Last week we all watched helplessly as the news channels bombarded us with the latest on the ‘Ash-Abhi’ front. ‘Aishwarya Rai ka pehela Karva Chauth” flashed constantly at the bottom of the T.V. screen. It was followed by over-excited reporters offering to give us the ‘inside-story’. The ‘inside-story’ consisted of an in-depth analysis of her trousseau, replete with details like the colour of her sari, name of her designer, predictions of a happy marriage by their family astrologer (pardon me, his name escapes me at the moment), the jewellery worn by the guests (which included Sonali Bendre and Kirron Kher), her beau’s sherwani, etc.
Perhaps something made the channel believe that this wouldn’t be enough to capture our attention – so the whole piece was preceded by that alarming “BREAKING NEWS”. Post Karva Chauth, the situation is not much better. By this time our new superstar Mr Dhoni has cut his hair! We are obviously subjected to his ‘new avatar’ – a short(er) haired Dhoni smiling and winking at the viewers from the T.V. screens. The news channels were careful not to leave any portion of this event to our imagination. We were repeatedly informed of the reasons for such a drastic action (the coloured strands were getting damaged), detailed biography of the team that successfully carried out this operation, his friends who graced the occasion (John Abraham) etc. etc.
Makes me wonder, whatever happened to the good old ‘Tonight’s’ or ‘Aaj Tak’ (I obviously do not mean the channel). The time crunch these news telecasts faced, made sure that only the most useful, meaningful items made their way to our T.V screens. Assembly elections, bomb blasts, tennis tournaments, weather reports had to be packed in a scheduled time of one hour. The footage was carefully edited to avoid repetition of the same clips. With NDTV introducing the idea of the newsreader who was also a reporter, news viewing became further entertaining. Viewers loved to see Barkha Dutt outside the studio, minus the formal attire – giving live updates from Kargil. When Prannoy Roy discussed the Budget, he spoke to the viewers and not to the camera facing him. News telecast, from being merely a narration of events happening across the country, became almost a personal exchange between individuals. The viewers were loving it. They clearly wanted more. The channels sensed a potential market. And spoof! Within a span of a few years, we have innumerable 24-hour news-channels, spouting information like steam from a medieval engine.
But does that explain the existence of shows like ‘Mian Biwi aur T.V’ or panel discussions on ‘KANK’ or even the hue and cry over ‘Former model Gayatri Nagpal’? Are they really so short of content that they need to resort to such gimmicks? Partly, yes. After all, how much news of national importance can be created? Indeed, to feed news channels that run for 24-hours even a country as vast as ours cannot suffice. As a consequence, we have to do with not only the above-mentioned category of news-shows, but also largely (as everyone is suspecting these days) news that is being constructed with the purpose of grabbing our attention! (Switch on India T.V. and you’ll know what I am talking about). This however is one aspect of the debate. I have friends, who have violently argued in favour of the news channels, claiming that they provide only what is demanded of them. According to them, since viewers love to see their favourite film stars in real life, the news channels cannot afford to deplete their supply of tabloid gossip. Since viewers also seem to prefer gory murder mysteries to the dull ‘talks’ between UPA and Left leaders, we get to see more of sensational ‘Most-Wanted’, ‘Most-Dangerous’, ‘Most-Notorious’ criminal hunting programmes, than the clauses of the Nuke-deal.
Well there seems to be no escape from this vicious circle of blame (and thereby the news channels). Till then we’ll just have to grit our teeth and watch Shrivardhan Trivedi, giving us threatening looks in ‘Sansani’.