Telescope: Making common cause

Varnika Kundu took on her stalker, united otherwise warring news channels

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published:August 10, 2017 12:43 am
The incident and its subsequent TV coverage also had a lesson for politicians and their love of slogans.

When the same “exclusive” CCTV footage was shown by almost all news channels (Aside: Does it remain “exclusive” when this happens?), they hailed it as a victory — their victory. And certainly, the continuous coverage of the alleged stalking of Varnika Kundu by a “VVIP brat” (CNN News 18) in Chandigarh, by news channels throughout Monday, made it impossible for the Haryana police to avoid the question: Where has all the CCTV footage gone?

How conclusive the very brief CCTV footage shown by TV news will be in proving the stalking remains to be seen but at least it came to light at a time when the Haryana police claimed it was missing, leading to an outcry against the BJP government in Haryana as the alleged stalker Vikas, is the son of BJP leader Subhash Barala.

Varnika achieved what few men and women can these days: She united news channels in English and in Hindi in a common cause to support the “Braveheart”. Why even Times Now and Republic, otherwise sworn competitors, were in sympathy: #IndiawithVarnika proclaimed the former, #StandwithVarnika exhorted the latter.

The star of the moment was undoubtedly the shaken but unbowed young lady who took her fight against her tormentors to the channels. Monday evening, on CNN News 18, anchor Shreya Dhoundial thanked Varnika for appearing on air live to give her 26th interview of the day, many of which were conducted while she was in her vehicle retracing the midnight journey of “terror”. Equally impressive was her father. Together, they appeared on Ravish Kumar’s show (NDTV India) and Mr Kundu was eloquent in support of his daughter and his expectations of a fair and impartial investigation by the police.

The incident and its subsequent TV coverage also had a lesson for politicians and their love of slogans. One of the current ruling party’s has been the inspiring, “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”. The news channels latched on to this slogan and used it to mockingly: “Beti Bachao ya Beti Uthao?” (Aaj Tak), “VVIP Beta Bachao” (India Today), “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao just a slogan?” (CNN News 18), “From Beti Bachao to Beta Bachao” (NDTV 24×7), were some of the variations coined by the channels.

Once the CCTV surfaced across channels on Tuesday, the latter, mostly, lost interest. There was a far juicier story to divert its attention: The major Rajya Sabha battle in Gujarat where Congressman Ahmed Patel was struggling to save Sonia’s blushes. The headlines screamed as only TV headlines can, the questions dripped fatalism, “Can Patel save the Gandhis?” (Times Now) and everything was larger than life — why you’d think an Olympic medal or the Nobel Peace Prize, was at stake here.

Usain Bolt’s dramatic loss in his last 100-metre race at the World Athletics Championship couldn’t have matched the inflated proportions the coverage assumed of what was, after all, a Rajya Sabha seat. By late evening and into the night, there was pandemonium outside the Election Commission office in Delhi and although it became tiresome — literally — to watch, there was a silver lining: It was live, breaking news instead of the shouting brigades evening lung work out. For that, you should be very grateful to the two cross-voting Congress MLAs who created the fracas in the first instance. By Wednesday morning, small, straightforward headlines informed us that Patel had indeed allowed the Gandhis to live to fight another day. Had he lost, we would have been watching their political obituaries, no doubt.

Returning to Varnika: There are many lead female characters in TV serials who start out at brave as her: How many times have you seen one of them slap a young man who misbehaves with them? However, what transpires after that is usually straight out of a Harlequin romance. The rough and gruff hero falls for the damsel and she for his brawny, brash, brutish charm. Cannot think of even a single show where the female character is strong, independent minded — and happy. Even if they start out so, by episode 50, they dissolve into tears and need a man of character and, preferably with a beard, to rescue. Thus in Kundali Bhagya (Zee HD), Rishabh steps forward to prove Preeta’s innocence after his Kareena Bua accuses her of stealing her daughter’s ruby — but only after the wicked Bua has reduced Preeta, her mother and her sister into dripping sponges.

Postscript: When Vikas Barala was arrested on Wednesday afternoon, many channels claimed it was their doing: “ABP ka asar”, Times Now “impact”; India Today “impact” CNN News “impact’ and Republic “campaign impact”(?). shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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