An Indian monsoon is a lot like almost every Mahesh Bhatt interview: grey, boring, interminably long and completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, like almost every Mahesh Bhatt interview, it is here to stay. In the absence of any outdoor activity whatsoever, watching TV seems to be the safest and most logical option in these disturbing times. Indeed, at times, it just seems to be the only option left because, really, it’s the only thing I’m any good at. I don’t know if television viewership actually goes up during the monsoons, but I can safely venture that the posse of dysfunctional clowns I like to call ‘my family’ would be responsible for 90% of any prominent spike.
On one such rainy, muggy, gloomy, spite infested day, I was lying curled up on a sofa (which from years of abuse had moulded itself perfectly to my body shape), eating popcorn and watching TV. I was watching one of those 24-hour news channels, India TV, and I was about to switch to some raunchier fare when I realized that the newsreader was a totally hot female who managed to look absolutely delicious while pouting through a story about cannibals and their perverted necrophile servants.
I ogled at her for about a minute until, sadly, the story ended and another not-so-scrumptious number started an analysis of the constructive effect of channels like India TV on the Indian society. I decided I wanted to wait till the previous reader was back, and since I had nothing else to do, I decided to watch the analysis. This new announcer, an uptight looking Ekta Kapoor look-alike called Ushma Something-or-other, was talking to the channel’s Deputy Editor, another uptight looking Ekta Kapoor look-alike called Deepti Something-or-other. Here’s what happened:
Ushma: Hi Deepti, thank you for coming to the show.
Deepti: Thanks, Ushma. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. Of course, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you always invite me and noone else to discuss almost every single news report, including such delightful fare as multiple homicide, cholera outbreaks, Abhishek Bachhan’s desire to ‘make it on his own’ after acting with his father in their 746 th movie together, and the like. In fact, it seems appearing on your show is the only work I actually do in this place.
Ushma: Er… Thanks Deepti. But tell us, when India TV was started, did you really think it would be this successful?
Of course not. We actually expected only those who worked for us (some 56 women and 2 men) to actually watch the channel. But after months of hard work and creative flair, it’s satisfying to see so many others join the bandwagon. We now have more than 120 viewers all over India, including 73 High Court and Supreme Court judges, several lawyers, police and CBI officials and censor board executives. And this is not oncluding the hundreds of dedicated viewers we have in maximum security prisons all over the country. It’s really quite overwhelming.
Ushma: I can imagine. Let’s talk about some of the more popular shows on the channel. One of the most interesting ones is something called ACP Arjun…
Deepti: Oh yes, ACP Arjun is one of the most phenomenal shows currently on Indian, if not world, television. In his typically stern, no-nonsense manner, ACP Arjun shows the different facets of crime prevalent in India, reporting only the facts in an unbiased, logical way.
Ushma: Yes, and how does he manage to convey this upright character and his moral righteousness?
Deepti: Moral righteousness?? Oh, you mean the constipation. Ah well, ACP Arjun actually is a patient of chronic constipation. In fact, the show’s producers have been instructed to withhold his medication on the day of the shoot and to feed him large amounts of laxative coated oats to give him that special I-want-to-fart-so-bad-I-think-I’m-gonna-burst look. In addition, before shooting starts, he is forced to watch 36 hours of Mithun Chakrabarty movies to fine tune his dialogue delivery and emotive skills. That’s also where he gets such a convincing patriotic salute and ‘Jai Hind’. Also, to give the show a realistic feel, the show’s correspondents and cameramen are called Investigating Officers, even though most of the time what they are really investigating is the spurt in marijuana prices or the inside of my skirt.
Ushma: And the ‘Special Reports’ every hour seem to generate a lot of talk…
Deepti: Yes, we realized that ‘breaking news’ was what seemed to generate maximum TRP’s on every news channel. So we decided that 80% of the day should be filled with breaking news. The only problem was, the term ‘breaking news’ itself seemed to be getting quite overused, so we decided to call it ‘Special Report’ instead. So every hour we find a different story that we can sell, I mean, report as breaking news.
Ushma: But, there’s been a lot of criticism of the blatant sensationalism in the shows and of the fact that most of these news items are really quite insignificant.
Deepti: Not at all. For instance, just the other day we did a special report on a truly ghastly incident in Madhya Pradesh. Called ‘Shamshaan mein Siyasat’, it brought to light a heinous crime committed by the politicians currently in power in MP. Apparently the current CM had, in devious collusion with the DIG, chopped down a 3-foot plant originally planted by the former CM in memory of his grand uncle, and replaced it with a thorny cactus. Why had he done this? Don’t you want to know? Should’nt the whole world know the truth? Because some crazy tantrik had prophesized that this act would bring doom for the former CM and glory for him. You can imagine how destructive an effect this will have on the Indian political spectrum. Would we have paid so much money to all those opposition MLA’s and so many learned tantriks for saying such nice uplifting things about India TV had the story been baseless or trivial? I think not.
Ushma: Hmm, but even your astrology shows generate a lot of flak for being allegedly regressive and promoting superstition…
Deepti: Regressive? On the contrary, we have tried to make the show as modern as possible. Have you seen our Acharya Indu Prakash? The black Matrix-like robes, the Bvlgari jewellery, the whole Rob Zombie/crazed rock star look, complete with a heavy metal soundtrack and graphic pictures of gods and goddesses, its all there. I don’t think any other channel has this kind of vision and fashion sense in its astrologers. Moreover, his method of predicting the future is highly scientific in nature, and therefore very accurate. Did you know, he had predicted long before the channel was launched, that it would be a huge hit? Today, you can see for yourself. 120 viewers…
Ushma: What about violence involving women? The shows about female gangs in Pune and female crowds beating and stoning up men because they refused to give their money back have drawn very positive responses, haven’t they?
Deepti: Yes they have. I have to admit, we took the idea from professional wrestling franchises like the WWE. Female wrestlers have always been the ideal poster girls for feminism, and generate a lot of TRP’s as well. Look, violence is part and parcel of life in India, so its unavoidable. We just decided that if we wanted to be ahead of the pack, we had to give the viewers something different. That’s when we thought, instead of showing the same old routine of macho male American soldiers pissing on or beating the crap out of the poor naked handcuffed Iraqi, we should show women doing the same. I mean, ask any porno producer, their highest selling movies are those involving multiple women with one male, preferably with some BDSM.
Ushma: Right, Deepti, what do you have to say to all the morality watchdogs out there who say there’s just too much sex on TV these days?
Deepti: I think they’re right. Except, that’s not true in our case. We have never felt the need to use such frivolous, vulgar and voyeuristic methods for the sake of TRP’s. If you’ve noticed, there isn’t a single show that has sex or nudity as its theme. We believe in honest reporting. India TV believes in respecting women. Shows like ACP Arjun and India Bole are testimony to that. For instance, the last episode of ACP Arjun had such quality reports about four gangrape cases, two cases of child pornography, three of marital rape and murder, a couple of eve teasing cases, and one bizarre report about a monkey fornicating with a bicycle. Of course, the last one was just to lighten the mood somewhat. Monkeys on bicycles can be quite funny.
Ushma: We’ve heard India TV has plans to launch a ‘Fight against Anorexia and Bulimia’ campaign. Could you tell us something about that?
Deepti: Yes, well, recently, researchers from MIT, Boston, showed that 99.3% of India TV viewers vomited after watching a mere 15 minutes of any of its shows. We are therefore offering a safe, healthy method of rehabilitation for models suffering from severe cases of anorexia or bulimia. We think India TV will help these unfortunate souls lose weight far more effectively than conventional bulimia, not to mention the massive cuts in food wastage. That’s why we started the campaign; it’s just our way of showing corporate social responsibility.
Ushma: Well, thanks a lot, Deepti. As always, its been enlightening talking to you.
Deepti: Great talking to you, too, Ushma.