TeleSCOPE: Showman of the yearhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/telescope-showman-of-the-year/

TeleSCOPE: Showman of the year

In 2014, television was dominated by one person. Will 2015 be different?

narendra modi, most popular indian
Narendra Modi dominated our telly screens for most part of the year. Will he do the same in 2015?

If you are not bleary-eyed or cross-eyed this morning, if you are not still catching up with some well-deserved shut-eye, happy new year watching TV to you. If you can summon up the energy, look back at what you saw last year, ask yourself — will we see another year like 2014?

Not for a long while, crocodile. If at all. Television, like most public spaces, was utterly dominated by one person. That has never happened before and even though Narendra Modi will be prime minister for at least another four and a half years, he will not walk the television red carpet the way he did last year. In an election year, wherever he went, television news followed; whatever he said, television news relayed. It was the year of Modi darshan for news channels, not just for Doordarshan.

And yet, ask yourself, for all the coverage, what did you get to know of the man, Narendra Modi? That he likes fine clothes. That he likes to travel. That he can live off a couple of hours of sleep and a couple of glasses of water (his Americanamo trip last September). That he likes to orate on every given occasion — and creates occasions like Chai pe charcha or his radio address, Mann ki Baat, dutifully carried by TV news. That he has an acronym for every occasion. And that he likes to tweet.

Yes, but what about the man, Narendra Modi? For all that he revealed of himself on television or, for all that the media ran itself ragged trying to keep up with him, we never got beyond the politician to the person. Nothing personal, Mr Modi, although we met you every day on the box, we haven’t got to know you. Although you allowed TV news to interview during the election campaign, you never gave yourself away.

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And, TV news was blinded by your brilliance. Everyone was in praise of Modi. If there were questions they were asked of his ministers or right-wing support staff. That too mostly on social media. In 2014, few questioned Modi.
The prime minister was the showman and the show of the year. Doordarshan was his faithful chronicler. Modi chose to ignore private media on his foreign trips especially, and instead gave Doordarshan/ AIR the privilege of accompanying him. In April, the public broadcaster had interviewed Modi and then had the temerity to edit part of his interview. But all was forgiven by the PM and, in 2014, Doordarshan elbowed out the snooty private broadcasters in its access to Modi. Unfortunately, for all its newfound importance, it will be remembered for a series of gaffes last year. Can you forget the newscaster who called Xi Jinping “Eleven Jinping”?

Away from the news, television saw Zindagi breath life into entertainment. Launched in June, the channel made Fawad Khan the instant heart throb of females between 10-80 years of age. With TV series like Zindagi Gulzar Hai bringing romance back into our lives — and a little more natural settings and acting — the channel was a relief from the melodrama of Indian soaps. But like Indian TV entertainment, the serials are mostly sad. In 2015, we want something cheerful please.

Now let’s hear it for Bollywood. It came down to the small screen and tried to make something of it, even if it wasn’t very cheerful. Shows such as Udaan (Colors) by Mahesh Bhatt, Yudh (Sony) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Everest (Star Plus), created by Ashutosh Gowariker may not have the numbers, but they are making a breakthrough for television entertainment. Short series, 45 minute episodes, new themes — way to proceed in 2015.

Much more cheerful? How about a little kabaddi? Or soccer? No? Then, tennis anyone? Forget IPL — that is old hat. Now we have a series of new super leagues in these sports that have everyone from Aishwarya Rai to Mamata Banerjee cheering. The kabaddi league on TV was really special because it had the least likely chance of success and yet, it was a winner. We really got into pulling everyone’s legs.

The Indian Super League of football, Vijay Amritraj’s Champions Tennis League and the IPTL from Mahesh Bhupathi managed to successfully refocus our attention on sports other than cricket. That’s something very, very special.

In 2015, you’ll be seeing much more of Narendra Modi. For the rest, you’ll just have to wait — and watch.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com