Astronomers say there are over 1,00,000 million stars in the sky, but for us there are only three that matter: the rock star, the film star, and Gaurav Sawant, the accidental media star after US President Donald Trump recognised him as a “great reporter”.
Trump said something very similar about a Pakistani reporter — “I like this reporter” — a day earlier at his joint press conference with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, but let that take nothing away from Sawant’s moment of glory.
At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday night, Donald Trump wistfully longed for journalists like Sawant — who asked a question on Pakistan — in place of the “fake news” gang he faces in the American media. That has made India Today’s Gaurav Sawant instantly (in)famous.
IndiaToday vs Aajtak pic.twitter.com/ST3ETSCZa5
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) September 25, 2019
More importantly, Trump launched Modi into the firmament by anointing him the “Father of India”, and bracketing him with the rock-‘n-roll legend Elvis Presley after the Prime Minister brought the house down at Houston’s NRG Stadium Sunday.
It was a rowdy ‘Howdy, Modi!’ show.
With the 50,000 plus “crazy” Indian-Americans seemingly delirious at the sight of Modi, Trump was left holding hands with him and meekly following him around the stadium in a victory lap — much to the wonder of television audiences, worldwide, no doubt, which WION claimed were watching the show.
Houston audience trumps news channels
“Show stopper”, said NDTV 24×7. “Historic and unprecedented”, declared Times Now, for once without exaggeration, “It’s Modi mania”.
Since last Saturday, that’s what it’s been for the Indian news channels as they covered the “Trump-Modi Tango” (India Today) and ended up witnessing Modi lead Trump into a merry dance at the NRG to the rhythmic chants of “Modi, Modi” and “America, America”.
However, for once, they were truly trumped and stumped: none of their hyperbole could match the frenzy of the audience at the NRG stadium. “Modi josh” (CNN News 18) appeared almost mild when people said, “He is the best prime minister we ever had” (Times Now) or, “He is a phenomenon of the century…” (News X).
Even CNN International that otherwise largely ignored the tamasha in Texas was frankly impressed by the energy at the stadium for the “beloved of the Indian-American community”.
The TV channels settled for second best. They fed off the frenzy of the Indian-American community and amplified it when they could — for example, India TV took the form of seating Donald Trump and Narendra Modi on horses wearing cowboy Stetson hats.
Hasan Minhaj turned down
The 50,000 “big room”, as Trump called the NRG, could not, however, accommodate Indian-American comedian-satirist Hasan Minhaj, for a lack of “space”, or because he made comments on Modi that were not “appreciated”, as Hasan claimed.
Minhaj settled for second best: he sat outside the NRG stadium and watched the event on his mobile phone while protesters and police argued over “sweaters”–”Kashmere”. The supreme irony, Minhaj told Seth Meyers on the American talk show Late Night with Seth Meyers, is that his photograph was flashed on the screen inside the stadium as one of the many Indian-American achievers.
But such awkward moments were few and far between that night in Houston.
News channels hungry for action
TV news channels have since applauded Modi’s every step up to his bilateral meeting with Trump in New York Tuesday, and denigrated Pakistan every inch of the way — “America mein Modi ki jai, Pak mein solid bhay” (India News).
They went so far as to declare “Pakistan me hadkamp, PoK mein bhookamp” (India TV) after the Tuesday earthquake, which was distasteful and needlessly cruel, but Indian news channels are not here to win a sensitivity contest. They have an agenda and that is to continue firing across the LoC with whatever ammunition they have.
Here are some examples of just that:
India Today and Times Now had ‘world exclusives’— apparently, just an ‘exclusive’ will no longer do, because it must have a global footprint to make some real impact. And so the ‘world exclusive’ on Times Now broadcast satellite images of Kashmir where, in the past, Hindu homes were allegedly ‘wiped out’, ‘razed’ in an ethnic ‘cleansing exercise’, while J&K leaders like PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and NC’s Farooq Abdullah made empty promises to bring Hindus back home to Kashmir — this inspired by “PakIslamistTerror”.
Increasingly, Times Now frames its political narratives in terms of religious identity: for instance, not so long ago, a 9 pm prime time debate with Navika Kumar discussed the Ayodhya dispute as— “Are Muslims deliberately stalling the Ram Mandir”?
And then, India Today in its world exclusive “blows the cover” on “15 acres of pure hell” a.k.a. “Pak’s dirty secret”. It reported that in Rawalpindi’s Kahuta, Pakistan has constructed a new “nuke facility” and the “bomb Pakistan is hiding”. The channel suggests India should be on full alert.
While the Narendra Modi government may, or may not, be contemplating military offensives, the Indian news channels are definitely gunning for action.
The personable Big B
Away from the winds of war and “NaMosteAmerica” (India Today), in a small corner of the TV screen, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan asks questions of a young Aditya Gulia (in the Kaun Banega Crorepati, Sony), just hours after he won the Dadasaheb Phalke Award — the episode was recorded before the announcement.
This is Bachchan at his most personable: he is engaging, modest, witty and warm as he draws his contestants into conversations about themselves. He delivers homely homilies about life: when Aditya said his father is his inspiration, Bachchan recited a poem about a son making his father proud.
Bachchan may not win an award for the years he has anchored KBC, but it is certainly his most endearing performance — one that has brought him closer to his audience than any other role he has ever played onscreen.
Lastly, as Home Minister Amit Shah champions the cause of ‘one nation one language’, he will be happy to know that at least some people on TV had heard him: the promo for Sony’s forthcoming Indian Idol, proclaims, “One country, once voice”.