Saturday, October 22, 2005

Give others a chance
Amita Malik

Amita MalikMuch as I appreciate Barkha Dutt’s energy and enthusiasm, sometimes I get disturbed by her popping up all too frequently here, there and everywhere. There are some very talented and interesting reporters and analysts in NDTV and I want to see and hear more of them for the sake of different voices and views.

Many of them, including women, are international and national award winners doing invaluable work in remote places—as happened during the tsunami when NDTV’s reporters from the southern region did better than Barkha Dutt. She plunged in as usual, her main handicap being that she did not know any South Indian language for first-hand communication and translated interviews are never the same. I think if Barkha left the field more often to others, she will give them a chance and also let herself specialise more. At least, she should ration her programmes more evenly.

However, there are some things at which Barkha excels, where her dash, initiative and intelligence make her stand out. It was most ingenious on her part to do her weekly We The People from Uri, and even more innovative to get NDTV’s correspondent in Pakistan, Munizae Jehangir (I hope she won’t mind my describing her as the worthy daughter of a worthy mother), to line up people across the border in Muzaffarabad and get them to exchange thoughts as well as news about the earthquake which decimated homes, families and saw little children killed brutally.

There was one very tragic and heart-rending moment when someone in Uri got news from a journalist friend at Muzaffarabad that very close members of his family had died in the earthquake. The poor man was shattered and visibly broken and one could feel the wave of sympathy that surrounded him from other sufferers who probably had already heard the worst. Barkha tackled his tragic situation with tact and sensitivity, unlike reporters on some other channels who ask awkward questions when they should not, and who are more interested in getting a sensational reaction than helping to protect and comfort the grieving person. I am glad the programme was repeated, because it strongly supported the pleas for easier communication between separated families on both sides of the border.

And talking of whipping up false emotions in serials, to prolong them and add some masala, the one serial I had found sophisticated enough to watch and different from the saas-bahu drivel, has now gone completely round the bend.

In Astitva Ek Prem Kahani, after bringing in terrorism pointlessly, of which President George W. Bush would no doubt approve, Dr Simran goes blind in the serial, although a well-publicised whisper has hinted that it is only temporary.

Contemporary values, good characterisation, good acting and, above all, credibility had made it a different and watchable serial. What it is fast losing is credibility and I think it is time the producers gave it a thought.

The BBC is holding an India Week with all its regular programmes, such as Hard Talk and Talking Point being produced in India with Indian celebrities and experts. It started off with Ambika Soni coping quite cleverly with difficult questions from a typical BBC anchor, with a sub-continental name, Nisha Hussain, and a British accent.

What livened up the programme were questions for Ms Soni from Canada, the UK, Switzerland and, of course, the USA.

However, in passing I must say that I was a little disappointed with the way the BBC’s reporters on the earthquake kept on highlighting the various forms of aid, including rescuers from the UK, always underplaying what the Indians and Pakistanis were doing, particularly heroic volunteers and NGOs. While one can understand the folks at home longing to know what the boys (and girls) were doing, when you are running a World Service, other countries should get equal time and credit.