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Live from Mathura

Janmashtami was on our screens this week. Will other Hindu festivals follow?

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | New Delhi | Published:August 21, 2014 12:00 am
Perhaps Bachchan’s position as brand ambassador for Gujarat tourism could have something to do with moving the studios from MUmbai to Surat. Perhaps Bachchan’s position as brand ambassador for Gujarat tourism could have something to do with moving the studios from MUmbai to Surat.

Live television reporting is pure TV. There’s nothing like good spot reporting to make you want to watch. Sports coverage now depends on our ability to watch the Indian cricket team lose another Test match to England and find it so humiliating that we switch hurriedly to Sri Lanka versus Pakistan for comfort.

It’s the same for television news. How boring the evenings have become, with interminable discussions meandering as aimlessly as a river’s tributary and ending up in a sea of words that thrash against each other like tsunami waves and flood our ears. There, how’s that for a description of our evening submersion in news TV?

What often saves TV news is the immediacy of events that it reports — with live pictures. Thus, on Tuesday night, Pakistanis, led by politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul Qadri, marching as if to war on the capital, Islamabad, made for riveting viewing. English-language news channels like NDTV 24×7 and CNN-IBN turned to their Pakistani counterparts (ARY or Samaa TV) for live reports on the march. It really did look like an “invasion”, and flashing updates (“Pakistan’s army to protect PM”) made it seem like the government was under siege. So much more compelling than dry TV debates on India calling off talks with Pakistan.

On Monday night, Hindi-language news channels (News 24, India News, News Nation, Samay) went with live coverage of Janmashtami celebrations in Mathura and Delhi — in the capital, they decided to concentrate on the ISKCON temple, which was lit up like a Diwali mela. Interestingly or curiously, depending on your point of view, DD News also went to Mathura for a live feed of the temple proceedings.

For many devotees or inquisitive souls, this coverage was meaningful. For the rest, there might have been a question mark: why do news channels offer lengthy live coverage of such religious occasions? Will they do so for the many Hindu festivals that will soon be upon us? Will they do the same for significant occasions of other religions — especially the public broadcaster, Doordarshan? Something to think about.

Amitabh Bachchan has stopped seeing the clown. He’s stopped acting like a man with a debilitating disease — and sweating profusely. Yudh (Sony) ended last week with quite a thump as Bachchan and his adversary Ajju threw each other around the rooftop of a building. Of course, Bachchan triumphed, but not before being floored many times. He saves his daughter Taruni too in the final episode, which was literally a blow-by-blow saga. We’ve spoken of the serial’s problems previously, so let us applaud Sony and the producers of Yudh for doing what very few serials on Indian television do: end.

It ended so that Bachchan could slip out of his battle gear for Yudh and don a wide array of colourful suits, jackets for a new season on Kaun Banega Maha Crorepati (Sony) — yes, that’s the title now — which premiered on Sunday. It was a maha long episode primarily because it was shot before a huge gathering in Surat. Keeping Bachchan company was the successful comedian Kapil Sharma (Comedy Nights with Kapil, Colors). It was good, lighthearted fun before Bachchan got down to the serious business of asking questions. One change in the format is that the fourth lifeline for a contestant is a panel of three experts — in this case, two former winners on KBC and the third, a world quiz champion.

The first two contestants were women — so let’s see and hear it for women’s empowerment. We also heard from the Shillong Chamber Choir, who sang beautifully, including their version of “Vande Mataram”. All in all, it was a relaxed evening of variety entertainment. Two questions: why do contestants insist on asking Bachchan to recite his famous lines from the film Agneepath every KBC season, and why does the great performer entertain them? Time to move on. And second, why was the opening episode moved from the studios in Mumbai to Surat? Perhaps Bachchan’s position as brand ambassador for Gujarat tourism could have something to do with it? Or that Gujarat is the state of play currently?

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