Saturday, June 19, 2004

Amita Malik Sight & Sound
Olympic relay a flop show

Amita Malik

FOR the past week, Doordarshan has been flaunting with great glee some formidable statistics about it being the most watched channel in India. It all sounds and looks very grand until one gives the claim a closer and less biased look.

DD is a free-to-air terrestrial channel. To receive it, all you need to have is a TV set and an aerial. The channels over which DD scores with quantity and, let it be noted, not quality are paid for through cable operators. Those who can afford these channels and are discriminating viewers usually give DD the go-by. If DD was really competing with other channels, it should base its claims against the viewership of the channels offered by the cable operators. Doordarshan faces overwhelming competition from independent channels which have better and less sarkari news, and which offer entertainment which is a whole lot more fun. But so poor is DD's viewership in this competitive sphere that it has had to resort to the disgraceful stratagem of making it mandatory for at least two of its channels, including its news channel, to be shown on prime bands by cable operators. So DD's staggering statistics are derived from viewers who cannot afford cable connections and, therefore, have no choice but to watch it. If DD is proud of such statistics, I have no comments to make. But I shall look forward to the day when DD shall claim that it has beaten the independent channels on their home turf.

Meanwhile, one would like to ask Jaipal Reddy what would be his reaction if the BBC started broadcasting news bulletins in Latin. Viewers would raise a hue and cry. But Indian viewers are too apathetic to protest. They just switch off. Now we have nothing against Sanskrit being aired on the small screen but surely it would be of interest only to a small audience and should be confined to educational programmes. The more closely one looks at DD's priorities, the more one realises that its planners create a lot of confusion. This state of confusion can be seen in the constant changes in DD's signature tune for the news. Ravi Shankar had composed a good one, but it has been changed more than a dozen times recently. In contrast, NDTV, which commissioned the one and only A.R.Rahman, made a sound impact and registered its identity with viewers.

The flop show of the week was undoubtedly the Olympic relay from the Qutab Minar to its ultimate destination. As usual, DD got pride of place for coverage but its camerawork, from the word go, was dismal. Not concentrating on sportsperson along the route, the coverage starred the publicity-seeking Suresh Kalmadi, who neither could walk nor run like a torch-bearer. That DD showed those prolonged shots over and over again the whole day made matters worse. The cameras focused more on the film stars grinning and waving at the crowds and with the torch being treated more like a flag. One had to search hard for sportspersons until the torch arrived at Humayun's Tomb.

Mercifully, someone had the good sense to include Major Ahluwalia, who had climbed the Everest. Crippled by a Pakistani bullet in war, Ahlwalia, as brave as ever, propelled himself down the Rajpath on his wheelchair. Viewers phoned TV channels, protesting against the omission of focusing on P.T.Usha, Padukone, Leander Paes and his father, both Olympians. A great pity that DD, and the channels it fed, did not get the point as clearly and made a sorry mess of the Olympic coverage. As P.T.Usha put it, "This can happen only in India." And, so say all of us.