Author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet, Anand Ranganathan studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. We told you, varied interests!
Fab Four & The Stunt Doubles
I have always wondered why my weekends are more enjoyable than my weekdays. Now I know. That’s the time when the stunt doubles appear on news channels to relieve the illustrious stalwarts, Arnab, Rajdeep, Sagarika, and partly Barkha – “partly” because Barkha hosts We the People on Sunday nights – a time when we, the people, are gloomy already, dreading the impending week and the ghastly Monday we’ll be waking up to in a few hours time. (But if I am not mistaken, We the People doesn’t count as it is recorded and not live – although Sri Sri Sri – oh, is that one too many? sorry – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar may have something to say about what’s live and what’s recorded. It’s all maya-khel [an illusion] he might say if he’s feeling charitable.)
To come back to the point at hand, weekends are enjoyable because TV news is presented, read, and anchored unlike all other days of the week. In fact, it is presented exactly as it used to be in the good old days of the Doordarshan monopoly. Younger readers would understand what I mean if they were to watch the news on any of the DD channels. It’s still the same (not the news, I hope not, although one can never be sure). The whole thing comes across as sound waves from a tanpura-do at a Hindustani Classical concert: calming, serene, and unhurried – the fellow plucking the strings is a million miles away, no longer of this world.
Weekend News shows don’t make you feel you are on the frontline, with oral cannons booming away all around you, with verbal grenades being hurled at you every other minute. Watching Arnab perform, I have realised, can exhaust you. What it does to him I can only guess. Treat him like desi daru at your own peril I say; he’s like a twelve-year-old whisky, I hasten to add, which must be enjoyed only occasionally.
No matter which way you look at it, News shows on weekdays, presented by the above-mentioned fab-four – who’ll soon have a mountain bearing their faces the way it’s all headed – Mount Yellmore? – leaves you craving for a peaceful weekend, one where you might like to sip a drink while admiring the neighbour’s rottweiler soar acrobatically for the frisbee in a DDA lawn near you. I believe the owners of these channels have done a marvellous job of allowing the fab-four their weekend off. After all, they too presumably watch what their respective channels dish out on weekdays, and Tai Chi or Bikram Yoga can only do so much to calm your frayed nerves. There’s the Himalayan Spa retreat, but still.
While the fab-four recuperate and “do gargle” with salt-water in preparation for the coming week, taking their places are the second rung, the stunt doubles as I call them. And I don’t say this in a disparaging way. Quite the opposite, in fact. You see, what the second rung has on offer is just plain news. No heated debates, no screaming. They are not TV-Gaddafis, they don’t sermonise and shout and harangue the panellists – if at all the latter are present during their shows, that is. After all, why should the first-rung panellists be denied peaceful weekends, now that they are well aware that Monday to Friday will once again be hell and high-water? And so the weekend panellists, too, are of the stunt double texture and smell. They see the weekend as an opportunity to slip in a good word or two about their party and the direction in which it is headed, in the most decent manner possible. You can’t ever get angry or disgusted by the weekend panellists or the weekend spokespersons, so endearing are their blundering, ungainly mannerisms, just like your Masurrji or Phooparrji (goodness, what terminology; in Tamil these specimens sound so much nicer). So we don’t see Mr Manish Tewari, but rather a gentleman I can’t quite recall the name of – a well-fed man with pahari features and a lakhnawi andaaz – does that help? From the Opposition side, we get to see and hear Mr Shahnawaz Hussain and his friend, the affable Mr Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. They replace the fiery Mr Rajiv Pratap Rudy and one Mr Tarun Vijay, who I feel is just the right man to rile up Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar – also AWOL during the weekend, and just back from America, whose democracy he felt unnecessarily gave “the right to the lower orders to be rude to their social superiors” (from his ‘American Diary’ in the previous issue of Outlook). No prizes for guessing which category Mr Aiyar thinks Mr Vijay falls in.
The only news channel which doesn’t offer weekend stunt doubles is DD News. There’s no need. The newsreaders never get as excited or charged-up as the Fab-Four do during the weekdays. I think their boss Ms Soni has told them: “Carry on with the good job, fellas. No need for you to take the weekends off. By the by, here are the seven MMS clips of the foundation stone-laying ceremonies you might like to screen tonight”.
So much for the public sector cushion.
The stunt doubles come out mostly on the weekends. What they do on weekdays is the natural question, the answer to which I don’t yet know. Perhaps they, too, sit and watch the Fab Four all through the week and shake their heads at the fire-and-brimstone reporting. They might even get angry at what they see, crush a glass or two with their bare hands like I do sometimes. But they are all very nice and polite when it matters, and they make mistakes galore, making the act of watching them a pleasurable experience. They stutter, ask silly and ridiculous questions, use a language riddled with clichés, all for the greater good.
Who knows: even the main handlers of the studios get stunt doubles to take their places on the weekends, for one sees flies land on the anchor’s nose, the graphics going haywire, the OB van links vanishing to a dot all of a sudden. In short, a new management takes over for the weekend. Dare I say, it’s all outsourced? But it’s a welcome relief, nonetheless. A time to girdle up one’s loins and wait for Monday night.
For the Hindi News channels, there are stunt doubles, too, except that these are the real ones – they’ve been hired from the Bollywood film industry and have landed in Delhi from Mumbai just for the weekend. The female anchors look like extras from a dance number that involves 300 of them boogieing to moves that are wholly in conflict with those of the hero and the heroine. In a nutshell, bad extras. I don’t think they are paid that much for their news work; tea and rusk is what I fear. One peculiar Hindi News channel, though, doesn’t have to bother procuring stunt doubles for the weekend, simply because the whole damn channel is a stunt, weekends or weekdays doesn’t matter.
Truth be told, even the channels know that viewers want relief, and so the news slots many a time are crammed with half-hour programmes on a Bollywood icon or a Bollywood theme, the theme being romance, villainy, happy songs, sad songs, Maa, etc. No one wants a bare-toothed dogfight on an issue that will peter out in a day.
The more one watches the news, the more one understands that this is an industry like any other. There are people in there with a finger on the pulse of the viewer; they want him refreshed and ready for the Monday-to-Friday onslaught that’s coming his way. Life is tough for the rabble-rousers. It works to everyone’s advantage that they get two days off.