Touchdown. Just as well the news channels made the announcement, after a two-hour-long live telecast, because peering eagerly at the heavens over Ambala, all we could see was ‘exclusive’ footage of a milky, monsoon sky. Then, two little black dots appeared on the screen — that’s all there was to signal the highly anticipated arrival of the five Rafale jets. After all that hoopla, just a speck in the sky?
We had better luck, a little earlier, with the sky over the Indian Ocean as INS Kolkata welcomed the Rafales and we saw the first pictures of “beautiful” seven aircraft flying in formation.
“Very, very special pictures…hugely momentous,” declared India Today’s Shiv Aroor. “Your blood, sweat and tears, your taxes,” he added, inconsequentially, have paid for them so enjoy the moment.
No one enjoyed it more than the Times Now reporter in Ambala: “The heartbeat is getting faster and faster,” he exclaimed, breathless, and you could hear him shout out his excitement for the next one hour.
Ram to Rafale
The Times Now reporter’s reaction reflected the kind of awe and reverence the Rafale has evoked on news TV. Monday, when the aircraft took off from France, the second by second commentary and innumerable repeats of the lift-off through the day, were reported like a mission to the moon.
And short of curing coronavirus, it seems Rafale can achieve anything — so much so that even before flying into combat, it has acquired mythic proportions.
India TV referred to the Dassault workshop in France where the Rafale is manufactured, as “Rafale ka janmabhoomi”. “Aa raha hai Ram, aa rahi hai Rafale (Ram’s coming, Rafale’s coming),” declared Zee News.
“Ram Ram,’’ it added when they landed.
“India Rafale Raj,” headlined India Today and any resemblance to ‘Ram Raj’ is probably intentional.
These magnificent flying machines have been called everything — from “Bahabuli Rafale” (ABP News), “Beauty and the beast” (Mirror Now), “Flying beast” (India Today) to the “the golden bird” (CNN News18), “the golden arrow” (Republic TV), “Toofan” (ABP News explained that is also the meaning of Rafale), “tiger of the sky” (Zee News), the “singham at the border” (TV9 Bharatvarsh). It was even compared to a “meteor”.
And the ultimate accolade? There’s now a Rafale paan masala.
We have been taken through its minutest features, with graphics, charts, simulations, all of which prove, “Yeh mamooli nahin hai… (this is not a common jet),” (Zee News). Anchors have compared it to China’s J-20 and the F-16s possessed by Pakistan — “it is better on all counts,” boasted CNN News18.
What Rafale means for TV news
This brings us to the crux: the five Rafale jets are not simply new fighter jets acquired to enhance the capability of the Indian Air Force (IAF); for news channels, they represent India’s most potent weapon in its propaganda arsenal against the combined might of China and Pakistan — for its Indian audience.
For instance, every discussion on Rafale pointed out its superiority to anything the ‘enemy’ possessed and how the latter in Beijing and Islamabad were suffering from sleepless nights because of it.
“LAC to LoC mein tension” (India TV), “China-Pak see red” (CNN News18), “China and Pakistan shivering… Imran (Khan) is breaking out in a cold sweat” (News18 India), “They have been robbed of sleep (News 24), “Rafale is trending in Pakistan, they want the Rafale too (TV9 Bharatvarsh), “Rafale powers India” (Times Now), Pakistan and China “heart fail” (News 18 India, News 24), “Enemy will fail before Rafale’ (ABP News), “Why China is worried – the birds are here” (India Today).
If this deification of the Rafale hadn’t been done in dead earnest, it would be laughable – what it has done is reduce a great fighter jet to a joke, besides providing Dassault with some wonderful free publicity.
Even as the Rafale has been elevated to superhuman heights, at the mundane level of human affairs, the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput has seen news channels demonise a new villain every day.
The current target is actress Rhea Chakravarty, named in an FIR by the Patna Police for abetment to suicide and cheating, among other counts. “Pyaar ne maara?” asked India TV. Swati Anand, Rajput’s “co actress” added outrageously that ever since Chakravarty had begun posting on social media about the case, she had believed “something was wrong”.
New villains in Rajput’s story
Meanwhile, most English and Hindu channels delighted in listing out everything mentioned in the FIR — that too in great detail. “Rhea doshi (Rhea is guilty),” found Zee News.
This is something of a turnaround — till Monday, the demon being held accountable was the “bully gang of Bollywood” — even now, Republic TV leads the way in suggesting that the actress is a mere pawn in a much deeper conspiracy.
“Concerted effort to hide alleged conspiracy?” Times Now alleged that the Mumbai Police had “botched up probe”. In “JusticeForSushant”, the biggest national movement of 2020, Republic TV has “relentlessly” gone after the “evil empire” of Bollywood — as well as the Mumbai Police.
Director Mahesh Bhatt was questioned by the Mumbai Police Monday and Karan Johar may be questioned later. Their photographs flash across TV screens the most often when there is talk of ‘nepotism’ in Bollywood — just so you know who the news channels are fingering.
There has also been a spate of interviews with Bollywood personalities since actor Kangana Ranaut’s sensational outburst on Republic TV in which she attacked the industry and other actors. Shatrughan Sinha (Republic), Sonu Nigam (Times Now), Richa Chadda, Taapsee Pannu (India Today), Shekhar Suman (CNN News18) and Anurag Kashyap (NDTV 24×7) have been called into studios for questioning. There’s a single point agenda: tell us about the nepotism in Bollywood, give us examples, name names…
This anti-Bollywood crusade fits neatly into the agenda of many news channels, which, quite rightly, dislike dynasts and nepotism in politics (read Congress, the Gandhi family).
It is probably true that both exist in Bollywood. It is equally possible that Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide is actually a “homicide”, as Shekhar Suman alleged.
However, it isn’t for the media to be the judge of that.
Views are personal.