Global Observer

Amid changing mores, India's first 24/7 marriage channel launches

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NEW DELHI -- At a time of changing attitudes and divorces on the uptick, this channels aims to forge happy and lasting marriages.

Anuranjan Jha

NEW DELHI -- Anuranjan Jha thought about launching India’s first 24/7 channel devoted to marriage for 12 years. In April, he finally launched “Shagun TV”-- a channel that airs programs on various phases of married life, including the journey towards tying the knot, the wedding, and married life.

“We did a lot of research before starting this,” said Jha. "Marriages are a huge market in India since almost every family is involved in it."

“Honeymoon travels,” a show on Shagun TV, explores romantic destination packages for newlyweds and provides practical information on how to get there. “Life Sutra” doles out advice for couples experiencing problems in their sexual lives. Another show, which is in the works, will bring couples on the verge of getting married to discuss their concerns and fears on issues of finances, getting along with their in-laws and settling into their new surroundings.

Jha explained that shifting social mores and the dilution of family support in Indian society had allowed for the market to play a significant part in making marriages happen. Increasingly, people are turning to marriage experts and agencies to help them in different stages of the marriage cycle. Jha, who has invested 70 crores in the channel or $11.6 million, is developing it to become a one-stop destination for advice, options and practical know-how on how to get married and stay married.

The 38-year-old entrepreneur pointed out that traditionally Indian families used to be large joint-family units. So when it was time to get younger members married, everyone would pool their collective ideas and resources to find a spouse. And if there were disputes between spouses, then there would be a joint effort to secure reconciliation.

A chat show on Shagun TV

In the past two decades, however, the joint family has slimmed down to a nuclear family. Increasingly, young adults are opting not to live with their parents. “With all these changes, live in-relationships, smaller families … young people need guidance and parents need help to find matches,” Jha said. “At every level of the process, people have questions. And that’s where we come in.”

Some shows on Shagun TV deal with just the wedding, a huge industry in India, and getting bigger because more Indians can afford big budgets for it. The “Gold and Beautiful” program, for instance, is about how to get jewelry shopping for the marriage done. The channel also airs real weddings, which give ideas to viewers for their own.

It is estimated that the wedding business, which includes clothes and jewelry, wedding planning, catering, hotel reservations, and entertainment in India is worth $25 billion annually and is growing at 25 percent to 30 percent every year.

Gaurav Seth, a wedding planner, organizes weddings to the tune of about six to seven lakh rupees, which is $10,000 to $12,000. On occasion, Seth has also planned weddings for about 40 lakh rupees or $67,000. “But there is no limit to how much one can spend,” he said, recalling that a wedding his previous employers organized cost 1 crore or $170,000.

While an increasing number of Indians have more money to spend on the festivities, the marriage scene has also been transformed in a larger social context. Jha said that his channel responds not just to the economics of weddings, but rather its objective is to makes marriages successful when it is being viewed as outdated and live-in relationships are rising. The programming then has to be relevant to the demands of new-age couples as well as the pressures on them.

Women, for instance, have joined the workforce and so they don’t settle down until their late 20s or early 30s. Men, too, prefer marrying after they feel established in their jobs.

India is famous -- or infamous -- for its “arranged marriages,” which involve parents settling the matter with minimal inputs from the couple. Now, parents still “arrange” meetings, but the boy and girl have the freedom to say no, with no hard feelings. A few decades ago, love marriages were few. But now both the freedom to choose or leave one’s partner has increased.

The tools for meeting people have also changed. Millions of Indians have advertised in the matrimonial pages run by national dailies, which provide basic information like the height, skin tone, caste, education and income. These ads then began appearing on marriage websites, which allowed people to write a bit more about themselves. Now big cities like Delhi and Mumbai are also seeing a mushrooming of agencies that are arranging sessions for young people to mingle in casual settings.

Jodi No.1 - coming soon

In response to a marriage situation where both husband and wife work, which may lead to stress and tension in the house, the channel will soon be launching Jodi No. 1, a reality show featuring several couples, and the winner is the duo that shows the maximum capacity for understanding and compatibility with each other in difficult situations. The promo says, "It grants that chance to all the husbands to prove their unconditional love for their wives. And as for their better halves, this is a chance to show your hubby to what lengths you are willing to go for him!"

Another show, which will be aired soon, will counsel couples on saving marriages. “Such a program is needed. We are hearing about divorces all the time now and this is troubling,” said Jha.

In pursuit of forging happy marriages, Jha said that his channel only airs positive content about married life. So while afternoon soaps often show the bickering families and adultery, the channel has a chat show that gets mother-in-law and daughter-in-law to share happy experiences.

A few months after the launch, Jha describes the response as “mixed” because it's still early days and the buzz about the channel is slowly getting around. But the former journalist, who is confident that his venture is headed for success, expects it to make a profit by the third year.

“We are planning more creative and exciting shows that will bring in more viewers,” he said. “We love marriages. We love India. We save marriages. We save India.”

Photos: Courtesy Anuranjan Jha/www.shagunindia.com

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Betwa Sharma

Correspondent

Betwa Sharma has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Time, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, AOL News, GlobalPost, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Tribune. She previously worked as the United Nations/New York correspondent for the Press Trust of India, the country's largest newswire. She holds degrees from the National Law Institute University in India, Cambridge University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Delhi, India. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure