Are you fed up of the Shilpa Shetty affair? Think about me. For the past few days, every time I have switched on any TV channel (except the saas-bahu channels, and who knows, they are already coping with too many evictions from their own Big Brother house), all I have seen is Shilpa Shetty, more Shilpa Shetty and then some more Shilpa Shetty.
Everyone did stories on a daily basis, but I was a bit foxed by Headlines Today's coverage. One day, they had Alyque Padamsee from Mumbai (well, Alyque always gives good quotes, I suppose), and in the studio in Delhi, they had someone called Gautam Kapoor who had apparently worked with Shilpa. Since half the film industry must have worked with Shilpa at some point or the other, why they had to get such a nonentity is a mystery. But the most interesting soundbytes came from Shilpa's publicist. The first thing he said was: "She's going to get lots of film offers in the UK now." But surely Britain has to first make lots of films for her to get lots of offers?
Then, the next day, the channel had Zaka Jacob interviewing Headlines Today correspondent Anna Vetticad for what seemed like hours on end. Anna spoke and spoke and spoke in such exhausting detail that I was, well, exhausted. Who knows? This could be the start of a new trend. Don't bother with guests, just interview your own staff. No doubt even as you read this, the whole Headlines Today desk is queueing up outside the studio to tell Zaka and Jhujhar what they think.
Times Now forgot to bleep out all the f-words that Jade was throwing around. Later telecasts had the bleeps in place but I think the channel finally has at least one record to its credit: it introduced the f-word to Indian news television. The Reuters World Report the next day (Thursday) was outdated. While the other channels had already reported that Shilpa had retracted her racism allegation, the Times Now report continued to maintain that she'd said the hostility directed at her was racially motivated.
On CNBC, Karan Thapar just about stopped short of waving the Union Jack and singing God save the Queen. "Is it racism? Or is it all rather playful — the way the British have names for foreigners, like frog, wog, Paki etc?" he asked, even as the Brits on the programme kept trying to assure him that there were genuine grounds for complaint. Swapan Dasgupta provided the soprano bits for Thapar's baritone, agreeing enthusiastically that we were all demonstrating Third World prickliness. It was almost as though we were fighting the war of 1857 all over again, he scoffed.
At least we know which side you'd have been on, guys. Was the whole thing a case of media overkill? Of course it was. But by now we should all be used to the media giving wall-to-wall coverage to certain stories. At least this is a story that has evoked strong sentiments across the spectrum: (a) Shilpa is being paid huge money to be on the show; if she is so upset, why doesn't she simply walk out? (b) Come on, it's not racism, why are we over-reacting so much? (c) It's unacceptable the way these white trash people are behaving with her. And so on. I am compelled to agree with Andy Duncan of Channel 4 who said that the whole controversy has touched a raw nerve. Shilpa, I think, is not important.
But the issues that have flared up as a result, certainly are. On NDTV 24x7, a live one-hour discussion actually did put the whole thing in perspective and articulate guests like Apache Indian and Meghnad Desai had interesting things to say.
Since Big Brother is dominating our TV sets, poor Bigg Boss (Sony) has been all but forgotten, though there's plenty of excitement going on there too. (Of course, it's nothing to match Big Brother; compared to Jade and gang, the housemates of Bigg Boss are angels). The scheming Kashmira Shah has been re-introduced into the house — and clearly been told to create trouble, which she has done quite successfully. All the housemates have told Rakhi Sawant (very politely) that they are not going to talk to her any more because of the things she has said about them outside.
If Rakhi has any brains, she will contact Bal Thackeray and say she is being victimised inside the house because she is a Maharashtrian. If it works in London, it can work in Mumbai.
Email Poonam Saxena: poonamsaxena @hindustantimes.com