Laughing away reality
Come elections, TV channels vie with each other to air political satires, visual cartooning and spoofs. But in a country with a huge illiteracy rate, do people see the messages beyond the laughs, asks SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY.
POLL POT BOILING ... Alka Saxena.
AGREED THAT `entertainment' is a long word. But that it could stretch so much, in present-day India to embrace a serious topic like elections, has to be seen to be understood.
For a first-hand feel, switch on to Modern India's popular leisure font the telly at your home (any channel you choose to pick) and watch the fun.
After all, a gargantuan affair with 600 million voters, eight lakh polling staff and 5,500 candidates is an event meaty enough to knit some comic yarns spaced out from the numerous psephology analyses on poll combinations and permutations. India is a free country. And even if viewers want to see meaningful deliberations on poll issues in the run-up to this month's general elections, our ever-burgeoning television channels have every `freedom' to think of some `out of the box' shows.
POLL POT BOILING ... Arup Ghosh.
They have every reason now to try to be `different' from their counterparts as television in this country is almost three times the size of the movie segment touching Rs.13000 crores.
That is another thing, if in the course you end up being akin to your competitors. Never mind if it is a shameless lift from foreign tube shows. And so the show must go on - "Double Take," "Gustakhi Maaf," "Poll Khol," "JBC," "Khabar Tadka - Chunav Ki Bhatti Se," "Chunav Chalisa," et al.
All of these shows are sufficiently humorous to bring that grin on your face. With seasoned humorists at it, they are all well presented, well-timed and possibly well accepted too. But the point here is not this. It is something more serious, something worth saving a thought for.
Why is it that every occasion on television now is looked upon as an event to be blown out of proportion? Be it India-Pakistan cricket series, be it elections, or be it the Lakme India Fashion Week or a train derailment or a bomb blast, the design is the same. Use them, as if there is no tomorrow. Turn them into festivals. After all, the money is huge here. Channels expect Rs.100 crores in poll advertisements alone from political parties, after the Andhra Pradesh High Court recently quashed those sections of the Cable TV Act that do not permit political ads on small screen.
ALL THE SHADES ... Scenes from "Straight From The State".
And yes, play innocent please and say that our viewers are asking for blow-ups. No arguing, that our audience want a "Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin," a ``Kaun Banega Crorepati" or a "Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" for entertainment. But morally speaking, these current shows with elections as the main fibre taste too sour to dish out for popular pleasure. We know by now the argument they are political satires, visual cartooning, lampooning, buffoonery, poll spoofs... But the argument is, do these shows fit the bill? In a country with a huge illiteracy rate, what message are we offering them beyond laughs?
Agreed on principle with senior TV personality Vinod Dua when he says, in a democracy; you have every right to question a politician. One concurs with well known TV anchor and Sahara Samay chief, Arup Ghosh, that during serious reflection on poll politics, ``some irony gets lost.''
One can't be cross with Zee TV Programming Head Alka Saxena either when she says the ``idea behind the two-minute Jaspal Bhatti show is to do what cartoons do in a newspaper.'' But then, is it just doing that? A good cartoon in the morning paper not only makes us laugh but also prods us to think and at times infuriates us about issues too. Minus the frill, it sketches a scenario with a relevant message intact. But what is left to think after laughing at `Sonia chai and iftar kabab'?
Are we supposed to shift our loyalties on the basis of how Laloo Prasad Yadav does his hair, or Atal Bihari Vajpayee's mannerisms or Sonia Gandhi's accented Hindi?
ALL THE SHADES ... "Dharti Pakar" on Sahara Samay.
Agreed that most of our politicians are irresponsible enough about their public responsibilities; that they are directly to be blamed for bringing politics down to such a low; that their buffoonery can, at most times, only be laughed at. But does it mean, we allow them to go on with it?
Is the audio-visual media not a powerful medium today to discuss issues that are important to one billion people, most of whom are victims of imbalanced development and are thus primarily poor, malnourished and almost hopeless about their tomorrow?
Agreed that our politicos have no significant poll issues this time round. But does it mean we merely laugh at them and decide to vote the one we laughed at the most? Mind you, thanks to the cable TV reach, these shows are being watched by a huge section in a country where almost half the nation's population is illiterate. (In present-day India, you might be wondering about your next meal but you will have a TV to watch nonetheless). They can't differentiate between Jaspal Bhatti doing a political satire and just acting comical; or when Sekhar Suman is getting into visual cartooning; or when Kader Khan and Paintal are getting political. They look at them as just comedians. They are definitely not Sky TV audience willing to see through the "Double Take" of our masked politicians. So, what service is it of beyond being comical? Yes, no doubt, it is the TRP. But can polls not be spared this farce?
Yes, the channels do come out with serious debates and some of them on poll issues are informative too. So then, why trivialise the elections by synchronising them with just laugh-shows for popular entertainment? Are our `saas-bahu' serials not doing that already? The common man who is targeted to reap a few ripples, needs a better government for the next five years at least more than anybody else.
Looking at our politicians as a laughing stock no way helps. It cannot effectively equip a voter to demand responsibility from a public representative. It cannot enable him to ask those pertinent questions that decide his present and his children's future.
And, if the idea behind these spoof shows is to make our politicians aware that we know what they are doing, then let's have a quick reality check. The bandwagon is more than half full with thick-skinned tricksters. And, they are getting undue visual space and we are turning them into stars although we are only laughing at them.
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