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Framing Mr Vaidik

And the Big B is back on the small screen.

As in Anil Kapoor’s ‘24’ — the other attempt by a Bollywood superstar to do serious TV — there’s a sense of impending disaster in the 55-odd-minute episodes of ‘Yudh’. As in Anil Kapoor’s ‘24’ — the other attempt by a Bollywood superstar to do serious TV — there’s a sense of impending disaster in the 55-odd-minute episodes of ‘Yudh’.

And the Big B is back on the small screen.

Ved Prakash Vaidik’s photograph with Hafiz Saeed created an uproar in Parliament and a furore on TV news. He appeared on nearly all the news channels in Hindi and English Monday evening, thoroughly enjoying the outrage generated by the news of his encounter with the mastermind of the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attacks. That is, until his few minutes of fame stretched into the night. That is, until Arnab Goswami happened to him.

When the Times Now anchor pulled his bully act during the prime-time debate, Vaidik searched for an adequate response: “What kind of journalist are you?” he screamed, turning as red as the waistcoat he wore over a white kurta pyjama — the same combination we saw at the Hafiz Saeed meeting, by the way. “You have this uncontrolled habit of… (interrupting? Shouting? Scolding?)”

“Calm down sir, calm down sir,” ordered Goswami.

“Shameless! Shameless!” yelled his agitated guest.

“Mr Vaidik, Mr Vaidik,” the anchor reproached in an infuriatingly tranquil voice, “Calm down, calm down.”

The big takeaways from this conversation are that you should change your clothes for every media op, swallow a chill-pill before going into the TV news studios and try not to insult the viewers’ intelligence by repeating everything you say at least twice.

Narendra Modi seemed completely at home on his first outing abroad for the BRICS summit in the fleeting images we saw of him on TV. The PM has made the trip unaccompanied or unencumbered by the Indian media, although channels did send out correspondents individually. Uncertain if it is a wise move to give the media such restricted access: greater coverage of foreign summits/ visits enhance the aura of leadership — something Modi is keen to do. Ignoring the media may not be such a smart idea.

Hard to say whether Yudh is a good idea (Sony) — for the audience, for Amitabh Bachchan, Anurag Kashyap, Shoojit Sircar and everyone else who has invested in the new TV series. Or for the clown who makes periodic appearances — but only to Bachchan’s character, Yudh. Who is he? A copy of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Night? A figment of Yudh’s disturbed mind? His alter ego? The angel of death? Whatever. But he is an oddity, if only because he hasn’t smiled or made you laugh, even if it is fiendish laughter. Odd for a clown.

He’s as serious as all the other characters — roughly 15 of them in the first two episodes. Indeed, the series is deadly serious. Bachchan has gone from the angry young man in the film Trishul (1978) to the angry ageing man of Yudh. In both, he’s a builder with Shakti Constructions as his firm. Here, as Yudh, he battles the land mafia in Mumbai, the builder-administration nexus, family conflicts that include a daughter by first wife Sarika, a son by second wife Ayesha Raza, an unsavoury brother-in-law and a fatal neurological disease. The series loosely resembles the American show Boss, where the lead character is diagnosed with dementia.

Now, all of the above are enough to make anyone weep, but has anyone on Yudh heard of smiling through adversity? At least one smile, say from the clown, even a wolfish one? But no. Mumbai by day or night is ominous; every scene — Yudh’s home, his office, the commissioner’s office, the restaurant, the streets of Mumbai, etc, are dark with foreboding. As in Anil Kapoor’s 24 — the other attempt by a Bollywood superstar to do serious TV — there’s a sense of impending disaster in the 55-odd-minute episodes. And then there’s the eerie clown. Enough to give you nightmares (the series is between 10.30 pm and11.30 pm) or a fear of Mumbai.

Serious shows need snappy, strong dialogue, gallows humour and a fast-paced plot with well-defined characters. So far Yudh is dominated by Bachchan’s command performance but too little of everyone else, including actors like Kay Kay Menon. In a series of close-ups, Bachchan allows all his features to reflect his inner turmoil as he learns of his debilitating disease. If there is a complaint, it’s a small one — why does he sweat so much when he’s almost invariably in an air-conditioned space?

Watch Yudh for Bachchan, and hopefully much more as it progresses.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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