A couple of days before the Intelligence Bureau versus CBI clash over various issues concerning the Ishrat Jahan case last week, ethics and values were already being cited in a different context. Zarina Wahab, while defending her son, Sooraj, asserted that she had brought up her son in a manner that he would never ill-treat a woman. Jiah Khan’s suicide had triggered off debates on the status of women in our society, especially with reference to Bollywood. Shahrukh Khan, along with Deepika Padukone, on NDTV’s show, India Decides, for the promotion of his latest movie Chennai Express, insisted that the female lead’s name should precede that of the male lead’s in film credits – for which he has already set the precedent. When asked how such gestures would make any difference to a woman’s general condition, he agreed that it was not going to radically change the scene immediately, but would certainly contribute towards creating relevant awareness and sensitivity. When the anchor, Sonia, cited Jiah’s case, Khan pointed out that while it was true that young female actors become victims of umpteen uncertainties and hazards in the film world, there was a need to become strong enough to cope with rather than succumb to them. Deepika too said something similar. However, Jiah is not the first victim of the Bollywood culture, there have been others before her who desperately tried to shift from modeling to movies and paid the price with their lives. Headlines Today anchored, what was touted as, the “war of mothers” featuring Sooraj Pancholi’s mother Zarina Wahab and Jiah’s mother Rabia Amin. Frankly, there really was no need for this faceoff. The investigations are still going on and nobody yet knows the truth. The show revealed nothing new. While Rabia went hyper against the Pancholis, Zarina merely talked of the values she had instilled in her accused son.
Ironically, even as the tragedy involving a celebrity was being discussed, IBN Live was breaking news from Bhopal, where a 27-year-old woman was severely assaulted and her kneecaps shattered, in an attempt to rape her, which she managed to thwart. To add further insult to injury the police “refused to accept the woman’s written sexual assault case.” To paraphrase a famous idiom, words may not break bones, but they do not prevent or avenge breaking of bones and violating of human dignity, either. Not just police, but the entire society appears to have become inured to quotidian violence. The show’s banner “stop this shame” will remain as ineffective as the injured woman’s screams.
But violence has other, equally sinister, hues too. The Maoist attack on the Jamui train in Bihar, and another in Maharashtra in which a corporate honcho was killed, brought the focus back onto a range of related issues like law and order, governance, human rights etc. Mostly, TV talks remained mired in exchange of accusations and epithets.
While watching The Week That Wasn’t (TWTW) (CNN-IBN) one could not help but ponder over the history and purpose of satire. Gaius Lucilius, a Roman thinker (circa 180-102 BC), is credited with being the progenitor of satire as literary form. During the ancient times, satirists employed wit, irony, innuendo and even outright derision to expose human frailties and follies, with the intention of fighting vice. Gradually, it degraded into salacity and crude levity. Although TWTW occasionally comes up with devastating sarcasm, salacity and double entendre have been its salient features. Interestingly, Broacha, after delivering the most piercing remarks, blunts their edge by offering immediate apology. However, NDTV’s Gustakhi Maaf and The Great Indian Tamasha go to the other extreme – they are willing to strike but afraid to hurt, and end up tickling instead of prickling their targets. True satire should be subtle and sharp. To wit, the late British writer, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s verse from her book, To the Imitator of the First Satire of Horace: “Satire should, like a polished razor keen / Wound with a touch that’s scarcely felt or seen.” Capisce?
Published in The Financial World dated 17 June, 2013