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A tale of two TV worlds

As politicians and anchors bloviate on the elections,entertainment serials deal in hard truths

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | March 17, 2009 12:42:01 am

Scene 1: Saturday/Sunday: a TV news studio. Anchors,politicians and/or the public. Jayanthi Natarajan (Congress) and Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) for the first time on screen,agree: the Third Front is not worth talking about. Still,they can’t stop talking about it,calling it is a ragtag bunch of regional parties with no national agenda; Jay Panda objects: he doesn’t know about the Third Front but BJD always has the nation on its mind; whereupon CPM leader Nilotpal Basu (making a welcome return to TV after a six month lay-off) says the Congress is pathetic,Cho Ramaswamy says Mayawati is a joke,Amar Singh agrees and political pundits from leading publications warn them that arrogance will be their undoing,which unites all the politicians in righteous indignation — the perfect occasion for the anchors to weigh in with their opinions of the current political climate (high temperatures with coalition winds buffeting the nation’s capital) or give us a well-deserved commercial break.   

Scene 2: Somewhere in Rajasthan. A child’s cries. The agonised face of a mother. She’s rushing to claim her daughter. But she’s too late: the men have killed her. “Lalli nahin,Lalla chahiye” she’s told. That’s the command of the local mafia lady: girls are born only to die. (Is Desh Mein Na Aana Ladoo/ Colors).  

Scene 3: Somewhere in Rajasthan. She’s a teenager dressed in white. A child bride widow. Her grandmother decrees she live in the outhouse where the sun can’t find her. Her parents plead with her to live in the main house,they’ll stand up to granny. “I have to suffer,” she insists,“morning to night I will cry,you will not be able to bear it. Better that I stay here.” (Baalika Vadhu,Colors).   

And so to families delirious with joy because,finally,they have been blessed by a baby girl (Sabki Ladli,Bebo/Star Plus,Mere Ghar Aayee Ek A Nanhi Pari/ Colors). 

Is there a yawning gap between politicians squabbling over the Third Front in studio discussions and these scenes from entertainment channels,each of which could have been breaking news — just like the report,last week,of a bright star on the IT firmament,the father of an unwanted daughter,who kills her in the middle of the night and goes back to sleep? Shouldn’t politicians be discussing issues like female infanticide? Shouldn’t anchors ask them: how do you plan to stop child marriage instead of how do you plan to stop Mayawati?  

Entertainment TV has given politicians the lead: not since the late Eighties have we seen such an assault on our sensibilities and our social conscience. Suddenly,the girl child is most wanted,the favourite heroine of a whole new generation of serials with themes about girls,the younger the better. Want a newborn? Watch Mere Ghar Aayee or Sabki Ladli,Bebo. Want a young girl,a bride,a widow? Watch Baalika,Uttaran or Bandini,and Jyoti (NDTV Imagine). All that’s missing is a child mother like Bristol Palin. 

That little girls in pigtails,victims of injustice are prime time entertainment is unprecedented and bizarre. No one can say if this will be good for the girl child. For all its success,Baalika Vadhu can be seen as a celebration of child marriage — or at least an apology/explanation for it — as much as a warning against it. The children look so happy. And,if a child widow is willingly confined to the outhouse,what is the message for viewers? And will seeing girls poisoned be repugnant enough to end female infanticide?  

Can’t say. But even if these serials achieve no more than more eyeballs for their channels,they’re better than observing a man cavort with a corpse on Live India,better than listening to the same few politicians debate a political situation so fluid it’s like water running through their fingers,or watching Times Now,with a little assistance from other news channels,overthrow the Zardari government.

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