The Delhi High Court has declined to admit a petition which wanted the reality show "Sach ka Saamna" taken off the air. Indian culture, said their lordships, was not so fragile as to be affected by one TV show. They said, wisely, "nobody in his individual capacity can be allowed to take up on the social order and ask for directions."
Members of Parliament, meanwhile, are exercised not just over middle class housewives going on television to admit to extra marital affairs (in the presence of their children, in-laws and husbands) but also over commercially successful sagas woven around child marriage. What is the country coming to?
Digest or reject
Television agitates people and is regular fodder for politicians who think it is more deleterious to the nation's health than substantial numbers of people doing without clean drinking water or going to bed hungry. That is not surprising, because television and its excesses are more visible. The deprived do not live in our drawing rooms. But seeing that the nation is turning 62 and all that, I would argue that satellite television excesses are something we are now grown up enough to digest. Or reject. As the good judges on the High Court division bench said, "In this land of Gandhi, it appears that nobody follows Gandhi. Follow the Gandhian principle of see no evil. Why don't you simply switch off the TV?"
In fact, on the medium today compared to any period over the past 15 years, we actually have choice. All those reality shows run a gamut that they did not before. They don't stop at quiz shows, bad singing and mimicry, they go on to husband-selecting from a band of hopefuls, lizard eating in the jungle, fractious housekeeping on an island, Bond-style sequences of pretty girls dangling from helicopters, and then, breaking up families on the one hand, ("Sach.") and bringing them together on the other ("Aap ki Kacheri"). All in the course of an evening's entertainment. Avoidable, you say? Maybe, but you can't complain about sameness.
Then there are the serialised sagas. True, "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun"-style weddings are still so much in vogue that daily life in the average TV household seems to be a perennial costume drama. It took some three episodes to get Jyoti married, only to have "Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai", "Ballika Vadhu" and "Laado" take over with tortuous wedding-centred sequences. But for a change there are actually some other stories around.
On offer are the daily adventures of a meddling good Samaritan of a taxi driver (Real), the tale of a young woman bureaucrat whose private sector husband lectures her on not taking principles too far (Real), another of a girl who wants to become an Olympic runner (Sony) and then there are a handful of rural sagas set, of course, in lavish modern mansions.
There are also what you would have called "socials" in the days of Doordarshan's primacy, a trend being shrewdly experimented with now by Colors and Zee. On air currently are serials purportedly about autism, trafficking, foeticide, child marriage, the class divide, and so on. Of course, to make them palatable at prime time they go through so many hoops that you would be hard put to recognize the original intent. A prime example of this is the serial "Laado" on Sony which has left foeticide far behind as it goes into improbable sequences of revenge in which a matriarch tortures a daughter in law while the men in the household twirl their moustaches and watch from the sidelines.
Unlikely as it may seem from all this, when they give interviews entertainment industry executives stress that Indian audiences are actually more discriminating than before, and are demanding more from content creators and platforms. With Rs. 8000 plus crores of advertising riding on it, TV is a lucrative industry, and Hindi general entertainment its single most paying segment. Marketers of these channels report hefty annual jumps in spending on research and marketing for these shows, as much as 50 per cent over last year, according to Mint.
That's the irony: a lot of highly paid minds are working to think up or import concepts that have the potential of make our lawmakers go ballistic. Hardly any minds, highly paid or otherwise are working to figure out whether TV entertainment is simply expensively produced time pass which people watch and forget (while remembering to buy the product advertised) or indeed an insidious shaper of values. Would Minister Ambika Soni like to think about remedying this?
Meanwhile, a small suggestion for Star Plus, which airs "Sach ka Saamna". If they think asking Bobby Darling on television whether or not he uses the women's washroom is edgy, they are not exploring a lot of other truly edgy possibilities. Put a Congressman in that chair and ask him what he really thinks about certain members of his party leadership. Or a CPM worker, and ask him what he really thinks about certain members of his party leadership. Ask an income tax officer whether he and his bosses have taken bribes or a doctor whether she has performed medical termination of female foetuses. If such confessions could be aired, they would transform a rather pathetic aiming-totitillate show into public service television.
Correction: My last column, "Local takes in Kashmir" contained erroneous references to the family of Mr Devinder Rana including his late father, for which I sincerely apologise. Mr Rana says his family is not involved in his business.