My internet died the other day, and I was forced to do something unusual. I was forced to watch TV. On TV. Which was weird because I had to suffer through commercial breaks, where I learned that if you don't have an iPhone, you don't have an iPhone. Or the cardiac-arrest-inducing 3G bills that come with it. And that Katrina Kaif is so done with men that she's just going to make-out with seasonal fruit now. And that if the 3G Zoozoo and Ranbir Kapoor had a stand-up showdown, the Chennai Super Kings would win.
I got so sick of the commercial breaks, I couldn't focus on watching a thing, and eventually I fell asleep. And woke up six hours later, at 3 am, after all the good shows, bad shows, and MTV shows had gone to bed. Which left me alone to explore the television equivalent of the Twilight Zone; the world of teleshopping ads.
Teleshopping ads are what happens when advertising gets the India TV treatment; on teleshopping networks the sales-pitch meter gets cranked up from hyperbole to outrageous, and then all the way up to "Wait, did she just say that spy-camera pen + mixie (with juicer) will protect me from the evil eye? At a discount?"
My favourite teleshopping ad is the one for the Nazar Suraksha Kavach (NSK), whose makers say, nay, insist, that it is an amulet that will protect you and yours from the evil thoughts that your neighbours, family members, jealous "friends" and enemies direct at you. I have not bought a Nazar Suraksha Kavach because I a) am sentient and b) already have a device to deflect those thoughts. It is called "an awesome kick in the 'nads".
And yet, the innate hokeyness of the Kavach is irrelevant, because the ad is one hell of a party, all by itself. It begins with an out-of-work TV celebrity (cocaine-mound just out of shot) who narrates to you the "true" story of the "Insert Generic Indian Last Name" family. We see their idyllic, prosperous existence, usually inside a house so expensively gaudy that it looks like they're living inside Bappi Lahiri. We then cut to an interview with said prosperous person, intercut with shots of his prosperous, Evil-Eye Free ™ life. We must ignore the fact that the NSK camera-crew just miraculously happens to be there, filming this person's completely normal life exactly five seconds before it all goes to shit.
And then a friend comes over one day and admires the Prosperous Person's© wealth in the same way Shakti Kapoor admires women in Mithun Chakrobaty movies. Five seconds after the friend leaves, bad things happen to Prosperous Person©. His business collapses, his factory catches low-rent CGI fire, and the man that was supposed to marry his daughter chooses Dimpy Ganguly on live TV instead.
While Prosperous Person© ponders over why his life has come to such a terrible pass, the NSK camera-crew rewinds the footage to reveal the truth. Using their patented EvilEyeness Detection Film, they show us that this has all happened because of the Laser Rays of Evilness that emanated from the eyes of the "friend".
We must now assume that all friends who marvel at our good fortune are only jealous warlocks that have been trained by Cyclops from the X-Men.
Luckily, Prosperous Person© has a good Indian wife, played by the spotboy's cousin, or, if budgets are really low, the spotboy. She orders a Nazar Suraksha Kavach (CALL NOW AND WE'LL SEND YOU A NAZAR SURAKSHA WALL-HANGING FREE), an amulet designed by The Global Institute of Badly Photoshopped Fake Institutes, essentially a religious IIPM. The Nazar Suraksha Kavach, once placed in the home of the Prosperous Person© protects the occupants from Laser Rays of Evilness by emitting what looks like WiFi.
Following this purchase (CALL NOW CALL NOW CALL NOW), peace returns to the jungle, wife of Prosperous Person© preens because she saved the day, and Laser Rays of Evilness now bounce off what appears to be a glowing shield of goodness. Or a fatal dose of radiation.
And yet, I watch riveted, every single time it's on. Because through all the nonsense, and godawful production-values, and through all the, well, lies, there's an epiphany to be had. Thing is, when I watch a Nazar Suraksha Kavach ad, I'm finally watching a piece of TV programming that tells the truth about the peccadillos, obsessions and neuroses plaguing this crazy, crazy country we live in. Our obsession with financial success, our regressive terror at not finding our daughters a good match, the perceived petty jealousy of our extended families, and most of all, our conviction that there's no reason to place any faith in reason and common sense when we can place blind faith in the gods instead.
Especially when the gods take Mastercard.
Writer Rohan Joshi is also a Comedian, Bombayite, Grammar Nazi, Bengan, LOST fan, Astronaut, Nobel Laureate and slight-stretcher-of-truth. Follow him on Twitter at