Where should we begin this week? Should it be with the dedication of the scenic Mahakaleshwar Temple corridor by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a puja where the scent of incense wafted through the air and into the airwaves?
Or, should it be with the clouds of war from the ‘biggest attack on Ukraine’ (India TV) and the prospect of a ‘nuclear bomb attack after 70 years’ (News Nation) by Russia?
But wait on: see the tears in Amitabh Bachchan’s eyes, wiped away by his son Abhishek when Kaun Banega Crorepati (Sony) celebrated his 80th birthday in the presence of the diminutive and the only person Amitabh fears (guess!).
No, let’s start off this column with what many TV commentators called, ‘the end of an era’ as the 82-year-old ‘Maha Nayak’ (India TV) ‘Ace Lohiate’ (India Today) and ‘giant of Indian politics’ (Times Now) Mulayam Singh Yadav bid ‘Alvida’ (Zee News). He died Monday morning in a Gurugram private hospital.
Did the homework
Most of that day and much of Tuesday, saw TV news anchors and reporters in full flow — glowing tributes, acute political insights mixed with trivial details about this ‘dharti putra’ who founded the Samajwadi Party (ABP News). Reporter after reporter, across Hindi and English channels, showed us that they know their politics and they know ‘Netaji’s’ political career in Uttar Pradesh even better. It was a rarity to hear reporters speak intelligently of his life and times in politics, peppered with anecdotes and interviews.
In the words of a CNN News 18 anchor, “A very humble, simple man…(who had) ordinary beginnings but his life was extraordinary”. “Despite deep political differences, he maintained good relations with politicians across the spectrum,” said an Aaj Tak reporter.
The media had been aware of the Samajwadi Party doyen’s ill health for several months and so had enough time to do him proud. The TV news obituaries were fulsome and sometimes, rather colourful: for instance, ABP News described how the RJD patriarch and occasional ally Lalu Prasad had ‘punctured his cycle’ and ambitions to become the prime minister – and now they are related through marriage.
“He was a teacher, he was a wrestler, he was a politician, he was a leader,” gushed Republic Bharat’s correspondent.
His prowess as a pahalwan had clearly impressed many: “He was a wrestler and he displayed his wrestling skills in politics too,” was how an NDTV India’s correspondent summed up his legacy.
Of course, there were less felicitous moments, too. But before we get to them, the ‘First on’ prize goes to News X, which announced ‘SP chief dies’ while leading news channels still claimed he was ‘critical’.
Some of the commentary was needless and needlessly wordy.
“He was given life saving support,” said a News 24 reporter. “He was on a dialysis machine 24×7…it was the very latest machine. His lungs were filled with water.” Listening to this medical report you got the impression the dialysis was for his lungs instead of his kidneys.
“(Mulayam) was very sad after his second wife’s death a year and a half ago,” asserted a News 18 India anchor, “He was all alone…”
“He was suffering from ill-health…multiple ailments…this morning Akhilesh Yadav (his son) tweeted his death,” revealed a Republic TV correspondent. “A team of 15 doctors is with Akhilesh telling him how the process will take place, all the family members are here….all the SP leaders are here, they are very sad, they are crying… he was a very family-oriented man.”
And what do you make of this from an NDTV 24×7 reporter — “He could make waiting crowds boil with frenzy.”
Or the India Today reporter’s breathless prose during Tuesday’s last rites — “Jaya Bachchan is also there… she is wearing a mask but Jaya Bachchan is there—will try for a close up…a woman who looks very much like Jaya Bachchan is there…”
Lastly, what is the point of Sansad TV if it cannot switch from recorded programmes to a live broadcast and remember a seven-time MP?
Also read: Bigg Boss is like TV news debates—‘captain’ starts fight, others join in with vile behaviour
Bachchans at KBC
Jaya Bachchan was also there on Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). She strolled in after actor Abhishek Bachchan had taken over the host’s chair from his father Amitabh Bachchan and parked him in the hot seat for the first time ever. Son asked ‘Paa’ many questions. ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Was I a naughty boy?’ ‘Why do you love Shweta more?’ and finally, ‘Who has been by your side in your ups and downs… and the only person you are scared of?’ Without blinking, Sr. Bachchan responded, ‘Jaya’.
The special edition of the quiz show was filled with tenderness and nostalgia as Abhishek teased and quizzed his father, Jaya told us that through thick and thin “she had loved him very much”, and we watched videos of Amitabh with his family — from his father to his grandchildren. In the background, they played tunes of his films before ending up for a cake cutting ceremony and ‘Happy birthday to you…’
Inside Putin’s mind
No happy news from Ukraine, alas.
Russia hit the headlines on most news channels, Monday afternoon, following its multiple attacks on Ukraine cities — ‘badle ki aag’ (India TV). This, the channel said, was revenge for the Ukrainian bombing of Crimea. They also speculated like a Sensex gambler — “The message is clear that direct attacks on Kyiv will continue,” declared Aaj Tak. “The setbacks (sustained recently by Russia) are gnawing at Putin,” claimed Times Now Navbharat, after a long-distance mind reading exercise. “Will he use his nuclear weapons?” asked its reporter.
“Tonight’s decisions are crucial,” opined an anchor on India Today, “NATO soldiers… or veterans” could be involved in the war on the ground. Scary stuff.
Yet in the midst of atomic mushroom clouds bursting on Hindi news channels, there were lighter moments: “We are talking about a third world war and you are running a restaurant (in Kyiv)?” asked a bewildered Times Now Navbharat anchor.
“Yes,” replied the Indian restaurant owner.
“Are customers coming?”
“Plenty of them.”
Well, they must be made of stern stuff, said the anchor in awe.
Rather like Mulayam Singh Yadav, wouldn’t you say?
The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)