Turn on, tune inThe Sabido syntax of storytelling is bringing a new wave in the radio drama scenario
Radio is considered to be the most widely accessible medium among various mass media outlets. In Nepal, the pervasiveness and affordability of radio has been continuously noted for over six decades. According to a study done by Samarth-Nepal, 80 percent of the people of Nepal consider radio to be one of their prime media outlets. Another research carried out by Sharecast Initiative Nepal showed that 35 percent of the respondents tune in to the radio daily. Due to such reach and effectiveness, radio has become a commonly sought media outlet for interested stakeholders. Generally, the use of radio involves activities targeted towards awareness building, behavioural change and public entertainment.
Dramas for change
Radio dramas have been playing an integral role in the promotion of behavioural transformation, propagation of moral standards and intervention in various social practices. The radio dramas broadcast by different stations vary in content and structure, depending on their objective. Sathi Sanga Mann Kaa Kura, Katha Mitho Sarangiko and Gaun Gaun Ma Singha Durbar are a few popular radio dramas that have left a profound and lasting imprint on the minds of their audiences. Two new radio-based soap operas have been recently launched in Nepal. Developed collaboratively by Antenna Foundation Nepal and Population Media Centre (PMC), Mai Sari Sunaakhari (in Nepali) and Hilkor (in Maithili) are two radio dramas devised in a new writing format which has never been practiced before in Nepal’s radio drama scenario. Based on the thematic areas of child marriage and education, nutrition, family planning, gender-based violence and gender equality, these serial dramas attempt to showcase the reflections of society in a naturalistic and appealing manner.
Coined by Mexican screenwriter Miguel Sabido, the Sabido format has been developed by assessing the influential prowess of soap operas and serial dramas. A carefully woven serial drama encompassing all quintessential elements can keep a firm grip on the minds of the audience and draw reflections in their behaviour. Understanding this notion, the Sabido style enforces a behaviour or character-driven storyline approach rather than a direct message-driven approach. In this format, the story’s characters and the values that they inherit are regarded substantially.
The primary characters are categorised as positive, negative and transitional. For instance, in a child marriage case, the negative character might hold on to a value related to the acceptance of dowry. The negative character, therefore, should always remain adamant to that specific value. Likewise, transitional characters go through various transformations while travelling through the story arch. The action, consequences, rewards and punishments guide the transitional character towards a much clearer and righteous path as the story unfolds. The assumption is that the transitional characters in the drama are the ones who best represent our audience and their lives. The negative and positive characters are inclined towards the extremes and bear a kind of idealistic set of values.
Challenges in writing
First and foremost, making a play reach an audience through a single sense (hearing) is an uphill task for every dramatist. To recreate an action, emotion, expression, taste or smell through an audio medium is a challenge which can easily make or break the momentum of the play. Another pivotal point that a playwright needs to remember while working in the Sabido model is the time frame of the story and the characters in it. To make the plot plausible and effective, the
playwright needs to be given sufficient time for the characters to evolve and events to unfold. Since behavioural changes cannot be done overnight, the decisions taken by the characters and the results and consequences should be placed as checkpoints at various nodes of the story arch.
Furthermore, the Sabido style also demands pragmatism while establishing a scene. It adheres to the assumption that a microphone is always fixated while recording a scene. A particular scene can only have a single atmosphere where characters can come and leave; the scene cannot move along with the characters. Hence, the task of generating an interestingly dynamic scene with all these confinements can at times be tremendously tough for the writers. Besides, the balances in terms of various elements like the character’s state of mind, cliffhanging end to a scene, cross connections between independent stories and situational response of the characters are crucial while proceeding with the story.
Pre-test and initial feedback sessions of both Mai Sari Sunkhari and Hilkor received responses from the audience claiming that the dramas were a bit confusing yet intriguing at the same time. The simultaneous flow of four independent stories in a single radio drama is being practiced for the first time in Nepal. The Sabido syntax of storytelling, regardless of the slight initial reluctance, is undoubtedly bringing a new wave in the radio drama scenario.
Paudel is associated with Sarwanam Theatre as a theatre artist and director