Saturday, January 1, 2005


Moments of celebration and mourning

Talk shows and slapstick comedy kept the viewers in high spirits even as there was a near-total blackout of serials, says Randeep Wadehra

When one looks back at the 2004 Punjabi television scene, one is struck by the total absence of soaps and sitcoms – barring some telefilms and repeats that petered out as the year progressed. A unique phenomenon indeed when contrasted with Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam channels that regularly telecast serials and telefilms. Programmes on song and dance flourished; initially these attracted audience as well as advertisements, but soon tackiness began to rule the roost. Set piece dance movements accompanying forgettable lyrics to the tune of loud music became the norm. Just about anybody who could yodel a bit fancied himself as the next Gurdas Mann or Hans Raj Hans. True, one came across some good music, tastefully videographed, but mediocrity ruled supreme. Alpha Punjabi did redeem the music scene with Sham-E-Sufi – something that might well become a benchmark for coming years.

Road shows and talk shows were the saving grace. While Xcuse Me Please, Sadda Campus, I Want etc remained professionally excellent productions, some unforgettable moments were provided by Khabarsaar and Khariyan Khariyan. Khabarsaar’s Ritesh Lakhi took up topical issues related to the region’s youth, economics, politics etc. But it was during the outdoor sallies while covering the elections that the team came into its own. Who can forget the Ludhiana episode when politicians shied away from facing the assembled public? People then organised their own talk show and let off steam against the politicians’ perfidy. Another Khabarsaar episode was the face-off with Navjot Sidhu who tellingly drove home the point that cricketers need not be gentlemen. The genteel Lakhi took the insults showered by Sidhu in his stride.

A refreshing contrariety was Sidhu Damdami of Khariyan Khariyan, who originated Punjabi television’s own walk ‘n’ talk show. The well-informed and urbane Damdami came up with memorable telecasts. The episode in which Rajinder Kaur Bhattal’s hidden talent for poetry came forth was a delight, as was the informative tête-à-tête with the erudite and suave Dr. S.S. Johal that dealt with the agriculture scenario in Punjab. Manpreet Badal’s fulminations on the eve of Prakash Singh Badal’s arrest provided an insight into the happenings in high places. Gurcharan Singh Tohra, probably, gave the last interview of his life to Damdami. In the two episodes of Khariyan Khariyan, the late Akali stalwart talked about the feudal structure of the Akali Dal and how small farmers are perennial underdogs vis-à-vis the kulaks.

If Bhagwant Mann, Gurpreet Ghuggi, Sudesh Lahiri et al kept the comedy scene alive with their spoofs, the Punjab politicians too contributed their share to the television audience. Trumped up or exaggerated claims and charges, commando-like raids into the properties of political rivals, laughable denials in the face of irrefutable evidence not to mention other such shenanigans kept us all enthralled.

Undoubtedly, the on-screen demonstration of Paki-Hindi bhai bhai sentiment was Punjabi TV’s succès d’estime, with impromptu mehfils, preplanned chats and organised sporting contests with lots of jhappis and pappis regaling the audience. There was a tinge of controversy too but a Punjabi gathering sans bickering is like makki di roti without butter-topped sarson da saag.

Lastly, the saddest part – the Mukerian train tragedy. Things looked gloomy on the small screen. The coverage by the Punjabi news channels was prompt and poignant, and the officials’ replies were evasive and duplicitous. Will the scenes of horror wake up our political-bureaucratic elite’s collective conscience? Your guess is as good as mine.