Saturday, January 20, 2007


Real-life soap opera
Amita Malik

Amita MalikDuring last week, everything on TV has had to give way to the Abhishek-Aishwarya engagement. The increasing horror of the Noida Killings, the visit of our Foreign Minister to Pakistan and fresh hopes of recovery of Prisoners of War from Pakistan, analysis of the names for the cricket matches, including the World Cup, ahead. They were all sailing along on an even keel when the (let us confess, long-awaited) news of the engagement came close on the heels of the release of Guru. Comments from viewers on that epoch-making event varied from "marriages are made in heaven" to "it’s very well-timed publicity for Guru".

Conceding that film stars dominate TV and that popular demands indicate that TV cannot show too much of them, what I object to is not the quantity of the coverage of the event so much as the quality. The sheep-like way in which all the channels asked the same trite questions and got the same trite answers about the engagement became intensely irritating after a time. And the poor man who bore the brunt of all the silly questioning was Amitabh Bachchan, whom the rest of the family and the happy couple left in the lurch to face the media.

All channels worked overtime to report on Ash-Abhishek engagement
All channels worked overtime to report on Ash-Abhishek engagement 

And what were these earth-shaking questions? When and where did they get engaged? How did he get to know? How did he feel about it? When would the wedding be? And, surprise, surprise, what did he think of Abhishek’s performance in Guru? And, what did he think of his bahurani? Yet, with this same monotonous pattern being repeated, every channel pretended it had got an exclusive with Big B, saying that "he told our channel`85". Poor Big B, I think he should have called a press conference. One or two channels tried to be different by dwelling on the long list of screen romances down the years. But not one of them began with Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani, a relative of Tagore. These two highly educated people remained happily married, and took Europe by storm with films in English.

Of course, channels also helpfully listed the marriages between stars which had broken down. And so the real-life soap opera went its merry way and had Jaya Bachchan not gone away for shooting, the saas-bahu syndrome would have been complete.

The man and woman on the street also gave their views on the ‘happily-ever after’ question, and one of the channels even looked ahead and analysed whether Aishwraya’s film career would be affected. In the middle of all this hysteria, only one solitary viewer had the sensitivity to ask the forlorn question: "Do film people not have a private life of their own?" Apparently not, and some people as well as channels seem to thrive on celebrities.

It is always cheering to find some worthwhile discussions popping up, unexpectedly on routine TV and there were two I found absorbing. It was not the usual two views for, two against and in the end, a draw. Sagarika Ghosh certainly let two erudite and vocal people talk uninterrupted in the discussion on Rajmohan Gandhi’s book on the Mahatma. Both Rajmohan and Ramachandra Guha spoke with dignity and understanding about what had been most discussed about the book, the Mahatma’s relationship with Saraladevi Chaudhuri. It was handled with delicacy and tact and not sensationalised in the wrong way.

I also liked the special edition of Meet the People, discussing whether we honour our armed forces enough. The shameless neglect of tributes such as war memorials, pensions and awards, and other signs that the nation, and more importantly the government, does not care left one ashamed and the members of the armed forces who spoke in the programme bitter. Every detail of this neglect came through with force, there was no question of a draw. One can only hope that some positive action will come out of it and that the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and others concerned take serious notice of this urgent matter.