Saturday, October 23, 2004

Amita Malik Sight & Sound
Sense and censorship
Amita Malik

Well, it was a straight choice. For political animals, there were the elections in Maharashtra with all the elements of a thriller; and for non-political-minded sports lovers, there was a good old-fashioned cliffhanger in the cricket test at Chennai, with only the rain playing spoilsport. Since there is also the cablewallah to play spoilsport, I was unable to get the NDTV Channels, neither English nor Hindi. So, sorry Rajdeep and the Prannoy panel, because I was unable to check whether their forecasts were more accurate than that of the BJP astrologer, who had said the Manmohan Singh government would fall by September 26.

About Maharashtra, it was entertaining to find a chastened Sushma Swaraj conceding defeat. And poor Pramod Mahajan, whom a Kolkata paper once cruelly described as Promote Mahajan, stopped smiling for once and did not flaunt computers and the works this time. The jugalbandhi between Sonia and Sharad Pawar caused some more entertainment for non-political animals. This viewer, for one, concentrated on cricket but got enough time, what with Doordarshan’s long ads, to sneak passing looks at the Maharashtra election results. This time DD did not allow a single comment in between overs. It gave no time to those vital analyses by experts which are so important for the viewer. DD also continued to put ads on the screen while play was on. If Information and Broadcasting Minister Jaipal Reddy is a cricket fan, I suggest he should tell DD that having got the contract till December for the India-Australia series, they should look to the interests and preferences of viewers and not just boast about big financials returns. Is it or is it not a national channel, always boasting about high principles and running down the independent channels which are more popular because they pander to viewers.

I was a bit perturbed when I heard a fond grandmother say without much regret that her little grandson insists on watching Cartoon Network until his bed-time, so that she cannot watch news or any other TV programme until he decides to let her have her pick on the TV set. When I suggested she get a TV lock — the little boy is about four years old — she felt it would be dictatorial. I suppose, not being a grandmother, I felt it was merciful that the little grandchild at least watched harmless cartoons rather than the filmi tamashaa.

With all arguments going on about censorship on both the small and big screens, many people feel that it is up to parents to lay down the law about when and what their children should watch. But, also, most parents to whom I spoke pleaded helplessness about controlling their children, especially school-going teenagers, mostly because both father and mother are out at work. Interestingly, it was also suggested that households should have two separate sets for parents and children. What are we coming to?

If I may continue on the subject of how legitimate viewers have to become slaves to other claimants, the contemporary domestic help is next in line for viewing rights. I stayed with a family recently, admittedly an affluent one, which had put a small colour TV in the kitchen as their super cook liked to watch as he cooked his gourmet dishes. Many mothers of the working type have told me that when they try to get an ayah to look after their child when they go to work or out in the evenings, the first question the ayah asks is: "Is there a TV in the child’s room?"

Indian domestics are getting as demanding as student baby-sitters in the West, some of whom even demand that their boyfriends should be allowed to visit them. I am happy that I have found a way out to keep my TV viewing within control. I tell the domestics when I employ them, that I watch TV for writing about its programmes and that I cannot have another person, least of all someone who keeps on talking, in the room. But I add soothingly that when my work is over, if I am watching a serial just before or after dinner or some other entertainment programme, they can join me and sit on a moorha in the room. They, surprisingly, mostly accept my terms. I would like to pass on this ploy to fussy viewers like myself, who want to keep control over their TV sets.

Reverting to censorship on TV, I feel that the Hindi cinema once made the great mistake of underestimating audiences and giving them the same old formula. I think that there should be no TV censorship because producers themselves, who are presumable family people, should have the good sense to avoid the kind of vulgarity so obvious on certain South Indian and Punjabi channels. The very fact that serials like Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin and Office-Office, which are good clean fun, are popular goes to prove that the TV viewer also has good sense.