Saturday, November 4, 2006


Why not a cinema channel?
Amita Malik

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was only one Indian TV channel, Doordarshan. Starting as an educational channel for secondary schools, it was left to Indira Gandhi, who became I&B Minister after her father’s death, to introduce entertainment TV. Just as it was left to Rajiv Gandhi, in charge of the Asian Games, to persuade the government to introduce colour TV and not be left behind by Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The formula remained politics (with the ruling party getting star billing), sport and cinema. But with the advent of foreign soaps, such as Santa Barbara transformed into Shanti Barbara by admiring women viewers in India, a new era began. Doordarshan’s early down-to-earth serials, such as Buniyaad, dealing with ordinary joys and sorrows of ordinary Indians, over the years worked up to the saas-bahu syndrome. But the old formula of politics, sport and cinema still remains. But the ratio has changed drastically. Cinema has so taken over TV that I think it is time someone actually puts into action an all-cinema channel instead of keeping on planning it.

In days of old, serious cinema critics used to appear on TV and talk knowledgably about national and international cinema outside the mainstream. No longer. The staff of channels don’t know the likes of Jahnu Barua or Anand Patwardhan, although they are experts on Salman Khan. One of them killed off Hrishikesh Mukerji long before poor Hrishida passed away. Now it is the stars and directors who herald a film on as many channels as possible. There is a cosy arrangement by which the stars and directors get free publicity and the channels get them for free (one hopes). The channel interviewers give them every incentive to say they are the bestest. I have yet to see any genuine film criticism by genuine film analysts except on two of the newer channels where a brave attempt is being made to be discriminating.

Cricket? No more. Apart from noodle straps we now have Charu Sharma and Mandira Bedi singing and dancing their way into the studio a la Mumbai cinema for their entertainment act called Extraa Innings. Not only do they outtalk the formidable team of cricket experts, Indian and foreign on the panel, but we also have Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai putting in a stellar appearance. As for Mandira, who should stick to being a telephone girl, she tries to educate us poor female viewers (that is what she is said to be there for) by asking such questions out of turn as: "A good batsman is a good batsman, why does it matter whether he bats first or sixth?" Why, indeed, Mandira?

But the filmi touch is not all. Cricket has also become a fashion show. While sundry fashion designers getting their due share of publicity decide how much of Mandira’s cleavage and other assets should show, even Charu Sharma’s clothes (we thought they looked perfectly hideous) gets the designer a byline and Rohit Roy (wonder why he is there except to outalk the experts and at times Mandira) also flaunts his changing jackets as he puts on a sexy smile to outdo Mandira’s.

It is time the cricket authorities and, if necessary, even the government and the channels themselves exercise some restraint. The authorities must put their foot down against cricket being turned into a filmi and fashion show and actual play being cut into by advertisements which rob the tax-payer of seeing his favourite game in full.

Incidentally, my quote of the week is of what one commentator said after the humiliating defeat of "our boys", as Dravid calls them, at the hands of the Aussies: "Greg Chappel has two friends left, Rahul Dravid and Kiran More".

The week was dominated by so much real drama, such as the verdict on the Priyadarshani Mattoo case, the traders’ strike in the Capital and the first arrest in the latest terrorist attack in Malegaon, Maharashtra, that viewers had a hard time making their choice. This just shows that even cricket can lose out to real life and there are bigger issues which not only confront the media watcher but also affect his life much more closely.