The Runaway Godman

The news that his father Asaram Bapu’s trial was to begin on Friday was relegated to the ticker.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: December 7, 2013 5:49 am

Alleged congenital molester Narain Sai is finally in the bag. Newsrooms across the National Capital Region are no doubt licking their chops over the TRP feast ahead: the mandatory potency test. So taken were anchors with the Sai story that the news that the trial of his father,Asaram Bapu,was to begin on Friday was relegated to the ticker. When Asaram was taken for his potency test in September,of course,the channels had devoted a whole day of excited programming. And maybe Tarun Tejpal’s potency test got twice as much airtime,though,for obvious reasons,it had absolutely no bearing on the case. It was just standard operating procedure,but does it have to be,when it brings nothing of value to the courtroom?

India TV let its imagination run riot recounting Bahrupiya Sai ke Dus Roop (The 10 Avatars of Shape-shifting Sai),from kidney failure patient to mall rat to gaushala attendant. Each avatar was a Photoshopped image that must have taken hours to assemble. But no Indian channel had given such loving attention to the passing of Nelson Mandela.

The story broke in the wee hours of Friday but until about 10 am,there wasn’t even a mention on the ticker. Zee TV’s ticker was offering the first exclusive interview of Sachin Tendulkar since his retirement. Their big story shortly after Mandela’s death was the ‘Birla diary’ story broken by this newspaper. Responses from Mandela’s friends in India began to run after noon. Yet,Mandela’s death has been anticipated for over a year,time enough for the obit department to get on the job. Clearly,the hallowed tradition of writing up obituaries of the rich,the famous and the influential and canning them for use after the sad event is a thing of the past.

Meanwhile,the Election Commission is uncertainly preparing for an issue that it thought was in the future but is already here: can you prevent violations of the model code in social media? Short answer: you can’t. But it could have looked at some creative use of TV in the state elections. One was intrigued to see a nice,happy,uncomplicatedly positive story about MNREGA,reported from fields and farms,on DD Uttar Pradesh. Of course,there was no election in that state,but cable TV has turned formerly terrestrial channels with a limited footprint into national channels visible everywhere. A bit goosed,I checked out the channels of a couple of other states electing new governments. DD Madhya Pradesh was warning about the evils of cybercrime and publicising mp.cyberpulice.nic.in (sic),an address that no one will ever reach. DD Rajasthan was playing highly unobjectionable classical music. And DD National was showing a rather good documentary on Kashmiri youth who were forced to turn militant but returned home.

You may have also seen a Dulux ad exhorting the viewer to choose someone (or something) solid. The visual is an undifferentiated mass of heads in silhouette,but one stands out for its prominent white topi. If this is political persuasion and not just a nod to the Anna movement,which is long over,it is the best surrogate advertising since Manu Chhabria started making playing cards and ashtrays.

The poll coverage? Not half as dramatic as the Delhi result tomorrow promises to be. Some channels seemed to be pulling their punches because this election was impossible to call. And a runaway godman offering an engaging diversion was just too good to resist. Especially when he was a quick-change bahrupiya with 10 disguises packed in his little kit bag.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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