? Why watch the hippies of course – Kareena, Saif, Rehman, etc.

  8. Strong framework.

    Yuppies don’t want to watch sitcoms in any case, that would be un-yuppie-like.

    Mumbai Salsa was a movie with yuppies.

    Don’t you think there is a significant overlap b/n Yuppies and White People (as in Stuff White People Like)?

  9. I thought the yuppies were all watching Star World and Zee Cafe. I can’t wait for the desi version of Friends. They’ll call it ‘Dosti’ or something. Then they will suffer a keyboard malfunction, and the name will be changed to Ddossttiii. 3 guys, 3 girls, living in their bombay apartment, and they go hang out in the nearby Barista. In they end they all get married to rich industrialists’ sons and daughters, and then the serial’s name changes to KKKKKKKyunki Laley bhi kabhi Yuppyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy the…

  10. Aadisht: MTV was just a guess. It used to be quite watchable earlier. The Reality dhows must have done it in.

    Thanks for mentioning CNBC TV18. I was wondering about the existence of a for-yuppies news channel (I know that India TV is *not* the one).

  11. Simply superb analysis – now I’m busy trying to classify everyone I know!

    I also feel that lalaism in TV programming and movies is linked to the collective mindset. Hippie and yuppie are individual mindsets. The individual mindset is still very nascent in India, and even many of the hippies and yuppies still value family and collectivism. Lalaism is like the LCD of the Indian mentality.

    But South India I feel is a little different. This “big khandaan” concept is more in North India. South Indian programming and films generally show smaller families – so I feel the Lala or the collective current is weaker here.

  12. Very good categorization. With the addition of poor people it covers pretty much everything.

    About Hindi Movies/ Soaps being all Yuppie or Hippie:
    The hindi film industry is completely run by sons of Lalas (Karan Johar) or sons of hippies (Abhishek Bachchan). Now when a lala or a hippie writes a script it will inevitably be about Lalas and Hippies. For them Yuppies are some strange species that they see through the tinted windows of their E-Classes. You know, the strange species that drives red Maruti Swifts and follows traffic rules.

    Soaps are also written and produced by rustic hippies (from Bihar/UP) and lalas respectively. So no hope there.

    The only hope is when Yuppies crossover to become Hippies. Eg. Nagesh Kukunoor, Chetan Bhagat’s movie about the Call center etc.

    My prediction is that pretty soon quite a few yuppies will make hippie transitions once they find out that corporate life is meaningless and/or pile up a truck load of cash in their savings accounts. Secondly the corporate film houses will realize that the lala/hippie fare doesn’t work too great with the multiplex crowd and will start funding small budget yuppie movies (Aamir, A Wednesday etc.)

    So, there is hope.

  13. Oh, you forgot that shilpa shetty movie named life in a metro or something. One where the director pulls two random characters from a pot and writes a heterosexual relationship between the two. Everyone is a yuppie in that movie except for that guy who gets close to bedding her. He is a hippie, I guess an amateur drama artist, but then turns a yuppie towards the end by accepting a job in the gelf.

  14. Well, it’s not based on how many of each kind there are, or what they like to watch, but WHOM they like to watch. I’m not sure each kind likes to watch itself…and once we figure that relationship, it’s a simple optimization question. For example:

    Lalas like to watch = Lalas, Hippies
    Hippies like to watch = Hippies
    Yuppies like to watch = Hippies

    Therefore, by putting in Hippies and Lalas, you’ve covered almost all of your bases. Even if yuppies were to form 98% of the population base, as long as they dont find themselves interesting, we wont have representation.

    Therefore, we need a national-level call to arms, a spirit of sacrifice – even if you are a FMCG ASM selling soap and HATE watching a soap about another FMCG ASM selling soap, you should step up to the plate and log hours in your free time watching such soaps. Take one for the team.

  15. very good post indeed especially the points related to movies ,being an IT professional for last 3 yrs ,i am yet to c a movie which depicts them correctly in bollywood all IT ppl are supposed to be genius with their laptops pressing few keys and do some weird stuff and the pro is solved

    no stuff regardinfg free pool,food pros,rent arguing,rent advance,feeling of stagnation after 1 yr or so,going to onsite for updating pics on orkut etc etc there are n number of things

  16. Dude, I think you’re on to something here. Please IP protect this before some (yuppie) consultant or similar-shit sells it and makes money for themselves.

    Pay me royalty for my idea of making you patent it, of course.

  17. Saas, Bahu and Sensex had yuppies despite the lala title. The lead characters work out of a call center though the clothing definitely suggests hippie. Among movies, Yuppie characters are observed in lot of telegu movies (esp rajendra prasad dramas) in the early 90’s. TZP had yuppie dad and i am assuming EMI will cover part of yuppies too. Saathiya has vivek oberoi playing sort of a yuppie.

  18. In fact with programs like Splitsvilla and Roadies where the prize is to become a TV host MTV actually encourages people to drop yuppieness and take up hippieness.

    Dude, none of the chicks or guys on Splitsvilla or Roadies were yuppies or even close to it. They are all blondes in varying degress of blondness. It makes you wonder about the next generation who will inherit this planet. I say we can safely shave off another 1000 years from the life expectancy of Mother Earth if this the ‘urban youth’

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