The other evening I made the mistake of touching the remote and I immediately forgot what I was having for dinner: kadhi-chawal or news of the Abhishek-Aishwarya engagement? Even CNN did not show so much excitement when the suicide pilots struck the twin towers on 9/11.
But I am sure there are people who would never tire of watching Ash and Abhishek, so it is entirely up to me whether I want to watch the “breaking news” or not. Now one can’t blame the channels. It is easy to fill 24 pages, but to fill 24 hours? So Shah Rukh Khan sneezing becomes “breaking news”.
A reporter with a hidden camera bribing a policeman, who is overworked and poorly paid in any case, becomes a scoop. A man who had predicted his death and was waiting for its arrival is covered live. It is so easy to get into TV these days. I will tell you how.
The other day I went to a stylish pub in the city to meet some old friends, and was somewhat taken aback at the attire of some of the women there: barring the basics, they showed off everything. I thought: if they are comfortable, what’s my problem? And who am I to have a problem in the first place?
But then, I missed my five minutes of fame. The next morning I could have filed a complaint with the police commissioner (an increasingly common practice in Chennai) or a petition in the court, demanding a ban on such pubs and nightclubs because they were corrupting society. By the evening I would have had a battery of cameras at my doorstep. If the cameras did not come, I would have hastily formed an organisation called PMC, or Protection of Morality in Chennai, and called a press conference to denounce the pub culture. Who knows, the effort could have paid off in the form of “breaking news”!
Two days ago I was watching Party, Govind Nihalani’s brilliant portrayal of the dark side of a glittering society party (today, Nihalani might have named it Page 3 Party). As a teenager I had seen the movie on Doordarshan and, for obvious reasons, missed out one scene: Rohini Hattangadi, in angry desperation, tearing off her top to catch the attention of her aging husband. Rohini Hattangadi and topless!
My jaw dropped, but my first instinct was to recall if any theatre-burning had taken place when the movie was released in 1984. Nothing had happened. Nothing happened those days. Even Debonair carried centrespreads of nude Indian women.
Today any magazine attempting to do that would have its offices gutted. So have we discovered Indian culture and morality within a short span of 20 years? No. We have discovered the power of free television. Why else should an out-of-work lawyer file a petition against a kissing scene, or a bunch of unemployed youth vandalise a theatre when they should be sitting inside and enjoying the so-called “corrupting” bits?
(Published on 1 February 2007)