Saturday, 25 June, 2022
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Mystical Modi to migrating Jitin Prasada — News channels offer ‘real’ entertainment

Why watch ‘CID’ and ‘Crime Patrol’ when you can watch Mehul Choksi’s ‘Antics in Antigua and Dominica’ on prime time TV?

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Why would anyone want to watch entertainment channels when we have news channels?

Or online streaming platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime that offer new, original and, sometimes, classy series — don’t know your thoughts about Family Man season 2 but Manoj Bajpayee is pretty terrific, isn’t he?

What do general cable/satellite entertainment channels have that news channels don’t?  Short answer: nothing. What do news channels have that Star Plus & Co. don’t? Narendra Modi for starters, the biggest media star in the country.

Entertainment channels rely on Amitabh Bachchan (Kaun Banega Crorepati, Sony) and Salman Khan (Bigg Boss, Colors) a few months of each year, whereas the prime minister is on news channels each day— almost.

There hasn’t been an original idea on entertainment TV since the Mahabharat or Ramayan in the 1980s. That’s a little harsh but certainly, time has stood still since 2000 when the saas-bahus wrapped us around their saris and took us – along with the cameras – on a 360-degree joyride of passion, intrigue, and the eternal fight between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bahus.

That was also the first year of KBC, which hasn’t stopped producing a crorepati, or two, each edition, since — Bachchan is already promoting the next season of the quiz show for later this year.

Also read: How Surkhab TV, one of India’s first digital regional news channels, earned people’s respect

The same content

A remote control review of the main entertainment channels today indicates that nothing much has changed in the content– which could be said for the news channels too.

Let’s do a reality check. Speaking of which, if Indian Idol (Sony),  Sa Re Ga Ma Pa (Zee TV) and Bigg Boss are still going strong, so are news programmes like The Nation Wants to Know (Republic TV), We The People, Big Fight and Hum Log ( NDTV 24×7, NDTV India), and even Aap Ki Adalat (India TV).

As for the reality show Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi (Colors)—we encounter fear on news channels, too.

In village Karauni, near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, residents refuse to be vaccinated against Covid—they say they are scared that the ‘tika’ will kill them (India TV). In Kaimur, Bihar, women are willing to forfeit free meals but they won’t get vaccinated – they fear it’s the needle of death (Zee News). And you know what — in these news stories, you can smell their fear; on Fear Factor, it’s the contestants’ sweat as they attempt amazing stunts.

And, listen to this: commenting on rumours of Jitin Prasada joining the BJP in 2019, the CNN News18 anchor, Wednesday said, at the time, entire TV shows were devoted to Prasada leaving Congress – then, it is was a ‘talk show’,  now it’s a ‘reality show’. So, why bother with entertainment TV’s reality shows anymore?

The other staple on GECs (General Entertainment Category) is the soap opera—this usually runs weekdays with a recurring cast of characters. Well, that’s true of news channels too — Arnab Goswami, Navika Kumar, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sreenivasan Jain, Zakka Jacob, Rubika Liyaquat, Anjana Om Kashyap, Sudhir Chaudhary, Rajat Sharma, etc., clock in at 8 pm or 9 pm each evening and host the same panel of revolving guests—Sambit Patra, Supriya Shrinate, Gaurav Bhatia, Pawan Khera, Priyanka Chaturvedi for the politicians, while Dr Randeep Guleria and Dr Naresh Trehan lead the cast of doctors.

And don’t you find them, or at least the anchors, vastly more entertaining than say Imlie, Moksh, Saumya, Mahi and many others from TV serials?

Hindi soaps are essentially water tanks: characters, women and men, turn on the tear ducts and cry copiously for most of an episode: watch Shakti: Astitva Ke Ehsaas Ki (Colors), Teri Meri Ikk Jindri  (Zee), or Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai (Star Plus) where all the women are soggy with tears, in mourning over the death of a loved one.

Recently, we have shared in the grief of people seen or heard on television news who lost someone dear due to or during the pandemic. The Paras Hospital case in Agra, Tuesday, saw bereaved relatives, crying even as they raged over the deaths inside the hospital when oxygen was allegedly cut off in a ‘mock drill’.

And we have seen so many bodies—burning on pyres, in ambulances, on a motorcycle and splayed on the river shores—that when a couple dragged the body of a man they had killed in Savdhaan India (Star Bharat), we were neither frightened nor startled.

Also read: A tale of five men and a woman—here’s what TV news told us about them

Conflicts and conflicts

TV soaps thrive and survive on conflict. Well, what else is news but a political ‘battleground’ – that’s how the West Bengal polls were described. Every headline, every debate revels in pitting seemingly irreconcilable differences, mostly political, and mostly between the BJP, Congress and other opposition parties.

Monday evening, after Prime Minister Modi’s address to the nation, you would have seen ‘siyasat’ across channels on who deserves credit for the change in the vaccination policy, announced by him —  Patra versus Chaturvedi (Aaj Tak) – that’s the drill…. Last week, it was PM versus Didi over an IAS officer.

News, like soaps, have good guys (the TV anchors and usually the BJP), the bad guys (Rahul Gandhi, Congress, TMC, AAP, these days), melodrama (the screeching debates each night would rival anything on Zee’s Tujhse Hai Raabta), and weddings (didn’t Jitin Prasada drive up in his baraat to the BJP office, Wednesday?).

Also read: Jitin Prasada needs BJP, and BJP needs him. The switch was always on the cards

Suspense and myth

Entertainment channels also favour intrigue, suspense, mystery and mysterious women—in soaps and in detective shows such as CID, which still re-runs on Sony or Crime Patrol (Dangal).

But news channels can boast of the ‘Antics in Antigua and Dominica’, starring fugitive Mehul Choksi, Indian investigative agencies, which went to Dominica and returned empty handed and the elusive Barbara Jarabica. She featured in an India Today ‘exclusive’ to rubbish Choksi’s claim that she was used to kidnap him. The channel even accessed Choksi messages to the lady— “kisses, kisses, kisses…’’ read one.

There are more mysterious goings-on in ‘Whatever Happened in Wuhan’ on NewsX, all day, all this week as the channel tries to link the coronavirus pandemic to a leak from a Chinese lab.

All good soaps are about families – well, nothing to beat the Gandhi dynasts or Mamata Banerjee and her nephew, M.K. Stalin and his son….

There’s comic relief on news TV, in the satirical The Week That Wasn’t (CNN News18) and So Sorry ( India Today)—and even a daily wrap on TV soaps on most Hindi news channels—so why bother to watch entertainment channels?

Lastly, television entertainment is home to the mythological—Mahabharat, Uttar Ramayan, Devon Ke Dev… Mahadev, Vighnaharta Ganesh, and others.

News channels cannot quite reach those celestial heights, but they have contributed, significantly, to the myth-making of Modi – he now appears before us in long, white hair and a beard — rather like a modern Sai Baba (Mere SaiSony).

News channels offer ‘real’ entertainment. Think last year’s ‘Who Killed Sushant Singh Rajput?’

But that’s a story for next week.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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