Last week, Star India pulled the plug on Channel [V] but that they will replace the music and entertainment channel with a Kannada sports channel is the kind of stuff Channel [V] spoofs were made of. They were the first to tell you that being serious all the time is stupid and that if it’s India, anything can happen, so best be yourself. If Lola Kutty were around, she would have just laughed hysterically.
Oh Lola! She with her gajra-bedecked curly hair, silk sarees and glasses, representing the south, and common sense, in equal measure. Her heavy Malayali accent was not to be made fun of; if Lola thought anything was funny, she would have told you herself. When the character got her own show to interview Bollywood celebrities, she kept it real like nobody ever had before. “When you’re running with all those muscles, it’s too much. It’s like making the blind see,” she once told Shahid Kapoor during a chat about his beefy role in Kaminey.
And how can one ever forget her dance classes for Malayali men? Disco-dancing in a mundu will make any girl’s heart jiggle. Speaking of jiggling, it is best not to do that in front of Jawalkar, without a V. The resident V-hater, and upholder of Indian traditions in the age of liberalisation, went about striking down Vs wherever he spotted them.
He even reprimanded Michael Jackson for using the word “baby” in his songs: “No baby. Do you know the population of India?”
Sometimes, though, Channel [V] told you that you should fire the first shot. But not before you make an entrance in tight pants, a mock Stetson, a bushy moustache, and invoke all the gods on your speed dial. Then you’re no ordinary soul, you’re Quick Gun Murugan! And only a fool would mess with him. Or Udham Singh. Played by Manish Makhija, the shawl-sporting Haryanvi son of the earth, was one of the channel’s finest offerings. His humour was mercurial: One minute you’re laughing aloud, and the next, a quiet menace in his voice made you chuckle nervously.
The channel was a non-stop course in pop culture studies. Channel [V] taught us to embrace cultural and regional stereotypes, and turn them on their heads. One of the most endearing characters from back then was Simpu Singh, an animated Sikh school teacher whose students are constantly playing pranks on him. Raise your hand if you, like me, can’t resist calling somebody named Pankaj the way Simpu would pronounce it: “Punkhuz”.
Born out of a split with MTV international because the American channel did not want Indianised content, [V] rose to the task like a contender looking to deliver a sucker punch. If it started out by showing us that desi is cool and fun, it also zoomed closer into our lives and said, local is even more mazedaar. Brought to you Bai, a zingy animated Bombay maid, was nothing short of genius, and her catchphrase — “Itna paisa mein itnayich milengan itnaich milega” — captured a sliver of our lives with such tart humour.
The Channel [V] we knew and loved showed us how to be funny and smart, irreverent and defiant. It took the piss out of everybody and everything that took themselves seriously, and did it without stooping to conquer. What it offered us was a different lens through which we could look at a rapidly-changing India, and make some sense of it. The decay began when the old mascots and characters left the show, but the rot set in when they nearly did away with international music and replaced it with juvenile shows, or as production houses like to say, “youth content”.
For fans of MTV who carped on about how it was the original music television, all I can say is that Channel [V] belonged to us the Nineties’ generation, and nobody else. Gheun tak!