Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sorry, not my favourites
Amita Malik

Amita MalikI am often asked if there are any programmes which I refuse to see. There is not a single one because as a columnist it is my duty to watch every programme, whether I like it or not. But certainly there are programmes which I do not enjoy and at times which put me off so much that I squirm and feel like switching off abruptly. And I do. The first are all the programmes in English and Hindi which are the equivalent of Page 3 in certain newspapers. The main difference is that agents are alleged to collect Rs 5,000 to one lakh for getting your photo and two or three lines, mostly about the clothes you wear. These programmes are contrived and they only promote
snobbery and social climbing at their worst.

The role model anchor seems to be Anisa Baig of NDTV’s Night Out who ever has a look-alike on the same channel. I thought it was Anisa until a moment of doubt made me ring up to check. It seems she was Sangeeta Kumar. Others on English and Hindi channels follow the suit in their style of anchoring. Their heads have to keep tilting from one side to another and can never keep still. If they stop for a minute, the camera tilts to keep up the momentum. Then the smile must be wide and fixed and the interviewing of stars and social climbers at a fast pace and in the yaar-dost style. It is so contrived and artificial, so much a name-dropping spree that one feels alternately outraged and depressed. Presumably, only the socialites and their friends and relatives look forward to these TV Page 3s while some of us regret the time and money wasted and the mistiming. In one such programme, the idle chatter went on while some captions below said: “350 killed in train accident”.

The other programmes I detect are the dangerous daily programmes on crime in the city. They are presented by anchors who sometimes look and act like villains and make their presentation so melodramatic that these programmes look more like an incentive to crime than deterrent. These programmes enjoy a higher viewership and attract more ads than socially purposeful and positive ones, which is an alarming prospect.

And yet, except for Doordarshan, no channels seem to devolve equally long programmes to nation-building, development, farming, industry and other socially much more important programmes. NDTV’s India Matters, some investigative in-depth programmes on Zee and Star channels sometimes make an effort to get away from the “Exclusives” and “Breaking News” to genuine research and instructive remedies. That is about all and worth a thousand programmes on crime.

If you ask me which is the most politically significant contemporary programme on television, it is NDTV’s political satire Gustafi Maaf in Hindi and Double Take in English. It is done very professionally with puppets. NDTV sent its team to Paris to learn how to manipulate and voice them, because the French have about the best TV marionettes in the world. Indians are not very good at laughing at themselves, particularly politicians who tend to be very touchy as they consider themselves above criticism.

It is to the credit of our politicians that everyone: from our Prime Minister to personalities like Uma Bharti, Sonia Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L. K. Advani, Lalu Prasad Yadav, the lot, have never lifted a finger against the programme, which follows their day-to-day antics with precision.

Because the programme never takes political sides, is never inaccurate on facts and does everything with tremendous humour and no malice, political satire of the most sophisticated kind has at last arrived in India. And more strength to it.