Monday, April 29, 2013

Real spectator sport: Talk Shows on news TV

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

We are at war with China. You don’t believe this? Well, you must have missed watching Headlines Today, Aaj Tak, CNN-IBN and Times Now or, for that matter, any other news channel worth its TRP. The only hitch is, the number of Chinese soldiers who have “invaded” the Indian territory is about thirty and are armed with only assault rifles; no heavy artillery or military aircrafts – save for a lone spidery helicopter – to back and sustain this “invasion”. The trouble is not that the Chinese soldiers have intruded into our territory – they have done it hundreds of times before – but it’s with the way we react to these intrusions. This time the problem might well be serious, as claimed by some defense analysts, because the PLA intruders have set up a tent 10/19 kilometers into the Indian territory, thus indicating their intention to stay put indefinitely. If you have been listening to the alarmism mouthed by Arnab Goswami, Rahul Kanwal etc on primetime TV, you may be forgiven for mistaking the situation for 1962 redux. It certainly is not. As an analyst on the NDTV pointed out, after the 1962 fiasco, Indian soldiers had thrashed and evicted Chinese soldiers from the Zoji La Pass in 1967. Thereafter, they had remained quiet for quite a long time. Moreover, must this intrusion call for damning the central government for its perceived timidity? This when Salman Khurshid has asserted that India is no pushover, and is taking up the matter with his Chinese counterparts in right earnest? Moreover, AK Anthony has categorically stated that India will not be cowed down, and is already consulting the military top brass. Perhaps the war drums can wait, dear patriotic anchors?

Some important happenings last week deserved better media attention. The passing away of the 83 year old, Bangalore born Shakuntala Devi was one. Shakuntala who, you ask? Not your fault. She was a computational genius who had beaten a computer while calculating the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in fifty seconds flat way back in the late 1970s! The best computer in those days took 62 seconds for the same computation. However, mathematics never was a great TRP generator on Indian television. If only our filmmakers, or today’s TV soap producers, had taken inspiration from her life and struggles! They would have come up with memorable cinematic narratives.

However, news TV channels treated another genius, who too had passed away last week, a bit better: Hindi Cinema’s legendary singer Shamshad Begum. She was 94. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that, as a singer, she ought to be anointed as Hindi cinema’s first superstar. She had not taken any formal training in singing or music. Yet, she took the world of Hindi cinema by storm with her lilting voice and versatility, and bequeathed to us a rich and enduring cultural legacy. Whether the lyrics were light and quasi-comic like Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon (Patanga), the folksy Holi aayee re kanhayee (Mother India) or the light-romantic lekey pehla pehla pyaar (CID), she had the nation humming along with her. And, who can forget her qawwali duet with Lata Mangeshkar, Teri mehfil mein kismet aazma kar hum bhi dekhengey (Mughal-e-Azam)? While Aaj Tak and ABP News earmarked primetime slots to Shamshad Begum, other news channels either telecast her songs or showed video clips on her in their news bulletins.

As the week was ending, and the ‘Ponzi scam’ related din was reaching a crescendo, came the news of deadly assault on Sarabjit in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Rai jail. Yes, the same jail where another Indian, Chamel Singh, was brutally murdered earlier. On the News Hour (Times Now) Pakistani spokespersons, expectedly, remained impenitent, in spite of Arnab Goswami’s schoolmasterly rebukes. Other Indian news television anchors too are now baying for Pakistan Government’s blood. But to what effect?

Postscript: You must have noticed that this column has yet to say a word on the IPL, despite the “slapgate” flashback and the Gambhir-Kohli faceoff. But who needs an adrenalin recharge after watching the primetime spectator sport in the form of the gladiatorial talk shows on news channels?

Published in The FinancialWorld dated 29 April 2013

No comments: