Saturday, September 19, 2015

Television: The yawn factor





The moment Barkha Dutt thanked Nana Patekar (NDTV 24X7) the yawn factor began to operate instantaneously. Before I explain this strangely familiar phenomenon let us go down the familiar path when ‘infotainment’ was a hep slang of our chattering elite; an innovatively seductive term used for the fare dished out by our electronic media. The ‘info’ conjures up images of whiz-kids and eggheads sharing wisdom with those not fortunate enough to be, what the current buzzword describes as, ‘up to (the) speed’. In our Jurassic times, it used to be ‘up to date’ or some such phrase now considered passé or clichéd. The ‘tainment’ part is supposed to come from the fiction serials, the so-called reality shows and the shows retailing dollops of gossip involving Bollywood’s beautiful people. However, things haven’t worked out as per the script.

Before reverting to the Barkha Dutt-Nana Patekar tête-à-tête, let us have a look at the entertainment scene which is strewn with mythological retellings, apart from Hindi adaptations of western, mostly American, TV shows, and the most yawnsome saas-bahu shows, which we shall skip. Among the mythological retellings, perhaps, Suryaputra Karn (Sony) catches our attention immediately. Here the Mahabharata’s super-anti-hero Karn is the protagonist who fights for the rights of oppressed castes – the Sootas who are carpenters-cum-chariot drivers. His confrontations with the Kshatriyas lead to situations that remind one of our present times. No, he does not agitate for reservation quotas for his clan but demands equality – a term with which the hierarchical system could not have been familiar with in those times. Anyhow, in this serial, not only is Karn shown as a superhero but also the one who is aligned with the Pandava princes against Duryodhana and his ninety-nine brothers – a situation that the wily Shakuni intends to change. The yawn factor comes in when we see Karn single-handedly manufacture and fly a Pushpak Vimaan! If you have read of this in any of our scriptures do enlighten me.

In the name of mystery and spy thrillers there are several inane productions that are poor rehashes of Perry Mason, Poirot, Remington Steele, Sherlock Holmes et al. About comedies, the less said the better. The benchmark set by Sarabhai Versus Sarabhai appears to be beyond the reach of the current crop, despite the valiant efforts of Bhabiji Ghar Par Hain (&TV) and now Sumit Sambhaal Lega (Star). The latter two are good but predictably Bhabiji… has already fallen into the set-piece trap. How long will Sumit… (a licensed adaptation of Everybody Loves Raymond) continue to be different, is a moot point.

Among other shows, children have been the saving grace. Be it the recently concluded Indian Idol Junior (Sony) or the &TV’s Gangaa, they have showcased their natural ability to perform and hold their own vis-à-vis their more professional adult counterparts. The rest, after showing great promise, get mired in predictable plots.

So, hungering for some quality stuff, one turns to our news channels. We have Laluji mimicking Modiji in front of invited audience (India Today) and Modiji satirizing all and sundry (all channels). When NAMO speaks, the national channels stop all other programs and make their airwaves available to him. That Modi has a mesmerizing effect on his audiences is evident on the small screen, but even his repertoire is proving to be finite. How long can one speak the language of an opposition leader even while heading the nation’s government? Some of his jibes and promises have begun to pall. It is time for him to reinvent himself as The Great Deliverer rather than play the role of a Great Dream Merchant.

Then there are talk shows. We have had an overdose of Pak-bashing on News X, Times Now, India Today etc. Then came the greatest TRP generator of them all – the Sheena Story. Nothing but nothing could divert our intrepid anchors from chasing this story to death – current and ex-husbands, progeny, friends and employees, not to mention cops and sundry experts, offered plenty of fuel to shoot TRPs into the stratosphere. The channels forgot that there were other issues besieging the common folks, till they started jumping off the roof tops of the national capital’s buildings. Suddenly dengue became the buzzword. Our media inspected the national capital’s hospitals and gave unanimous verdict: ill equipped and callous; solely responsible for the mounting death toll. This happens every year, you want to shout. But, will anyone listen?

There have been other suicides too - far more numerous and in equally tragic circumstances. But they were not in the national capital. Simulated outrage over them will not generate TRPs, since they are merely poor farmers of Marathwada, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and other parts of the vast, forsaken, hinterland. When you have readymade TRP generators at hand, with the Page 3 types ready to boost the glam quotient, who wants to trudge to those distant, smelly villages and put up with the laments and wails of the unfortunate? They would have remained largely unheard, except for ten-second shots in quick round-ups (becoming quite common on news channels) had not Nana Patekar lent his considerable whack while highlighting their plight. The Bollywood star on NDTV was lethal, sans histrionics, in his castigation of the general apathy – especially on the part of the media. He gave an account of the magnitude of tragedy in the countryside and what he and his associates are doing to mitigate its effects. One listened with rapt attention. So when an almost apologetic Barkha Dutt thanked Nana Patekar for bringing all this to the notice of media one couldn’t help asking: Isn’t it the media that is supposed to bring all the systemic flaws and their consequences to the nation’s notice?

When will our news TV channels grow out of their infatuation with Delhi and the metros?

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