US President Barack Obama said he was “overwhelmed” by the “extraordinary” welcome he had received upon his arrival in New Delhi. We were equally overwhelmed. If he received red carpet treatment from Palam Airport to the ITC Maurya and Rashtrapati Bhavan, from Hyderabad House to Rajpath and Siri Fort, we received carpet coverage of his three-day visit. Why, we even had to “watch” his Mann Ki Baat with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, because all TV news channels aired it. Who watches a radio show?
We did, to count how often during the half-hour broadcast, Obama was hailed as “Barack” by “Mr Prime Minister” (six times?), as he referred to Modi. Elsewhere, news channels discovered — or planted — people from Loni (Uttar Pradesh) to Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata around transistor radios. Some stared at the instrument as if it was from another planet, like in PK. Others admired their footwear and mobiles or adjusted their clothes. By Tuesday night, they didn’t know what there was left to say about the non-stop “NamObama” show.
India TV’s reporter in Mohali watched the radio broadcast with three women: “What did you like?” he asked them when it ended. A young woman said Obama’s “dedication” to his daughters, her mother (?) buried her face in her shoulder and the third ran away. “As you can see,” he reported, straight-faced, “yeh kaafi inspired hain.”’
Don’t know about the ladies but news channels certainly were inspired. They danced about the first couple (!) of India and the US rather like the joyous cartoons of Modi and his cabinet on Aaj Tak’s So Sorry. But this was serious business: each channel was there to outshoot the others. On Sunday, CNN-IBN had “exclusive” footage of the Obamas’ convoy to the Maurya, Headlines Today had Obama’s first soundbyte at Rashtrapati Bhavan — as it never tired of telling or showing us. Times Now saw two armchairs on the lawns of Hyderabad House before the others did. And NDTV 24×7 and Times Now “first” reported the tracking clause in the nuclear deal had been removed.
None could equal DD News. It had live and exclusive footage of the entire Obama visit — including its favourite annual Republic Day. On January 26, DD News boasted of 24 HD cameras for a “visual treat”. Well, treat it would have been had it not rained on the parade. Our DD commentators were quick-witted: they immediately attached celestial significance to the drizzle on our honoured foreign guests: “It’s most auspicious,” intoned one. “The heavens gently send down their blessings,” added another.
Reduce the duration of the parade, and it will be a visual treat. The march past is fine but the tableaux and dance performances down Rajpath are not a TV spectacle — it a “path” in Hindi and English, not a stage. Many spectators picked out by one of the 24 HD cameras didn’t seem to mind, though. In particular, the camera caught ministers — Venkaiah Naidu, Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar, Suresh Prabhu and Smriti Irani — give standing ovations to whatever went past them.
Perhaps someone should have reminded Michelle Obama that she was on live television? Most of the time, she was seen in animated conversation with the vice president’s wife, Salma Ansari. Bet they were not discussing the 75 decorative items (so DD said) on the mounted camels.
In an earlier life, we watched the Republic Day parade, listened to patriotic songs on the radio (yes, the radio), then curled up with a patriotic film (Manoj Kumar?), our eyes filled with national “pride”, as did Modi’s (Rahul Kanwal, Headlines Today). We’d done our patriotic duty, at least until August 15. Now, entertainment TV runs its normal scheduled soaps as though January 26 was another ordinary day. So please salute Zee TV for a Happy New Year starring the superstar Obama named in his Siri Fort speech — Shah Rukh Khan.
There were other visual treats, even the one DD’s HD cameras did not immediately discern: Narendra Damodardas Modi’s pinstripes; President Pranab Mukherjee dwarfed by Obama’s 6-foot height and Modi’s 56-inch chest; Sonia Gandhi looking everywhere but in front of her at the president’s banquet with the PM opposite her. The sour grapes in the mouths of Congressmen (Anand Sharma) on the nuclear agreement. And there was Wing Commander Puja Thakur leading the Guard of Honour for Obama.
That beats watching radio any day.