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Outlandish originality on Hindi channels

When the Hindi news channels move away from their obsession with Khali, they look for more outlandish subjects, writes Poonam Saxena.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2008 01:59 IST
Small screen Poonam Saxena
Small screen Poonam Saxena
Hindustan Times

Has anybody noticed that NDTV 24x7 has changed its look? There’s more blue, the sets seem different and anchors are made to stand much more than they used to. It is an experiment that has, by and large, been a success. The channel seems fresher and more energetic.

The programming however, remains much the same though 24x7 has managed to get fairly important people to speak to it over the last fortnight. LK Advani showed his respect for his Walk The Talk interviewer by dressing like him. It was a little disorienting to see two men in beige trousers and waistcoats wandering around but the doppleganger effect seemed to have hit Advani the hardest. Years of evasions over what really happened at Kandahar went out of the window as he trapped himself into admitting that nobody had told him anything. Still, if it helps sell more books.

On India Talks, Prannoy Roy managed the difficult feat of turning an interview with the Dalai Lama, one of the most charismatic leaders of recent times, into a bore. Either the Dalai was off form or he was just phoning it in. I struggled to watch the show and gasped with disbelief when I learnt that there was going to be a second part the following week. Perhaps they should change the name of the show to India Sleeps.

But if India sleeps, then Advani weeps. For a full day, the channel trailered an upcoming interview on the news in which LK Advani explained that he was one of those people who wept all the time, whether he was sad, happy or, presumably, being kept in the dark about Kandahar. Then he whipped off his glasses and ostentatiously wiped a tear from his eye while the cameraman zoomed in for a tight close-up. No doubt next week Roy will add his own two bits to the channel’s continuing fascination with Advani and do yet another India Sleeps.

Meanwhile, the Hindi news channels get worse than anyone thought possible. When they move away from their obsession with Khali (we talk to his wife! We talk to his village friends! We show you his house! Gosh, aren’t we such great journalists!) they look for more outlandish subjects.

On Thursday, Star News found a Catman — an American who wanted so much to be a tiger that he had many surgeries done in an effort to look like one. We were shown pictures of Mr Catman, who was covered with tattoos, makeup, false whiskers and looked nothing like a tiger. To add existential depth to the coverage, Star News played the Hindi film song, Main aisa kyoon hoon, main aisa hi hoon in the background. Perhaps the English news channels will pick up the story and Catman will cry for the benefit of NDTV viewers. Or even worse, he will put us to sleep.

Not that the Hindi channels are lagging behind in originality. On Aaj Tak, we were told that scientists in the Far East were working on creating man-animal hybrids. We could, the channel said, in all seriousness, soon see jalparis (mermaids) and other such interesting hybrids. It was easy to see why the channel was so excited. The possibilities of interviews with the new hybrids were immense. And of new hybrids themselves! Imagine Rakhi Sawant crossed with a panda bear. Or Khali crossed with a mouse. That should keep the TRPs coming. Shame that it came too late for poor Mr Catman though.

And finally. I saw the Stardust Awards. Neha Dhupia, one of the comperes, looked like a woman who wanted to be a movie star. And Kunal Kohli, the other compere, looked like a man who wanted to be Karan Johar. But I guess it’s even more difficult to be Karan Johar than it is to be a movie star. Neha did a creditable job of simpering at the auto cue but Kunal showed us why Karan is so good at what he does. His timing was wrong, the humour was absent and he just doesn’t have Karan’s likeable screen presence.

As for the function itself, Stardust seemed to have taken a conscious decision not to go head to head with Filmfare. So it was relatively low key and the theme, a focus on young talent, was a cunning way of focusing on lowering the cost. Even so, Saif Ali Khan and Govinda weren’t bad and the general level of performances was more than acceptable.