Ekta Kapoor ... . Fictional empire.
WHO is afraid of Ekta Kapoor, mistress of a fictional empire that is as mesmerising as it is mindless? Activist TV viewing lobbies are. They have begun to dread her forays into tackling social issues. Each such effort comes with its baggage of problematic handling. We've been through sex determination tests, adoption and rape being tackled in her serials. Now "Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki" has spent much of last fortnight presenting the rape of a sightless young woman who lives in the house, and the drama that follows. This is the second time that a rape has figured in the course of this serial on Star Plus.
Khushi is the daughter of a family friend, who becomes part of this household after being orphaned. She is shown as being an achiever despite her disability, and has won an entrepreneur's award. During Holi, when celebrations are going on, on the lawns outside, Parvati the serene and sensible eldest bahu of this joint family tells Khushi to go and fetch her award, to show it to the guests gathered there. When she is in her room, she is pounced upon by a man who is shown as having entered from the balcony. A slow motion sequence is accompanied by screams and splattered blood.
At the end of this episode, even the signature tune was replaced with the soundtrack of her screams. It's been established that many children are watching at this hour in homes across the country, and that they lap up Ekta Kapoor's soaps with great alacrity. A Star executive told us last month, when the findings of a study on violence on television were presented, that parents cannot abdicate their role when watching TV with their children. "There are many issues you do not want to address but you have to do so when it comes on television. Children are growing up far too fast. We tackled AIDS on `Sanjeevini'. I had to address that issue. As a channel, I agree we should not capitalise on it."
Except that you do, my dear sir, you do. Khushi's rape is played out over three episodes, with horrific glimpses of her wild sightless eyes, and hysterical screams, and repeated recaps. Yes, it could be educative to deal with the subject of child sexual abuse or sexual abuse of a young adult within the family but it depends how sensitively you do it. After a week of watching the treatment of this incident, disability groups were raising several questions. Which way will it play: will it alert families to the dangers that lurk within them? Will it make parents of those with disabilities over-protective? Does the handling show those with disabilities as weak, and at a disadvantage? Will it give anti-social elements ideas, that you can perpetrate such a crime against a visually impaired person and get away with it because the woman will not be able to identify her attacker?
Then, more questions: the rape is shown as being hushed up. There is no medical testing of the victim, no FIR is lodged. No positive message goes out. Instead the serial goes off into an extended face-off between male and female members of the family as the whole thing is rapidly turned into a whodunit. Khushi names two members of the family by their smell, which she recognises, but the story tells us that they were on a train at that time. The women think Khushi's instincts are to be trusted, the men think their brothers are innocent and to be protected at any cost.
Much melodrama is now ensuing. Khushi stands there, thoroughly distraught and vulnerable while the family is asked to declare, one by one, whether they believe her version or not. For God's sake. Does Ekta Kapoor think she is raising social consciousness when she wades into such territory, milking it in this fashion? Does Star TV? And do they really care as long as the ratings come in?
Same Sebastian?: Was it my imagination or did I see the famously unrelenting inquisitor of BBC's "Hard Talk" lose his bite considerably as the Major of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert mounted an aggressive defence of the Israeli attacks on Palestine? The latter managed to turn quite a bit of Tim Sebastian's sarcasm back on him. Contrast this with his unsparing handling of Iraq's foreign minister a few days before.
News or promo?: Why does Zee use its news channel to promote its entertainment show "Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai?" Sunjay Dutt was interviewed on Zee News, before he came on the show, and right through the interview you had the show's name mounted prominently in the background. When it ended the news anchor said that viewers could catch Dutt on the show the next day.
Singh Time: BBC World launched a current affairs discussion hosted by Tavleen Singh on Friday night, called "Dateline India". It will have only journalists participating. The first episode was on, what else, secularism in India. The first half was quite promising, unfortunately Singh's own bias on the subject showed (she seemed to think that if Muslims snapped out of their grievances and got on with it, as the Sikhs have done after 1984, their problems would go away) and it all ended with a rather simplistic "Is it going to get better, yes, or no?" Nice sets, bad choice of fonts for the names of the participants.
Ownership matters: "Parakh", last Sunday, turned its criticism of the Prime Minister's handling of Gujarat into a rather sharp personal attack. It would have been more credible if Sahara had not been a channel owned by someone who flaunts his allegiance to the opposition Samajwadi Party.
Soft journalism: BBC World's "India Business Report Profiles" featured media baroness Shobana Bhartia of the Hindustan Times last weekend. And went about it rather like a Femina cover story, with a lot of smiles and curls and some carefully contained criticism.
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