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Sunday, November 29, 2020

The republic of television

This election is scripted and directed for TV

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | March 31, 2009 3:36:06 am

There’s L.K. Advani frowning out at his audience,strongly condemning India’s ‘weakest prime minister’; next to him,Narendra Modi’s looking like the recent thunderclouds hanging over Delhi (when last did you see him sunny and smiling?) before he lashed out against the same weakest prime minister. There’s Lalu Yadav,Ram Vilas Paswan and Mulayam Singh holding hands,looking as if they actually like each other more than they do Sonia Gandhi; there’s the prime minister,in strong terms but weak voice,ticking off Advani; there’s Sonia Gandhi,by his side,smiling (something she’s doing a little more frequently in public) as she hides her photograph on the Congress manifesto,and proclaims him the party’s prime ministerial candidate; there’s Rahul Gandhi,dimpling as he praises the prime minister and gently rebukes his cousin,Varun. And then,here comes Varun himself in a blood-coloured kurta which acts like a red rag to his Pilibhit supporters who then rage and rampage against his imprisonment.   

Camera,mics — the elections are happening on television. And,the thing is,the politicians know it; watching them,you half suspect they’re not addressing the audience before them alone but the one sitting in front of the television,too. They know this election is teetering on the edge of uncertainty so they need seek out as many people as they can. That’s where television news enters the electoral fray; that’s why Mr Advani has challenged Dr Manmohan Singh to a televised debate. And that could be the most persuasive reason why Varun Gandhi announced,in advance,his dramatic entry into Pilibhit to give himself up to the authorities on Saturday so that he and his supporters could stage a TV spectacle for all of us to see. We’re going to witness many more such moments before the end of this campaign; as TV grabs,they will get our attention (and deny it to other parties) but will they win our votes?

What will get negative votes is the hangama in the studios. Even at a distance of 30 feet away from the TV set,in another room,you can hear these voices fighting to rise above each other,battling to keep others out,and the winner is the one who succeeds in doing both. TV anchors were yelling at us like warlords; now,it’s the politicians. Mostly,we cannot understand a word they’re saying which,partly,seems to be the objective: reduce political debate in TV studios to a screaming room of nonsense if need be,as long as you silence your political foe.   

Sourav Ganguly was a silent spectacle but not of his own making. John Buchanan did him ‘in’ when he announced Ganguly was no longer captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders. Sourav looked dazed,an expression he wore on the talent show Knights and Riders (NDTV Imagine) alongside fellow judges Shiamak Davar and Deepika Padukone (equally dazed). There to pick cheerleaders for the Knight Riders,Sourav watched the contestants with increasing alarm,speechless and expressionless. Not surprisingly: less talented performances on a talent show have seldom been seen. These girls may possess beautiful souls but dancers they’re not — they’ll bring little cheer to the Knight Riders. 

Dance India Dance (Zee) saw mind-boggling dances but what boggled the eyes was a contestant named Prince dressed in a Spanish omelette costume of yellow and red. That was before you saw Mithun Chakraborty in a blue sherwani worn last by Hrithik Roshan in Jodhaa Akbar! Most talent show contestants appear to be wearing hand-me-downs from Bollywood films; given that India dances to Bollywood,this is not much of a fashion statement. 

As the second Test drew towards a draw,commentators Craig McMillan and Ian Smith were left to entertain themselves trying to spell out and then pronounce V.V.S. Laxman’s complete name. Sounded somewhat like our politicians in the TV studios or,as Julie Andrews once sang,“Supercalifragilisticexpeali…” 

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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