For a moment I was confused. Was I watching a news channel? Or was I watching an entertainment channel? I’m referring to a new crime show called Wanted High Alert (it’s actually on Colors). Actor Sushant Singh strides into the studio and, in a suitably steely-eyed fashion, recounts the number of terrible crimes committed in India, how there could be a twisted murderer / rapist just waiting round the corner to catch you and, er, commit a terrible crime, and how you must therefore constantly be on your guard. (No need yet to permanently carry a hockey stick or iron rod on your person, though given Sushant Singh’s air of grim urgency, you might feel the need is dire).
Sushant is a good actor, just as Shrivardhan Trivedi, the anchor of Star News’s Sansani, is a good actor. Both are rather similar, which is why I had that momentary news / entertainment confusion. The pony-tailed Trivedi, whose penetrating eyes could probably bore more holes into your body than bullets, is the more menacing of the two — believe me, you wouldn’t want to run into him round a corner, or anywhere else. But Sushant Singh is not much lacking in the forceful department either.
Then, suddenly the show morphs into something Zee TV used to telecast many years ago — a programme called India’s Most Wanted, presented by Suhaib Ilyasi. Like India’s Most Wanted, Wanted High Alert also seeks to alert viewers about convicts on the run — and actively solicit their help in (to use a favourite word of all crime writers) nabbing them.
Quite truthfully, I don’t know how effective India’s Most Wanted was in this respect. But that it was extremely popular, everybody knows. Clearly, people like to feel scared — but they also like to be entertained at the same time. So, after Sushant gives his spiel, we are shown the story of a criminal called Balasaheb Pawar, pieced together with the liberal use of dramatic reconstruction. Again, since news channels also routinely do lurid dramatic reconstruction for their crime stories, the line between news and entertainment blurs even more.
Wanted High Alert is followed immediately by Colors’s new horror show, Anhoniyon Ka Andhera, conceived by horror filmmaker Vikram Bhatt. The story is about a family (husband, wife, mother, bai) who live happily in a flat and then, suddenly, weird, scary things start happening to them. If you’re a horror-film fan, you can’t miss the standard devices which are used so generously in Anhoniyon Ka Andhera; the one obligatory rational sceptic character (in this case the husband), the ‘jump scares,’ the weird occurrences such as the rocking chair that starts rocking on its own, the door that creaks shut on its own, the TV set that comes to life on its own with a screen showing static (The Ring, anyone?), unseen murmuring voices that whisper in the background, the ‘sightings’ of the bhoot (always, only one person is allowed this singular honour). And so on and so forth.
The one thing that’s always puzzled me about horror films (and therefore about Anhoniyon Ka Andhera too) is this: if a character is woken up in the middle of the night by strange noises, why do they always launch forth on an investigation, even if it means going into dark rooms (attics / lofts / basements), and even if that particular character has gone through scary experiences and there’s every chance those scary experiences will happen again? Why not just pull the sheet over your head and close your eyes?
Ah, but then you wouldn’t have a horror show / film at all.