Saturday, October 25, 2003


Back to the basics
Amita MalikAmita Malik

Some of us have this habit of getting up in the middle of the night for a glass of water. But while others go back to sleep, I have this dreadful professional habit of doing some quick channel surfing with the help of my remote to see what goes on after midnight. That is, apart from the pornographic song and dance sequences which have spread from the South Indian Channels to some Punjabi and Hindi ones as well. And it never ceases to amaze me that some very good programmes, especially for children, are telecast somewhere around 2 or 3 am. I do not know whether I am seeing repeats of something shown during the day or whether these are shown exclusively when children and adults who enjoy these programmes are asleep?

One such programme which never ceases to give me immense pleasure is Malgudi Days, a serial which was made with the approval of its author, the late R K Narayan. And what a pity its talented director Shankar Nag died in a car accident soon after he completed it. But it is one of those truly Indian serials, with touches which could apply to any part of India. Even if the small town of Malgudi is imaginary, it has become part of our literary folklore. Narayanís delightful sense of humour made him name the local small boysí cricket club the MCC. And the cartoons in the film are by his equally distinguished brother R K Laxman, while some of the serialís credits go to Arundhati Nag, wife of Shankar Nag, who has bravely carried on with her artistic career after she recovered from the shock of his untimely death.

However, to come back to the episode I saw on Monday night. The boy Malli has grown up, returned with a pretty American wife and his father, played by Shankar Nagís elder brother the famous actor Anant Nag, is coming to grips with adjusting to a foreign daughter-in-law. Luckily, she is a nice girl who acts naturally, is eager to learn Indian ways. The liberal father-in-law answers her questions with humour and dignity, in halting English and they get on very well together. Thereís no criticism of a foreign wife, which has a moral for children as well. In fact, it is the naturalness of the whole set-up, the unhurried tempo of the small town life and, of course, the unobtrusive direction and the subtly underplayed roles which captures us. This is the kind of serial which our young children should be watching and which also gives so much pleasure to the older generation as well. All credit to Sony for reviving these classics and also for showing some of the better off-beat films in Hindi and English on a regular basis.

Also of great attraction for children, and these are fortunately telecast at reasonable hours around 6 pm is Animal Planetís programme on funny animals. Here we see dogs, cats, horses, pet birds doing the funniest and most amazing things. Whenever I am exhausted and depressed after a long dayís work, I tune in to this programme, called The Planetís Funniest Animals, and my spirits revive and I sit back and enjoy my cup of tea. Apart from Animal Planet, I was delighted (after a survey was conducted) to find how many parents and children watch the National Geographic and Discovery channels, which are highly educative as well as informative. Increasingly, like the BBC, they are adding items on India and some programmes are made by Indians or in collaboration with Indians, so they are not as western-orientated as programmes originating from abroad tended to be until quite recently. So those who are tired of politics, disasters, saas-bahu serials and other irritating trivia on Indian channels really have a wide choice if they have the energy and the determination to look for it. Had I not been a professional media columnist, I would have spent much more time on these pleasurable and informative programmes than on the newsy ones which I cannot escape as part of my duty.

The channels are now competing with daily programmes on crime, which are really a recap of what one has seen earlier in the news. But to its credit, at least one channel did a thorough investigation on the beatification of Mother Teresa, while most showed only the ceremony as news. Barkha Dutt got together not only Christians, in this case Catholic dignitaries and believers, but roped in the Rationalist Society of India and a very articulate Bengali member in Calcutta to discuss whether it was necessary to round up miracles to recognise Mother Teresa as a saint. I particularly liked the final statement by the rationalist, that Mother Teresaís life spent in doing wonderful humanitarian work, open to public view all over the world, was enough to make us realise that she was a saint. And that starting a controversy by asking one or two people to say she had cured cancer, which doctors could challenge, was creating an unnecessary controversy and in effect doing Mother Teresa an injustice. Certainly I personally agreed with him, after I saw a shaky man on TV saying how Mother had come to him in a dream when he had cancer, put her hand on his stomach and said get up and walk and he promptly woke up and did so. I promptly reached for a pinch of salt. And so I am sure did many other viewers. I am glad we got the other (and it was not hostile to Mother Teresa) point of view here instead of just following the conventional track.