Saturday, January 17, 2004

NRIs, NRIs everywhere
Amita MalikAmita Malik

WHEN TV channels get hold of the week’s story, there is a monotony about them which makes one wonder why they can’t do something different beyond getting into panel discussions and chat shows. There is always a preponderance of the UK and US-based NRIs and none of them are really able to explain the absence of NRIs from other parts of the world, such as Hong Kong, the Gulf countries and other less fashionable countries. Predictably we have endless discussions on their attitude towards India.

Rajdeep Sardesai nattily outdid Barkha Dutt to it (they are always doing the same subjects week after week, sometimes with the same participants) with a more compact The Big Fight as against Barkha’s more meandering and over-populated We The People. And I must confess that after ages I enjoyed Rajdeep’s programme, shorn of the usual subjects being discussed by the usual old suspects along boringly predictable lines. I am personally tired of the undue and, I think, undeserved publicity given to people like Jaya Jaitley and Prafull Goradia. They are given some sort of star status, but in reality have become terrible bores with nothing new or convincing to say. It is time these programmes discovered some new participants, because there is plenty more where they came from and the repeats of the same people shows that sometimes producers take the easy way out by looking no further than the last programme.

However to revert to The Hard Fight about NRIs. We had Lord Meghnad Desai, some politicians from the USA and other equally distinguished NRIs in the audience. But what made this programme different and special was the spirited, documented and, at times, unchallengeable counter arguments by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who single-handedly made out a first-class case from the Indian point of view and held his own against some very formidable and articulate NRIs. One was happy to see he got support from some young people in the audience. And when someone mentioned in one of the programmes that this so-called momentous meeting with many US-based NRIs hardly got a line in the American press or media, sitting right in the audience was one Kalita, originally from Assam, who is a reporter for The Washington Post. I expected her to jump up in protest and claim that she was reporting the event for her newspaper, or at least doing a feature on it. But there was not a word from her on this subject, though she had been very articulate earlier on the generalities.

NDTV, of all channels, has recently been tripping up on its daal-bhath. Someone is playing western music without much knowledge of it, for many times its connotation is totally different from the item it accompanies. For instance, when doing a re-play of ESPN’s coverage of the fond farewell to Steve Waugh, it played a well-known Christmas carol (the last line being clearly Noel, Noel) as background music. Apart from being totally inapt, it was hardly Christmas in Sydney. More hilariously, it played God Save the Queen against an unlikely news item some time ago. Then Srinivasan Jain interviewing Salman Rushdie veered uncertainly between Rush (to rhyme with mush) die and Roosh-die. The second version is correct and if he was uncertain he could have checked with Rushdie. Then, more shockingly, the caption running at the bottom of the screen repeatedly said Rushdie was visiting India (it should have been Mumbai) after 17 years when NDTV itself had covered Rushide’s visit to Delhi for the Commonwealth Book prize, hardly two years ago. And sometimes the spelling in these captions is nothing short of appalling.

Over the weekend I watched The Great Indian Tamasha, which is an amalgam of the highly witty programme, Double Take, where rival politicians (clever masks and mostly clever take-offs of their style of speech) are spurred on by the amiable Taneja. Well, each little episode stands on its own and does not need any explanations. So they went and ruined it by having a trite running commentary on each episode by someone who seems to be just out of the National School of Drama. Totally redundant and distracting. Let them leave Taneja and his victims alone, please, because they need no introductions or explanations.

I have had a number of complaints from sports lovers and sports commentators that in my ranking list for last year I left out sports broadcasters. I plead guilty and since I have had two award winners in other categories and to keep the gender balance even, I would like to name as my favourites Sonali Chander of NDTV and Darian Shahidi of ESPN, for their grasp of the sports under comment and for their ability to communicate in simple, uncluttered language which brings out the subtleties of the game.

Tailpiece: I was happy to see that Kamleshwar has won a Sahitya Akademi Award for his writings. I would like to remind readers and media addicts that he is also one of India’s finest radio and TV personalities, both as a writer and broadcaster. It is a great pity that he left DD’s staff during one of the usual controversies for which DD is famous. I hope we shall see some more of him on TV. Meanwhile, congratulations, Kamleshwar from an old fan.