Memes, Masala & More: Decoding Why 'Shark Tank' Worked in Indian Waters
'Shark Tank India' took a successful model and adapted it for the Indian viewer.
The Quint DAILY
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There is a huge market in India for reality shows— the likes of Indian Idol, Bigg Boss, and Dance India Dance have been wildly successful. However, when SET India released the promo of Shark Tank India it garnered mixed reactions online. Some were excited that their favourite show was coming to India and others were extremely skeptical about the format working in the country.
But it worked— the show was very successful with the ‘sharks’ on the show giving rise to memes, Reddit bots, and parodies by comedians. The main reason behind Shark Tank India's success is the way the creators managed to televise ‘India’.
Changing ‘Shark Tank’ for India With Familiarity
The show has seven sharks— Namita Thapar, Aman Gupta, Ashneer Grover, Anupam Mittal, Vineeta Singh, Ghazal Alagh, and Peyush Bansal. The producers must be lauded for their pick of ‘sharks’, whether you love them or not, since they’re all people behind brands most Indian consumers would recognise— for instance, BharatPe, boAt, Lenskart, and SUGAR.
Vineeta Singh told one pitcher, “Ye jo hota hai na US mai chal raha hai, India mai chal raha hai, woh aksar kaam nahi karta. (The idea that something will work in India just because it worked in the USA often doesn’t hold true.)” Shark Tank India, thus, changed the show for an Indian format.
The show’s set is familiar to the gaudy extravagant sets of daily soap operas and some reality shows— a clear contrast to the sleek boardroom vibe of the US version.
Most of the show is in Hindi, and judging from social media posts by some pitchers from the show, this was a creative choice. Even most of the pitches cater to more India-specific problems or inventions.
What ‘Sells’ in India: ‘Hum Indians Hai, Humaare Andhar Emotion Hai’
I am not going to explain the Indian marketplace in numbers (you could say, ye meri expertise nahi hai)— this is purely showbiz. That is what Shark Tank India is; even though the format is all business, the show in itself relies on tactics the Indian audience enjoys.
Aman said it best, “We’re Indians, we have emotions.” Reality TV has gained a reputation for using sob stories for viewership and it’s a very successful model so far. Many people stay hooked to shows like KBC and Indian Idol because of the people embarking on their rags to riches story— we love a good underdog success story.
I would like to pretend I don’t fall for the schtick but the Shark Tank episode with 'Jugaadu' Kamlesh is in my top 5. The show also uses the 'parivaar' and ‘maa’ factor, also a staple for reality shows. Without fail, every show has a few episodes with a mother, a couple, or adorable kids, highlighted (Namita Thapar is frequently called Phar-maa).
With this endeavour though, the show brought several issues to the forefront that need to be talked about— some inventions tried to make work easier for farmers and vegetable vendors and that is not a conversation people have every day.
The show also encouraged women entrepreneurs and interestingly, one of the most viewed videos on the channel’s official YouTube is the one titled ‘Women Taking Charge’ with over 4 million views.
On the flip side, for the longest time, Indian Idol would air auditions that the judges hated and viewers ate it up. Sadistic as it may seem, watching people get roasted is something people enjoy. Shark Tank India is filled with such instances and it IS on purpose because every pitch that reaches the sharks has been shortlisted from a long list of candidates...and products like ‘Sippline’ made it to the shortlist.
Even Shark Tank USA once had a founder whose product had to be installed in the human ear through surgery! It also had to be charged.
Hero VS Villain and Loads of Drama
Most of the people I talked to while trying to understand Shark Tank India’s success had one common answer, the drama. Throughout the show, there are dramatic and tense conversations between the sharks and even with the contestants.
They frequently bicker, indulge in healthy sledging, and even vigorously compete for the pitches that especially stand out. Some of the memes that emerged from Shark Tank India also came from such disagreements. The drama is intense, riveting, and inherently desi.
Then there are the archetypes for the sharks and a deep dive into Reddit and Twitter revealed two major ones— the ‘nice ones’ and Ashneer ‘villain’ Grover.
Ashneer has a reputation of being rude, snarky, and straightforward and many viewers absolutely hate it. But hate watching also seemingly played a role in taking Indian Matchmaking to the Emmys so it’s, once again, genius casting.
On the other hand, Ashneer also has his redeeming moments which stops the audience from distancing him from the show completely. Also, to be honest, some viewers love Ashneer’s attitude. Most of the other sharks receive compliments galore— Peyush and Namita are understanding, Vineeta is hilarious, Aman and Anupam’s banter is a highlight.
Additionally, the drama makes for smart cliffhangers. With the advent of OTT, it can be easy to forget that holding a viewer’s attention on TV is a hard task.
Advertisements are a necessary evil for TV and what stops your viewer from switching to another channel? A hook. Unless you’re watching the show on Sony LIV (with a subscription), Shark Tank India would need those dramatic cliffhangers to keep you hooked too.
Sometimes It’s Just That Simple
Some people just love the entire franchise, yours truly included. One viewer tells me that they watched Shark Tank India for a (very) basic understanding of business and the show’s addition of the segments where sharks break the fourth wall to explain financial terms worked in its favour.
The franchise runs on a successful business model— people pitch their ideas for investments— with a loyal audience; Shark Tank USA doesn’t have over 10 seasons for nothing. However, even for viewers who regularly watch Shark Tank, the Indian version has a unique upper hand— the products are accessible.
The show also has a large GenZ viewership— the generation that is restructuring personal finance.
With social media and the pandemic, there has been a boom in self-made businesses. GenZ has also shown a large interest in investing so Shark Tank taps into a multi-generational market.
If you love a product on Shark Tank USA, there is a low chance that they deliver to India since many products are in their funding stage and haven’t started shipping overseas. With the Indian version you can, more often than not, go online and buy a product you love. Mix that with the emotions the show is tapping into and you have a winner!
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