Attitude, performance and aspiration
The national mood demands icons with international potential.
"Indian news channels ... (why must we keep calling them that when they peddle genuine news only about one per cent of the time?) across the board have acquired a uniform behaviour pattern: they whip up a frenzy and then feed it."
PARTLY ECLIPSED: Anju Bobby George's win in South Korea was overshadowed by Sania frenzy. PHOTO: REUTERS
THE day Sania lost at New York, Anju Bobby George won a gold at Incheon. But no forest of mikes was ranged outside her mother's door even at 7 p.m., let alone at 2 a.m. Long jump is not as sexy as tennis, and George is not given to sporting tee shirts which say "I'm Cute, No S***". She can manage responses to questions from studios, not comebacks at press conferences. P.T. Usha and Shiny Abraham, before her, were similar, and consequently did not spur news channels to make perfect asses of themselves in anticipation of their performance. Young Mirza, however, is perky, confident, and quotable. Media stardom now comes from attitude as much as performance, and from such extraneous considerations as being a Muslim and the very antithesis of the Muslim woman stereotype in the Western world.
It also comes from being an advertiser's dream, as adman Alyque Padamsee has described Mirza. Advertisers look at the role model or glamour potential of rising stars and quickly get them aboard. Then you have on-screen presence all year round. When you are not seeing her play, you are seeing her drink tea or act in an advertisement for HP service, never mind the irony of extolling her service. Brand building is a barometer of both rising and declining stardom. When a phone company launched its "Signature Series" limited edition of handsets, it priced its "Sourav Fone" at less than half the price of its "Sania Fone".
But the Sania frenzy, above all, owes its build-up to the fact that news coverage these days is defined and sustained more by national mood and aspiration than the weight of the actual event. Indian news channels (why must we keep calling them that when they peddle genuine news only about one percent of the time?) across the board have acquired a uniform behaviour pattern: they whip up a frenzy and then feed it. On Sunday night, as one watched incredulously, Channel 7 reporters roamed streets in Hyderabad, Delhi, Srinagar and Kolkata, thrusting mikes into ready-to-oblige faces. Zee News did an sms poll which told us 82 per cent thought Sania would win. Talk of a country kidding itself. One channel gave Ram Vilas Paswan a chance to ride the Sania bandwagon. And in the short hour that the match was lost, Headlines Today and Star News kept the studio patter going. It was a mite pathetic to hear Amitabh in an NDTV studio, in the wake of a "6-2, 6-1" defeat, reiterate her role model effect on young people in Hyderabad. But it came, I dare say, from anticipating that a sleepless nation wanted consolation patter.
The national mood demands icons with international potential. The rest of the world seems to have sensed this. A writer in the New Statesman earlier this year, describing the Saurabh Singh-NASA hoax, ascribed it to this hunger for heroes. "A con works only if the audience wants to believe it, and the truth is that Saurabh's story tapped into a national conviction that, as one advertising campaign has it, "India is shining". Note how what Sania means to Indians became a compulsory para in much of the international reporting.
Source of inspiration
Aspiration is now a visible national driver. A government-funded magazine that goes out to panchayats in Madhya Pradesh has a career column which regularly draws eager questions from readers in villages. I found one on where and how to get training in tennis. And another on how to set up a factory in a village, which makes cricket balls. The career supplements of regional language newspapers also cater to upward mobility. A Hindi column in one newspaper explained for the benefit of its readers the correct way to use different English idioms featuring ducks: what did it mean to be a dead duck, or to play ducks and drakes?
And in "Iqbal", Nagesh Kukunoor is able to fill multiplex theatres with the unlikely fable of a differently abled village boy who makes it into the Indian cricket team because he has a dream. Reviewers have raved, audiences have laughed and cried right through the movie. A theme like that finds a resonance in the national mood.
India as we are constantly told, is young, young, young. So aspiration now drives the Indian media full tilt. It is a major growth industry.
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