Sunday, April 18

Shoania, Show-Inane-Yeah

Incessant appetite for scurrilous gossip and celebrity obsession can hardly be classified as inventions of contemporary vintage. However, the heights (or depths, as seems a more apt description) this theater of the Absurd has attained of late is certainly without precedent. This is mostly an inevitable fall-out of advances in Media – its breadth leads some of its participants to stoop (competition, anyone?); and penetration allows its variegated output to become inescapable reality.

In the Indian context, media omnipresence has been inherent ever since one Pappu (Prince actually) fell down a tube-well and the nation woke up to Reality TV. Yet, its extent struck me this week when asked for my opinion on the ludicrous Shoaib-Sania tamasha over a meal with some office colleagues. Granted that a non-event like this must have an audience in TRP targets somewhere in our Great Unwashed, that it could wing it to more pretentious dinner table conversations is a potent reminder of how much of an equalizer TV has become.

At another level, other observations in the episode (soap opera, if you like) may interest the anthropologically inclined. One of these is clearly why so much collective consciousness need have been expended on this tragicomedy. Mind you, this is not elitist rant. One merely finds it difficult to turn from the fact (even for her most ardent fans) of Ms Mirza’s athletic prowess being decidedly higher on glamour quotient than sporting achievement. In fact, despite superior professional history, that it is Lee-Hesh’s occasional romantic dalliances or (not so occasional) fratricidal strife which has consumed more newsprint, buttresses the argument. Follow this line of reasoning and one can hypothesize that, culturally, embarrassing scrutiny is anathema to Indian culture. We revel in demi-god status for those with more immodest track records in any walk of life. In fact, but for moviedom (where controversy may well be courted in the name of publicity), we have mostly shunned discussions even remotely suggestive of human frailties of our icons.

Another distasteful (if not downright dangerous) facet of the media onslaught is the bevy of armchair experts only too happy to turn it into TRP-rich Indo-Pak confrontation. Neighbourly engagements in most part of the world are reasonably complex. Yet, ours with the failed westerly state is special even in these terms. With a few wars fought, not to forget an ongoing proxy one, and Terrorism, Kashmir, Nuclear Proliferation etc to queer the pitch, the last we need is trivial nonsense to whip up jingoistic frenzy. That more of this despicable posturing Shoaib & Co’s antics (or across the LOC in general) is immaterial. Some serious soul-searching is in order if India is not large-hearted and confident enough to dismiss such frivolity with the contempt it deserves. (Equally who cares what flag adorns Sania’s epaulette given the flimsy chances of her making it to the podium!)

Similarly trifling has been the attempt by some to use this occasion for characteristic Islam bashing. There may well be merit in debating Muslim Personal Law in India – standalone, or in insights vis-à-vis Shariat-governed Pakistan (or Turkey, or Indonesia) – but an important, complex social issue is sadly trivialized to link it with Ayesha’s marital status. Crucial debates on woman’s rights, legitimacy of telephonic nikah, polygamy etc make for little resolution with virtually administered polygraph tests for Shoaib Malik or Chand Mohammed’s sleeping arrangements. Such sensationalism loses us the battle – and the war is already lost.

Perhaps most enduring though, is an incumbent need for introspection in our media moguls (or at least their electronic brood). Fourth Estate is vital to a vibrant democracy but an overdose of the inane is a sad abuse of its reach. It is truly beyond me as to who and how decides that the attention of the entire nation needs be converged on Sania’s break-up with Sohrab, her choice of Shoaib, Ayesha’s copious (and credulous?) tears, and so on – across news channels and without break.

Extend the argument and ravings of assorted fanatics or pronouncements of perennially affixed (the same set is sought, and has pithily TRP-arousing views irrespective of topic) experts are all media-created monsters (raise your hands if you see less of Shri Laloo Prasad now that he has 4 seats vs 30 – and he has some popular support at least) under the sham of good copy. This circus, together with the adultery-rebirth obsessed tearjerker ‘general entertainment’ fare, makes one wonder which channels the media barons’ children watch. Cover it by all means, but for god’s sake, give us some choice!

Else let us all retire to watch Discovery Travel & Living…