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Rural India on the rise: Indian Idol finalists Amit Paul (left) and Prashant Tamang.
Rural India on the rise: Indian Idol finalists Amit Paul (left) and Prashant Tamang.

SEVANTI NINAN

Create a hype and then report it seems to be the latest trend.

The media loves clichéd constructs, and has developed considerable enthusiasm for the notion that small towns are increasingly where the India story is. Last week was a gold mine for those willing to mobilise reporters to create a hype that could then be reported. There were two media events: the final selection of the third Indian Idol, and the final matches of the T20 World Cup. Neither would be an event without the media to carry it forward. And both yielded highly saleable small town success stories.

Ideal fit

The Indian Idol finalists fitted the script beautifully: both were from far flung parts of the country, one was of Nepali origin, and both were from small towns, Darjeeling and Shillong. “Hills set up sms blast for sons of the soil,” said The Telegraph. Singing contests have long ceased to be primarily about singing. Regional chauvinism comes to the fore and triumphs because they are primarily about voting to put the lad or lass from your town on the top. The Northeast began to figure in these contests some time ago; last year Debojit Saha from Assam emerged the winner in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. If the contestant can project an underdog quality so much the better. Amit Paul, the finalist from Shillong sold his music system to finance his trip to Mumbai, we were told. But Prashant Tamang, short and perky, a police constable who dropped out of school because his father died, was more of a heart string tugger.

It is for the same reason that Irfan Pathan earlier and Joginder Sharma today are providing copy for front page features. Ordinary middle class boys making it is passé; bring on the sons of the maulvi and the panwala. India needs to demonstrate that upward mobility for at least a few is constantly achievable. The media has transformed itself from chronicler to cheerleader, pushing its version of the Great Indian Dream. The Economic Times on Tuesday morning had to be seen to be believed: The Victory Lap, Global Takeover said the slug, followed by the banner headline, Superpower: India 2020. Galvanising rhetoric now comes from a media group that has decided to push India into the big league; witness the Times of India’s Lead India campaign. We can only watch bemused. The paper might succeed in tapping into Young India’s optimism, but if only becoming a super power were so easy.

As for galvanising aspiration through Indian Idol, the success of a show is when others, not just advertisers, want to ride on it. Apart from Meghalaya Chief Minister D.D. Lapang, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi joined the crowd this time, posing with the contestants. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya did not rise to the occasion in the run up to the finals but the Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling made up for him by pitching for Tamang. From Nepal people crossing over into India to vote for him by sms! On Sunday they set up a large screen in a Kathmandu square to watch the finals and then took out victory rallies. You have to hand it to showbiz, it erases borders in much the same way cinema does.

* * *

We love the rags to riches story, but are we ready to celebrate the rich as a class? NDTV and Vijay Mallya think so. Last fortnight while the rest of us were cheering on small town aspirants in music and cricket, they ushered in a lifestyle channel which tells you pretty much how to spend your money in style, and retain your waistline while doing so. We finally have a niche channel for the rich, and it’s a pity that it is such a letdown. It lacks imagination and class. And, let’s face it, adequate investment. The sponsorship from Kingfisher may have made this channel possible and viable, but it’s going to take a lot more money for NDTV Good Times to become substantially more than a 24-hour promotion for its sponsor. It’s bad enough that there is only one ad before and after each show from guess who, what’s worse is that the programmes haven’t gone sufficiently beyond becoming mere promotions for those they feature, be they designers or socialites. Unfortunately for Good Times, its older competition, Discovery Travel and Living, is only a few buttons away on the remote, and comparisons will be constant.

Just fancy titles

Food features Marut Sikka, full of bonhomie and disarming self praise, everything he makes looks and smells amazing, divine, fantastic. To him. And several others, including a British chef Manju Malhi who hopes to get by more on the strength of her accent than her cooking. (Mashed potatoes and vegetable soup, anybody?)

Gush, we discover, is NDTV Good Times’ chief attribute. The presenter for the Big Fat Indian Wedding does not have what it takes to ferret out the details that would make the organising of a destination wedding riveting, but she does doll up and gush. Right now the programmes have fancy titles that someone has thought up, such as Vanity No.Apologies, or Cooking Isn’t Rocket Science,or One Life to Love. Tomorrow hopefully, when there are more advertisers, they will have better budgets and go beyond filling the whole thing with one or two interviewees doing their thing on camera, mostly on a single location. Lifestyle programming does not come cheap.

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