Friday, November 27, 2009

The bastardization of Indian television

It is with great regret, and a pinch of gut-wrenching shame, that I now announce the sad and official demise of Indian television. I am sure people have known of its death for a while now, but being one of the many blessed ones who don’t get to see it every day, I came to realise this tragic fact only recently. But before I go into the gory specifics, it is important to retrace my steps back a couple of decades. Maybe then, only then, can I make some sense of just how what used to be a major source of genuine entertainment came to such a sorry pass.

Growing up in a moderately self-assured India, the only television I knew was Doordarshan. I also know that the moment this name is mentioned many an eyes roll and tongues click with the clichéd tone that ‘Doordarshan’ is the name of a ghost that is now long gone. History. A pale memory from an era no one wants to be associated with anymore. I ordinarily would not have an issue with this attitude had there been something better to back it up with. But therein exists the success of my stereotypical tribute.

If Doordarshan is something we no longer care for, then why is it that the only serials and shows we can recall with joy even today are from that good old ghost’s lair? Be it anything from ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’ to ‘Malgudi Days’. Or from ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’ to ‘Karamchand’. Or from ‘Mungerilal ke haseen sapne’ to ‘Wagle ki duniya’. What was it about these images that still make us smile in peace? Why did it not matter that there was no hype, no hoopla and nothing dramatic to tease our excitement craving bones? Was it because the quality of writing was so wonderfully textured into the lives we used to lead back then?

Or was it that we, as people, were genuinely so intellectually gifted that we did not need additional coaxing to send home a point? Was it that we were a generation of naturally creative minded and spiritually advanced people? Or was it that we knew what it meant for literature and art to work in unison as the stories from our textbooks leapt out into the modesty of Doordarshan’s program? What was it?

I have spent almost a decade fighting with these questions that continue to bother me with their simplistic gorgeousness. When did we stop being humans and become … well, drones? When did sending a child to be on TV go from being a friendly family atmosphere with ‘Meri awaaz suno’ or ‘Bournvita Quiz Contest’ to shows where the kids are humiliated to tears for not being ‘good enough’ by an adult who is paid to be rude to a child on national TV? When did clever game shows like ‘Crystal Maze’ be replaced by the nauseating reek of immaturity mixed with pretentious pile of horse dung called ‘Dadagiri’? What is going on dear India? When did you become a place where people are so down trodden that they no longer care for something as subtle yet divine as ‘Surabhi’ but will spend years at end feeling sorry for a true ‘bharatiya naari’ who has had five husbands and several unknown off springs?

When did you get lost in a bizarre definition of your own making where you become the much revered and referenced washerman’s dog? You neither belong to the house nor to the stone on which he smashes strangers’ unmentionables each day. At least he has a conscience that is clearer than the water he uses to do his job but what about yours? Why do your citizens find perverse gratification in watching people weep and grieve on national TV? Why does someone else’s sorrow bring us so much happiness? Is this the beginning of the end of genuine intellect on the much adored idiot box?

Have we, as humans, taken a few steps back? Why are we silently consuming this foul offering with hedonistic silence? Do we need to be told everything by shouting it into our ears? Or is it that we want to shut out the saddening silences of our lives under their thunder? These are some of the other questions that bother me as I sit in absolute silence and watch the horror show that has become Indian television.

The serials, nay, mega-serials that take a decade to finish. The ‘reality’ shows that zero in on false emotions and shallow tears to cash in people’s eternal viewership. The mind numbingly insipid hosts who prance around behaving like glorified buffoons with fake accents. Oh! The sight is too painful to even think of.

It is in times like this that I actually feel glad I am not in India anymore. I don’t know what sort of human being I would have become had I been subjected to this meaningless and degrading form of ‘entertainment’ that the masses lap up like the faithful washerman’s unattached canine. Maybe I too would have let the slow moving venom of this insanity become the oxygen I would breathe in after a hard day at the washerman’s stone. I don’t know. Actually come to think of it I don’t even want to know.

My dad used to often tell me – ‘Stop watching so much TV! It will spoil you!’ I now smile at the irony of at that expression since compared to what I see now, what I was catered with by my good old pal Doordarshan should be considered a blessing from the Almighty. If I am what I am today with some sense of coherence to the written word, then it is because of shows that encouraged me to read.

Had it not been for their well timed inclusion into my life, chances are I would not have experienced the joy of knowing some of the greatest human beings who walked our planet. So, for that, I thank my friend Doordarshan. Your name was so apt, friend. Your vision was quite far fetched indeed.

Now I just hope that there will come a day when Indian television will be cleansed of the copied and modified versions of someone else’s show and something sincerely genuine makes it blessed appearance once again. Until then, let the public display of unabridged bastardisation and unashamed slavery continue.

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