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The most intriguing image of the Assembly elections came in from West Bengal courtesy NDTV — a three-finger victory sign flashed by Mamata Banerjee, in her first public appearance after the election was called in her favour. On closer inspection, one finger appeared to spring from the hidden hand of Mukul Roy. Hard to say if it was the middle finger, but the urge to read it as a sign of the times ahead is irresistible.
Interesting footage came in from Poes Garden, too, telling the brutally depressing back story of Indian politics which we don’t usually get to see. In this case, we saw the people who were hurling themselves at Amma’s feet being grabbed about the hips by disembodied, off-camera hands and plucked away the moment they made touchdown, never to be seen again.
How does the other half live? How does it celebrate? How does it select its maximum leader? Every TV studio wanted to know, as the assembly election results started coming in on Thursday. The TMC celebrates in the north Indian manner, with drums, dancing and fistfuls of gulal. The AIADMK celebrates by painting young men in the party’s livery, blowing conches and capering in fancy dress while waving pictures of Amma about. But the sphinx-like left disdains public display of excitement. India Today’s correspondent stood in the street outside the CPI(M) headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram, empty but for a forest of TV camera tripods.
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“How does the left celebrate?” wondered Rajdeep Sardesai. “Where are the sweets?” I turned out that the commanding heights of the party were glued to their TV sets, willing their winning trend to hold. Anyway, everyone knows how the left celebrates — in private, with Old Monk for the rank and file and imported whiskey for the better placed. Not scotch, thought. That would be embarrassingly, obviously capitalistic.
Prannoy Roy tried to tease D Raja and gentlemen from the Kerala state apparat into disclosing who the next chief minister of the state would be. Wonder why, since he is no stranger to the mysteries of the sanctum sanctorum where Marx and Lenin still stand tall. He must have known that nothing happens in that world which is visible to the eye of the camera.
Top honours for mysterious creativity must go to Sambit Patra on Aaj Tak, for dubbing the Congress party the “axe coalition partner”. One presumed that he was mouthing a Modi acronym, but all he meant was that it doesn’t matter if the axe falls on you or you fall on the axe. You bleed either way.
The problem of choice is coming to the television business, too. The BBC has finally weighed in on the content distribution debate which has been raging for some years, and is betting on streaming services. Netflix will soon face competition from the patriotically named Britflix (will britflicks.co.uk sue?). The battle has been about entertainment content, which basically means whether Narcos can attain global brand recall.
But the market is beset by legacy legalese limiting the distribution of shows and films to licensing jurisdictions. Netflix has been forced to fight a bizarre electronic show battle since January against subscribers who use VPNs to bypass georestrictions and access its US service, which hosts about 7,000 titles, the largest repository of the service. On the one hand, it has to satisfy Luddite curmudgeons fighting to keep dated licensing laws in force. On the other, it has to keep shareholders from getting antsy about subscribers outside the US signing out in disgust.
But the popularity of documentaries on Netflix points to the latent market in factual rather than entertainment material. And the way the world is these days, it is but a step from the secrets of the pyramids and bizarre weapons of World War II to the news market, which is frequently weirder than fiction. BBC is one of several multimedia news organisations betting that news of the future is more likely to be distributed over the internet than by any other channel.
Back in our realm, Amit Shah’s victory press conference was structurally interesting. The BJP’s events are generally carefully managed but in this case, the ladies and gentlemen of the press were not given mikes. Their questions were only heard by other journalists; only Shah’s answers were audible on TV. But since he had scripted a sound campaign, “another step towards Congress-mukt Bharat,” no one complained.
Interestingly, the slogan of Congress-mukt Bharat can work only until the nation is Congress-mukt, a project in which the Congress is collaborating enthusiastically. Since a significant part of the BJP’s support base consists of people who are disgusted with the Congress for numerous historical wrongs, which way would they turn if there were no Congress to oppose?