THESE are days when the word ‘television’ is just another synonym for ‘garbage’. Think of all the words you use when, remote in hand, you do a bit of channel surfing. You say, “There’s nothing but trash to watch” or you say, “It’s all rubbish”. Given how popular and widespread this feeling is, it’s surprising that television channels and production houses don’t do anything about it. I mean, they can’t be blind or illiterate. They MUST have seen and read some at least some of the reviews that their shows get. They MUST have some idea of what contempt is inspired by their regressive shows where all the men go to work and their wives stay at home and conspire against each other. Or the puerile comedies, where the jokes are deader than the canned laughter that rings out every five minutes. Or even the ‘reality shows’ where they know we know that what they’re really making is as far from reality as possible. Should we seriously, SERIOUSLY believe that all those men and women locked up in the house or marooned in that forest are fighting because it’s just how people react to each other? Wouldn’t at least some of them try to get along? And aren’t all of them simply reacting so aggressively because they know they’re being watched and their antics will make them famous, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. Of course they do!
If this post sounds angry, it’s because I am angry. Bad, dumbed-down television really pisses me off, because frankly, I feel insulted. I feel insulted by the assumption that Indian viewers such as myself deserve this kind of nonsense, where weird accents are supposed to be a joke and where somebody like a Rakhi Sawant can have not just one show, but TWO that revolve entirely around her. Seriously, TV?
A lot of the bitterness and anger that I feel seems to be shared by Omkar Sane, the author of Coming Soon. The End – The Reality Show Called Television. The tone of the book is mordant and the author makes no bones about the fact that he holds the workings of television channels in the lowest esteem. There’s no logic, he tells us, in the way the world of TV functions, apart from money. Money is the only thing that greases the wheels of this world and good ideas are usually considered a hindrance.
The book is written in the form of an allegory – an interesting way to draw the reader into the world of TV, where each genre has its own peculiar way of functioning. We’re introduced to five main characters: Grass who works in kids’ channel, Bass who works in a music channel, Crass who is employed by a general entertainment channel, Farce who is part of a news channel and Mass who represents the general public. Grass, Bass, Crass and Farce take Mass through the tumultuous life of those who work in television. The complaints are the usual ones: it takes over your life, it’s run by people who have no idea what they’re doing and only money counts. That naturally means that creativity becomes a casualty and it’s not the content, but the revenue that is the king.
This is one of those books that left me feeling quite ambivalent. On the one hand, I loved that someone had finally decided to take a dig at the television industry. It’s a great illustration of the behind-the-scenes of the idiot box and the frustration that one can feel when working for a medium where creativity matters so little. Even the dialogues – though the jokes sometimes bordered on the cheesy – reflects the feverish energy and the often nonsensical proceedings of the small screen world. There’s a clear sense of anguish in the author’s voice; what else could it be when there is a chapter called ‘Stories, Commodities and News’.
On the other hand, I did feel a little disappointed that Sane hadn’t really gone deep into why television is so crappy. Perhaps, he didn’t feel that exploring that particular question was within the scope of this book, but I would have liked to read a little bit about how Indian television became so dumb. It wasn’t always like this: there used to be some genuinely good programming on TV. People still reminisce fondly about shows like Malgudi Days, Byomkesh Bakshi, Banegi Apni Baat, Campus and Dekh Bhai Dekh. So how did something, that started out with so much promise, go down the path of mediocrity? Was it Ekta Kapoor and her blitzkrieg of Saas-Bahu shows? Was it the introduction of reality shows or the American Idol format on talent shows like Sa Re Ga Ma? The US has some great shows with strong stories in the recent past: 30 Rock, Mad Men, The Wire, Lost, Dexter. Hell, even older shows like The Simpsons, Arrested Development, Seinfeld and Futurama hold up to repeated watching. Why can’t we have a few shows like that here?
In fact, Sane’s flippant and irreverent tone sometimes takes the sting out of his harshest condemnation of television. He should next write a book that won’t pull its punches and will bloody well call a spade a spade. Now that the author has got this off his chest, perhaps he can dig a little deeper and really dish the dirt on television. It’s not just the viewers that need to be shown what the medium has been reduced to. It’s the people who control television who really need to hear it and they can do so only when it’s said loudly enough.