Monday, April 8, 2013

Of cricket, comedy and political cantata

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

One has to hand it to the IPL organizers for extending the festive season that normally ends with Holi. With this tournament-cum-tamasha of cricket’s miniature version becoming a regular feature on the national calendar, one looks forward to jolly good times throughout the year. Thus, a cycle of non-stop diversions has come into being; when the IPL tamasha ends, the traditional festivals reappear – punctuated with assorted international test and one-day series – and the IPL’s next edition reappearing… This keeps the aam aadmi away from pondering over his existential problems and perils. Talking of tamasha, the inauguration ceremony of the IPL’s sixth edition was all over the small screen, with Bollywood stars Shahrukh, Katrina and Deepika upping the glam quotient despite Jennifer Lopez’s absence – did anyone miss her? Our news channels added their own brand of tadka to the celebrations. Experts and panelists on some talk shows found the opening ceremony rather irrelevant to the game of cricket, while others pointed out how cricket and Bollywood have been going hand in hand – literally as well as metaphorically – for quite some time now. Still others introduced rather somber element when they contrasted the celebrations with the tragic death of Kolkata’s SFI leader Sudipta Gupta, wondering what the megalopolis was coming to, thus triggering off a jabber-fest on primetime talk shows. The talk shows failed to bring any new facts into the public domain; the mutual finger pointing and shouting matches only helped the confusion to rule supreme. Nevertheless, juxtaposing cricket with a young man’s death created an eerie sensation.

 The Headlines Today and other news channels have allocated primetime slots to discuss cricket performances of the day. However, even before the IPL 6’s inauguration, the ABC News tried to introduce comic element, with Vinod Kambli and Manoj Prabhakar, sporting turbans, making rather pathetic attempts at raising chuckles. Their humor could not even reach, let alone tickle, one’s funny bone. Humor is a serious business. You realize this while watching the SAB TV; where the dramedy (comic drama) like Chidiya Ghar, peopled with characters sporting names from the animal world like Kesari (lion), Ghotak (horse), Gomukh (cow face), Koel, Mayuri, Kapi (monkey) and Gadha (ass), has been fairly successful in raising chuckles, while Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma has earned a loyal following among comedy TV audiences. Sony’s Comedy Circus Ke Ajoobe and Colors’s Nautanki – The Comedy Theatre serve up slapstick and stand-up, tragicomic spoofs and satires. Even as the SAB TV’s serials avoid double entendre, risqué and ribald, the Ajoobe revels in them, with Nautanki swinging between faux ribaldry and staid jesting.

Yet, none of these comic shows can match the humor generated on news channels. The seriousness with which they discuss the Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi/Manmohan Singh showdown in the 2014 general elections is amusing indeed. Character certificates and performance diplomas are handed out with the solemnity of university convocation. Witness how, in the past, pundits had been invariably way off the mark in their predictions of results in state assembly and general elections. But the incorrigibility is so stubborn that, once again, the idiot box is peopled with old and new political pundits predicting the political fate(s) of Modi, Manmohan and Rahul – the political parties’ fortunes figure as afterthought. None, but none, has cared to discuss the more substantial issues like the state of governance in the country. Yes, police violence and “celebrity/VIP” killings are covered extensively – but the tone is more voyeuristic than analytical. Every talk show collects hordes of noisemakers – to paraphrase Rahul Gandhi’s description of those who ask him irrelevant questions – to discuss such non-issues as Modi’s chances of getting a visa to Uncle Sam’s country, and Manmohan Singh’s probability of a third term as Prime Minister.

Live and impromptu dramas, courtesy politics and cricket, have become staples of mainstream news channels, threatening the very survival of entertainment channels in the medium-to-long run.

Published in The Financial World dated 08.04.2013

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