That the line between news and entertainment is getting perilously blurred is an old story by now. These days, if it wasn’t for the channel ID in the corner of the screen, you’d be hard put to figure out whether you were watching a news channel or an entertainment channel. If a movie star sneezes, news channels do half-hour specials. If he/she visits a temple, it’s the equivalent of Breaking News. Comedy shows featuring stand-up comics like Raju Srivastava have become such a fixture of ‘news’ channels, it’s not funny.
The latest is that if you missed any episode of a dance or music contest (the ones being shown on the entertainment channels), don’t worry. Just watch a news channel and catch up on everything you missed.
I watched Sahara Samay (the NCR channel) the other day and discovered that they were playing practically the entire Madhuri Dixit Nach Baliye episode (when the actress came on the sets and gave away some prizes). “Madhuri came on the sets of the show,” said the anchor. Cut to footage of Madhuri on the sets. “Madhuri gave away prizes,” said the anchor. Cut to footage of Madhuri watching the performances and giving away prizes. “The winners were very happy,” said the anchor. More footage showing the winners looking very happy. And so on.
I switched on Aaj Tak and found myself watching a programme called Jhalak Ke Rang, which showed the participants of Jhalak Dikhla Ja rehearsing strenuously. “The participating jodis of Jhalak Dikhla Ja are rehearsing,’ we were informed. We would never have guessed.
I tuned into IBN7 and caught a lengthy programme on Jjhoom India (the music contest on Sahara). But here, there was at least the semblance of a ‘story.’ The trigger was a recent episode of Jjhoom India, where Mahesh Bhatt (one of the judges) stormed off the sets, saying he would not tolerate disrespect to the other judges. As Bhatt walked off, Shekhar Suman (one of the contestants) got up and said, “Mahesh… one minute… we also have the right to put forward our point of view…” But Mahesh Bhatt continued to march forth, all the way out of the building and into his van (naturally followed by the camera). Said the anchor, “Everything is scripted. Notice how the whole thing is presented, with appropriate background music and reaction shots.”
So there you have it. There’s no reality on the reality shows. And no news on news channels.
The English news channels are now obsessed with the Gujarat election. On CNN-IBN they are mindful of the fact that Rajdeep Sardesai made his reputation by trashing Narendra Modi during the Gujarat riots. So the coverage is curiously sympathetic to the BJP, presumably in an effort to demonstrate ‘objectivity’. Times Now has the advantage of the relative anonymity of its anchors and so there’s less baggage to contend with.
This could be why Navika Kumar got one of the funniest interviews of recent weeks. Invited on Narendra Modi’s rath, she interviewed the great man as his caravan rolled across Gujarat’s bumpy roads. Whatever else Modi might claim are his achievements in the field of development, road-building is clearly not one of them. The ride was so bumpy that the final effect was akin to a roller coaster ride in which the interviewee bopped up and down with such startling regularity that it was hard not to suppress a giggle. Each time he opened his mouth, you wondered if his head would hit the roof.
This may well be the best way to handle Modi: don’t attack him, just make him look ridiculous. Asked about his defence of the Sohrabuddin killing, Modi put on his fiercest face (and keep in mind that he looks pretty fierce anyway, even when he’s trying to smile) and declaimed, “I have never said…” (pause for very large bump) “that I am for false encounters..” (pause as his head jumps out of frame as the rath hits yet another bump)… “but I am for encounters…” (pause as anchor tries to regain her footing).
Eventually I began to feel sorry for both Modi and Times Now. If they want to do an action-packed interview, why don’t they just take him to Appu Ghar or Esselworld and shoot him on one of the rides?