Why Ghanaians can't get enough of Jane the Virgin and Indian soap operas
It’s afternoon at a hair salon in Osu – a busy commercial area in Accra – where a group of workers have been shuttling between customers since the morning.
As the day winds to end the stylists in the salon move with a little less urgency, stealing occasional glances at the television screen above one of the large mirrors. Veera, a popular Indian soap opera, is on, grabbing their attention with its dramatic segues, cliffhangers, tension-heightening sound accompaniments and swift closeups capturing the shocked, ecstatic and exaggerated expressions of the actors.
Veera is the second Indian imported soap opera that has been dubbed into Twi (a local dialect of the Akan language in Ghana) by the television channel Adom TV. With families coming home after work and school to catch up on the latest episodes Adom’s two shows, Kumkum Bhagya and Veera are two of the most popular on the channel and have become part of people’s regular television watching routine, says Beatrice Ehomah, a producer at Adom. So much so that their success has surpassed what management had expected with people watching and following them with more rigor than the local films on the channel.
“There is a lot of learning and encouragement about children and their intelligence,” one of the stylists, Grace, says of a storyline in Veera. “I like it because of that.”
Grace adds that she and her colleagues are often still working when the evening shows begin, but any moments they catch are worth it. Hannah, a trader who has a kiosk on the busy Oxford Street in Osu, also likes that there are lessons to be learned from the shows.
Latin American telenovelas first aired on Ghanaian channels in the 90s with storylines of love, betrayal and family melodramas. Over the years Ghanaians, who were typically used to their own local Kumawood and neighbouring Nigeria’s Nollywood films, took to the telenovelas from Latin America and Asia, perhaps as a result of the dramatized depictions of daily life that both offer with the added appeal of a foreign lifestyle.
Soap operas such as Juana la Virgen – the American version, Jane the Virgin, which returns on CW this week in the US – are also popular on cable television. Esmerelda and Rosalinda proved to be instant hits and even served as an avenue for non-fluent English speakers to brush up on their English-language skills.
Even with an increasing number of television channels popping up in the country – many of which air English-dubbed telenovelas – it wasn’t until last year that one channel, Adom TV, a Twi-speaking television station, decided it was time to set themselves apart from the competition. In November the Indian soap opera Kumkum Bhagya became the first to be dubbed into Twi. Others are now following suit.
“Originally the target audience was market women,” says Ehomah. “But now we find kids singing the songs, mimicking and picking up [lines] from the novela.”
While the channel is not the only one to locally produce a local language-dubbed telenovela – Obonu TV airs a Ga-dubbed Indian show – it is the first Twi channel to do so. With the dialect spoken across the diverse country, Adom has been able to reach a wider audience.
Grace says that though she watches both the English- and Twi-dubbed shows, she prefers those that are in Twi and finds – as the local producers hoped – that more people are encouraged to watch them.
However Amelia, an accountant and regular telenovela watcher, isn’t one of those people. Instead she feels like the voiceovers and the actors are at odds with each other.
“It doesn’t interest some of us anymore,” she complains. “It becomes annoying when you’re watching it. Whoever is speaking for them ... it doesn’t really match with the scene that is going on. So it takes the fun out of it.”
She prefers instead to watch Ghanaian films in local languages. But Ehomah says she and her team are pleased with the success of the Twi telenovelas.
“Twi has this humour in it,” Ehomah explains. “When we translate it we mix it up with the funny words in Twi and it makes it more humorous. So you have the Indians ‘speaking’ Twi with all those proverbs, it’s funny,” she says. “It helps relieve stress.”
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