Current affairs, DD style
George Fernandes ... talking about defence.
WHAT happens when Doordarshan rediscovers its enthusiasm for current affairs? It decides to conjure up sets which look like a club class airport lounge and install a fair assemblage of distinguished Delhi bores as an audience. On Sunday , at 10 a.m. on DD 1, there was a rather pinched-looking George Fernandes encountering two beaming anchors. The show is called "Hum Hazir Hain". (Imagine a current affairs show on any international channel called ``We are present.") The resplendent sets are a far cry from DD's usual poor cousin look, but it made up for that with poor audio which repeatedly held up proceedings. Some things never change.
When the person in the dock gives clear answers that dear George did (all journalists, we were told, call him George because he prefers that) you do have an informative programme going. But it is basic organisation to get beforehand, as "Question Time India" on BBC does, some sense of who wants to ask what question. Anchors Shashi Mehta and Rahul Dev announced in the beginning that in these anxious times national security was on the minds of every Indian, so their guest was the Union Minister of Defence. And what was the kick-off question on this much-anticipated subject One on extending medical benefits currently available to ex-servicemen.
It also helps to prevent the discussion being hijacked suddenly by a questioner in a totally different direction. While Fernandes was asked about the most important defence challenges facing the nation in coming months and he had just begun to talk about China, anchor Mehta allowed a question which took the discussion off on another tack altogether. With the result that, in the course of an hour, we never did get to hear from Fernandes on China, a country he had once referred to as India's enemy no.1.
The programme is live and ambitious. Every now and then it cuts away to a link up in a State capital. This bit is worth watching. Instead of a functional set up they have a replica of their sets in a matching shade of blue, resplendent with a pillar and a plump sofa. Trouble is, you enshrine an Indian in that sort of setting and he promptly begins to declaim. Almost every interlocuter they linked up to in the States wanted to sound off instead of asking a question, not unusual behaviour for a desi studio audience.
What is Government TV like elsewhere? Tune in to China Central Television, and it is as spare and nifty in its ethos as DD and PTV are clunky and officious. Its slender anchors have pronounced American accents, they do not stand around doing laborious piece to cameras that they have no talent for, and there are no sofa sets. Its content is souped up government propaganda, but its style is an assiduous copy of Cable News Network (CNN). If DD wants to know how to dress up seminars addressed by Government Ministers as news it should take a dekko at Chinese television. Its Chinese fare is presented from a smart unfussy studio, its English news studio sports a bank of TV monitors just as CNN does. It copies various features of CNN including World Weather, which takes you to every province of China on the way to telling you about the weather in the rest of the world. Alas, New Delhi does not figure. Late nights you could get Chinese pop, sung by seductive women whose bare shoulders would have outraged Sushma Swaraj . The Chinese avoid domestic politics, emphasise economics and show you the face of China that they want to. And they do so without over-dressed, over-made up anchors, or audio trip-ups.
Over the last fortnight two more K serials made their debut, "Kundali" on Star, and "Kutumb" on Sony. The growing stranglehold of Balaji Telefilms on what prime time television has to offer is leading to a retrograde homogenisation that the industry recognises, but is completely unable to resist. Script writers are chafing, television executives tell you privately that they are helpless. Channel owners want television rating points (TRPs), however discredited they may have become, and only young Ekta Kapoor, ably supported by Mum and Dad Jeetendra and Shobha, seems to have a risk-proof formula for how to get them.
Listen to the brutal economics of this business: if by the fourth episode a new serial is not recovering the money spent on an episode, the serial is in trouble, if by the ninth episode TRPs have not picked up, it is doomed. It does not matter how innovative or how good the programme is, no ratings, no go. Remember "Pradhan Mantri", late nights on Zee, with some really good performances, and the star combination of Ketan Mehta and M.J. Akbar? Critics loved it, but it never picked up on the charts, so the young prime minister and his lovely missus were killed off and the slot promptly vacated.
At a seminar last week, a script writer was lamenting her lot, to a gathering of feminists decrying the bejewelled, bickering, bahu brigade that has colonised our TV evenings. "I am specifically told not to make a woman a police officer, it is not feminine enough, not glamorous enough. What do I do when I am told to put a bindi, a mangalsutra, and an episode beginning with Karva Chauth?" She added later, "A lower middle class woman cannot afford not to work. But we are making her aspire towards regression-making her aspire to be a mangalsutra-branded housewife." Always beautifully dressed, and fully made up even when she is being roused from bed in the morning.
Said another script writer, "the whole process of making a serial is changing. Performance is the last thing you look for in an actress. She must be a tall, beautiful girl, with long hair, good saris, good dress. The serial must have good sets, good packaging."
And never mind logic. "Koshish Ek Aasha" was hailed for the fact that it featured a central character with a disability. He had been mentally retarded we were told, since the age of six. Then how come, somebody asked, that he went off to the United States, had an operation, and came back normal, so normal that he comes up with a winning computer project proposal, and later has a fling with his secretary. That is sort of on par with Mihir dying and then coming back to life in "Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi".
Said the channel executive present, "You want to know the truth? We thought the serial was sagging, let us give it a little boost, put in some drama. And I think we overdid it."
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It pays to be good looking, but did you know just how much? Teachers treat physically attractive children better, judges treat physically attractive criminals better, cadets with muscular faces get further in their careers, and the taller and better looking you are, the better your chance of getting elected the President of the United States, the present incumbent notwithstanding. The Discovery Channel's three-part series, "Science of Beauty" is an absorbing one, though the first episode ran out of steam after the first half hour of the hour-long episode. It repeats tomorrow.
Titled "Face Value", it describes the halo effect, which leads to attractive people getting better treatment in general. And that is truer today, than of yesterday, or at least so says this programme. The value attached to grooming and good looks is only growing. Even children rate their liking for people according to their looks. And appearances help people get ahead in their careers, an extreme example being a former beauty queen from Venezuela who ran for president. It is the logical culmination of more and more media saturation with an emphasis on television.
So perhaps the craze for entering beauty contests is based on some hard-nosed assumptions. The programme says the U.S. has more than 100,000 beauty contestants under the age of 12. The "Science of Beauty" comes on at 10 p.m. on Mondays, till November 19. Tomorrow both the first and second parts are being shown, at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.. The third part, next Monday, will look at the growing potential that surgery and science offer for people to reshape themselves. Remember the famously documented reshaping of Yukta Mookhey?
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