TV Ailments

  • Alka Gurha
  • India
  • Feb 08, 2013

There must be something about television that made Woody Allen quip, “Life does not imitate art, it imitates bad television.” I wonder if the gentleman had any chance of viewing Indian soaps, or the prime time debates on our news channels. For a relatively nascent industry, Indian television has done well.  The biggest stars of Bollywood have descended here, television actors are drawing excellent remuneration, sponsors are queuing up and news anchors are mini-celebrities. So what  ails Indian television? 

Phony Jingoism “Desh ka khoon khaul raha hai,” scrolls the headline on a news channel.  Jingoism is not the exclusive preserve of vernacular channels. Recent skirmishes with our neighbour have shown that even those enjoying a relatively high perch in the media hierarchy are falling for the trappings of TRPs. When the agenda is chest thumping patriotism, the discourse can be anything but reasoned. Calm it guys!

Slanging Matches The truth is that our political parties do not talk to each other – they talk at each other. An air-conditioned television studio is a great place to indulge in a slugfest watched by millions. Bring on riots, terrorism or the issue of price-rise - the warring factions are ready for a jaw-jaw. The high decibel cacophony results in pandemonium, and the debate ends suggesting that two wrongs can make a right. Time to flip the channel!

Absent Funny Bone The mark of any vibrant democracy is the willingness of its citizens to chuckle at those who occupy positions of power – and of course the capacity of the ‘powerful’ to take it on the chin... How many satirical political shows do we have on news channels? I can only think of ‘The Week that Wasn’t’ and ‘Gustakhi Maaf’. Both shows have pretty chaste punches, lacking any trenchant wit. No Zing!

Dearth of Chat Shows ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’, or the ‘David Letterman Show’ hosts Republicans, Democrats and the Obamas on a regular basis. Normal communication with the electorate on television has resulted in positive political pay-offs. Why can’t we have a light-hearted chat show with the reluctant first family scion? I would love to hear him. Wouldn’t you?

Dose of Sensationalism “Assam mein aaya bhukamp, ab dilli ki baari hai.” A dash of sensationalism makes for a good appetizer, when the main menu is a serving of spicy Bollywood stories or juicy celebrity sagas. However, when natural calamity strikes, sensationalism sucks the gullible viewers into a whirlpool of undesirable hysteria. Then, we have news channels that openly propagate myths in the name of religion. How can some nondescript Acharya suggest weird (read funny) ways to ward off evil, and fool millions on a news channel? 

Missing Logic in Soaps For reasons known only to the Almighty, logic is at the very bottom of Indian soaps. Most plots have archaic story lines, bizarre logic guiding the protagonists, and women as vicious evil characters. In the absence of good writers, we concentrate more on matching bangles, pinning saris, and designing new bindis. The focus on horrid mother-in-laws, docile daughter-in-laws and grumpy sis-in-laws – all indulging in a bitching fest – becomes tedious. Does it entertain? Hmm…sometimes...

No Shows for Children: Scarcity of programmes for children means that they either watch cartoons or Bollywood-based reality shows. While it is heartening to see talented kids showcase their skills, there is more to talent than dancing or singing. Any parent will attest that children appear best when they act and behave their age – and not when they shake suggestively to item numbers. Sigh!

Original Content Most of our popular shows, like ‘Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa’ and ‘KBC’, copy Western formats. We now need reputed directors, like Raju Hirani and Imtiaaz Ali, to give something local and new. Anybody listening?

Informative Shows As KBC has shown, well-directed educational shows can also pack entertainment.  Other than the staid UGC programs or Discovery shows, new formats that inform viewers about future research and new breakthroughs in the fields of health and science are welcome. No sponsors? Sad!

Puerile Comedy Shows: Compare the longest running Indian comedy show, ‘FIR’, with sitcoms like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or ‘Two and a Half Men’, famous for their researched dialogues, gripping narrative and riveting drama. ‘Comedy Circus’ on Sony shines in bits and pieces, but we miss well-directed shows like the erstwhile ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’. Also, men dressed as women, with hideous wigs and fake boobs to boot, are not funny. Seriously!


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