Monday, April 15, 2013

Thrills & chills, and the nightmare revisited

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

Chills and thrills are becoming as ubiquitous on the entertainment channels as social and political violence is on the news television.

Sony TV’s CID has become a template for crime thrillers on Hindi television, mixing quirky humor and platonic relationships/understated romance with crime, thrills and convincing investigative skills, which include the time-tested third degree – a mere suggestion though, in terms of a punch/slap and black-eyed suspects. No wonder, CID is today the longest running thriller on Indian television. Crime Patrol is another serial on Sony, based on real crime stories, taken from police records and, seemingly, from court cases. Although both the serials tend to be a bit preachy, they touch a chord among the viewers, thus keeping them riveted to the small screen. Seeing their eyeball grabbing potential, other TV channels like Colors, which telecasts Shaitaan – a jazzed up version of Crime Patrol, too have been experimenting with this genre. Life OK’s Shapath is a thriller involving crime and crime fighters. Then there is 2013 (earlier 2012) on the same channel where protagonists fight international terrorists.

If crime sells, so do supernatural stories. This genre was popularized by Zee TV with the Zee Horror Show (a rather amateurish attempt); way back in 1995, Balaji Films’ Mano Ya Na Mano had created waves; and later on Aahat (better production values, but with scope for more chill quotient) attracted good viewership. Presently, Life OK has come up with a hybrid genre narrative in Savitri – a love story that transcends time and space. It has some thrilling and chilling supernatural elements and draws its plot from mythology, pitting Satya and Savitri against deadly evil forces led by Rahukaal. The latter pursue the couple across several millennia. On the same channel, we have Ek Thi Nayika, which features eight different stories spread over sixteen episodes, involving tough battles against dayans and demons, leaving hardly any scope for the tender, or even steamy, stuff although the film Ek Thi Dayan’s Emraan Hashmi makes an appearance. Some of the best-known names from the TV entertainment world have been lined up, viz., Sakshi Tanwar, Shweta Tiwari, Ankita Lokhande, Aamna Sharif and Smriti Irani, who play the roles of Good Gals (Mahanayika) out to banish evil from this world. This serial is proving to be a quality bone-chiller.

Talking of Smriti Irani – from being a Bharatiya Naari on the entertainment TV (right from her Saas Bhi… days), she has evolved into a tough, combative debater on news TV talk shows. Watching her go ballistic on the News Hour (Times Now), much to Sankarshan Thakur’s discomfort, one wonders whether the womanpower has come to impact even the news TV discourses, after having conquered the entertainment TV. Look how women debaters are invariably besting their male opponents with the ease of champion pugilists, viz., Nirmala Sitaraman, Meenakshi Lekhi and Shaina, not to mention the redoubtable Sushma Swaraj – all of them are erudite and eloquent, and incidentally, all of them represent the BJP, and they neither ask for, nor give, any quarter to their opponents. Of course, the Congress Party’s Renuka Chowdhary, Ambika Soni and, long back, Jayanti Natarajan are excellent debaters – but they are no spitfires. Barring Chowdhary, others have been rather placid.

Talking of spitfires, Mamata Banerjee really exploded onscreen when SFI demonstrators in New Delhi crossed all norms of peaceful demonstration. All hell broke loose in West Bengal, especially Kolkata, when TMC toughs went on an anti-CPM rampage. Consequently, violence – physical as well as verbal – dominated the small screen last week.

However, a hope for closure to another kind of violence was rekindled when the court ordered reopening of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case against Jagdish Tytler, and the Supreme Court rejected Bhullar’s mercy petition. It was a tough call for TV anchors to balance the horrendous 1984 killings and the comeuppance visiting the terrorist. Both Rahul Kanwal (Headlines Today) and Arnab Goswami (Times Now) led their counterparts on other channels in empathizing with the riot victims, while allowing a multidimensional debate on the Bhullar issue in an emotionally charged atmosphere. Just a throwback to those ghastly days sends chills up one’s spine. Hope the nightmare ends soon.

Published in the Financial World dated 15 April 2013

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