Until three years ago, telenovelas were like rare diamonds on our screens that attracted eager viewership with each new drama. Competition was subtle among terrestrial stations that struggled to increase their ratings. Each telenovela then came with its own uniqueness and intrigues.
From the days of ‘Wild Rose’, ‘Maria de Los Angeles’, ‘The Rich Also Cry’, ‘Lady of the Rose’, ‘Secrets of the Sand’, ‘No One But You’ to ‘Isaura The Slave Girl’, telenovelas were staple delight in most Nigerian homes, no matter when it was being aired. These compelling stories come in different shades of love drove women, both old and young, insane.
It was a sure sight to see women hurrying home to catch the latest episode so that they could give a recap the next day of all the suspense and drama and predicting plausible action on subsequent episodes to friends, colleagues or neighbours. The telenovela market in Nigeria has experienced a subtle boom.
However, the game changed in 2013 when DStv decided to run 24 hrs telenovela channels on its platform. With the birth of Telemundo, the audience of telenovelas quadrupled. Soon after, the cable TV launched other telenovela channels like Zee World, Eva which increased viewership.
Nowadays, there is an aggressive battle of telenovela supremacy on our screens. Every entertainment channel is trying to leverage on the huge potential market the soaps provide.
No doubt, the Latin-American telenovelas’ popularity lean on its teeming female fan base and is believed in some quarters to have surpassed Nollywood’s popularity in recent times. The introduction of Asian soaps too has also increased the demand for telenovelas, a trump card that Zee World exclusively enjoys at the moment on DStv with series like ‘Married Again’.
For viewers who do not love these soaps, it is hard to comprehend what the craze is about. The storylines always seem the same. Girl falls in love with a man, obstacles get in the way, but they overcome it at the end. Sometimes the storylines tilt to siblings’ rivalry, family reunion and the list goes on and on. To some, the plots appear unrealistic, but the denizens of telenovelas hold different views.
For starters, they cannot get enough of the pretty faces or macho men that leave bits of jealousy and admiration. In addition to the attractive personalities, the exotic locations and glamour that come with each soap are very appealing. A major attraction of soaps is the intense passion that comes with them. The way the actors provoke our senses with their words and actions is simply incredible.
While the argument that the plots are thematically similar sounds justifiable, there is no denying the fact that embedded in these themes are lessons that the viewer can easily relate to in their daily lives.
Like any fiction, producers of these telenovelas have used the various narratives to engineer social change in their environments. Human trafficking, drug abuse, domestic violence are some of the familiar themes that the soaps revolve around. They are expository in nature.
For instance, in Telemundo’s ‘My Heart Beats for Lola’, viewers experience the trauma human-trafficking and prostitution can have on women and children. In another series ‘Someone is Watching’ and ‘Behind Closed Doors’, viewers are exposed to the world of psychopaths.
Sometimes the narratives explore familiar themes of love, greed and jealousy that end up gnawing at our conscience. Tragedy is sometimes thrown in the mix like in the case of ‘Forbidden Love’ where we saw Bruno (JenCarlos Canela) deal with a forbidden passion ignited by his uncle’s wife, Bianca (the late Monica Spear).
These stories evoke powerful emotions that have made us love some characters and hate others.
There are scenes when the viewer is tempted to shoot the villain from her couch while in other scenes he or she may want to jump into the screen and rescue the damsel in distress in case the hero is taking too long.
This particular technique of the producers to provoke such powerful emotions from viewers is apparently the Midas touch.
The characters too are built in such a way that the viewer can identify with them in reality. It is easy to see a character that reminds you of a nosy neighbour or a Casanova or even your partner.
At the end of the day, the viewer can point to one or two scenarios played by these characters that easily relate to their lifestyle or of someone they know.
Nigeria’s first telenovela, ‘Taste of Love’ produced by Shileola Ibironke’s Micro Media Limited, premiered two years ago. The show starred Nollywood stars Blossom Chukwujekwu and Makida Moka.
The story revolved around the Musa-Phillips and Pepple families. Ibrahim Musa-Phillips is convinced that Jonathan Pepple has betrayed him and caused the death of his wife, Maria. Until the real dark truth comes out, their children, who fall in love with each other, will have to overcome the family hatred.
Albeit one cannot overlook the strong message of love that is communicated in these stories. Whether love between a man and a woman, a parent and a child, neighbours or strangers, it is definitely true that telenovelas provide a hope for love.
Perhaps, this explains why women are addicted to the soaps. In a world where love is scarce and hearts are broken mercilessly, telenovelas offer a ray of hope that love still exists in this cruel world, irrespective of its fictional setting. It restores our faith that love can indeed conquer all, no matter the time it takes.
They make us laugh, cry, scream, argue but at the end of the day, they give us a reason to cling to love, to believe in love again, even if it seems unrealistic at the moment or different from your situation. Watching Olvido in Eva’s ‘A Love to Remember’ or Micaela in ‘Perfect Woman’ reinforces the fact that love resides in the purest and innocent hearts and love is possible in the most impossible situations.
Each of these themes have semblance in the real world and proves that telenovelas act like catalyst to love.