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TV Panellist Awards 2012

Mani Shankar Aiyar, Suhel, Jonathan, Renuka, Abhishek - they’re all recipients of the Best TV Panellist Awards.

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TV Panelist Awards

It’s that time of the year again, when print summits are done and dusted and TV summits begin to take shape. Bemused and utterly surprised folks – with an unerring ability moments later to fish out an acceptance speech from their vest pocket – are declared the best presenter or sportsman or entrepreneur or, believe it or not, politician. At first glance, it appears our news channels haven’t left out any category worth dishing out an award for.

Oh but they have, indeed – the category of The Best TV Panellist!

Why is there no award under this umbrella? Is it because the news channels are worried that by naming-and-shaming they might rub their trusted panellists the wrong way? But how else can they ever know how good or how bad their favourite panellist is, or how many miles past his sell-by date the mendicant has already travelled? We, the people, owe it to the likes of Arnab to reveal the Confuciuses and the chauthi-fails. In any case, it is our channel, is it not!

And so, ladies and gentlemen, notwithstanding the absence of drumbeats and pre-recorded western classical theme tunes, the categories and the winners are…

The Befuddling Panellist: Satyavrat Chaturvedi

Do you remember Goli from Lagaan, the medium-pacer who swung his bowling arm round umpteen times before letting go of the ball? You do? Forget him; bring to mind, instead, the utterly helpless and bewildered mug of the Englishman facing him at the other end, how his head ducked and weaved and moved hither and thither like a lottery ball in trying to decipher the precise moment the wretched ball left the hand. Listening to Satyavrat Chaturvedi is a bit like the Englishman facing Goli. You just don’t know when an intelligible comment might come your way. To much relief it comes rarely nowadays, if at all, and Mr Chaturvedi mercifully portends its arrival with a grunt, just like Goli.

The Houdini Panellist: Abhishek Manu Singhvi

This gentle soul, on whom that effervescent Lord of the Rings character Gollum is based, has done more appearing-disappearing acts than Harry Houdini himself. His first such act was when he got on the wrong side of his party’s Kerala franchise, by appearing on behalf of unscrupulous lottery operators. He went AWOL quickly, only to return after a couple of months. Then came the Bhopal gas fiasco when, representing Dow Chemicals, he told them there’s no liability to worry about, chill. Houdinied again. Slipped back in unnoticed. Unlike Gollum he cannot scurry up rock faces, but like him can certainly hide and emerge at will. He went into hiding again after a CD of his showed up. Being an ardent believer in the rule of law, he obtained an injunction against its viewing but to no avail – only that confounded Gangnam Style clip has had more views.

Manish Tewari stole his thunder briefly and hid for a month or two in thick undergrowth courtesy the “closet fascist” remark, and one thought this award might after all have to be shared. But Mr Singhvi returned as only prodigal sons do, and took over the mantle of saving the Congress its blushes yet again.

The Dishevelled Panellist: Jonathan Shainin

This was a tough one, especially as Mr Shainin’s alter ego – Suhel Seth – (winner-loser, yin-yang, Shainin-Suhel) also refuses to comb his hair, and so can lay equal claim to this coveted trophy, except that our rules prohibit a panellist walking away glibly with two (see later). Jonathan edits unending articles for Caravan, the sort that compel an editor to mistake his toothbrush for a comb, not to mention lack of sleep, no time for a shave, etc. Reassuringly, whatever free time he gets he utilises in taking screen-shots of Mr Seth’s tweets for use later as incriminating evidence.

The Token-White Panellist: William Dalrymple 

An urgent need for a refreshing take on History, Geography, Colonialism, Naipaul, Foreign Policy, Festivals, Haggis – alright not Haggis, and you can be sure this endearingly lisping giant-in-a-kaftan will only be too glad to fill the TV screen near us. By arbitrating on all of the above and not just “Indian literary merit”, he has singularly proven Mr Hartosh Bal wrong. Moreover, he remains the only Scot I know whose utterances I can comprehend. Why more kilted bravehearts don’t relinquish Glaswegian and Aberdonian dialects and take to clipped West London accents is beyond me. They can rule the world, don’t they get it?

The Saviour Panellist: Vinod Sharma, Kumar Ketkar

Rules are made to be broken, and so, much against our policy of one man-one figurine, this award, on balance, must be shared equally. They wouldn’t mind it shared equally, though, as they always have the onerous task of rescuing AO Hume’s delinquent love-child from corporal punishment. Remarkably, the two are not members of any political party. In fact, their unbiased and objective opinions stem from this painful decision that they took soon as they left home in search of that beast called honest journalism. They spotted it, poached it, skewered it, and then ate it. They love secular Indians and secluded Italians. Another thing: History tells you some of your best friends are not those who lent you a tenner or treated you to a bun-omelette at three in the morning; they are those who did proxy for you at school, shooting their hand up and squealing “Present, ma’am!” unflinchingly. So when Nidhi or Rajdeep can’t find a quick replacement for Ms Chaudhary, it is the proud winners of this category who scream “Present, ma’am!”

The Erudite Panellist: Abhay Kumar Dubey

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. It’s that cigar-voiced Gurgaon pub bouncer who appears regularly on Ravish’s Primetime. One word: brilliant.

The Screaming Panellist: V Narayanaswamy

You may not remember his face, but till your dying day will you never forget his voice! Monica Seles trained under him, steam locomotives chug out from his PMO garage, and Manmohan Singh understood finally the latent potential of a human voice box after hearing Narayanaswamy order a working lunch. “Your voice is enough for the two of us”, thought the PM, and never uttered a word again. True, the Narayanaswamy voice is special. You realise soon that the man isn’t really screaming or yelling, the fault lies with the tonal quality – as though half-a-dozen carpenters have been taking turns applying rundha and sand-paper to it. What emerges is enough to make you bow down and plead: “I agree with everything you say! Just let Shalini Singh get in a word or two, please!”

The Undertaker Panellist: Ravi Shankar Prasad, Renuka Chaudhary

To be shared again, but this time by two people espousing different ideologies. That both possess Kathakali eyes and a thunderous voice, are reasons enough for them to be proclaimed joint winners. Both have perfected the art of juggling the carrot with the stick, and the anchors know this for a fact, even Arnab, who sometimes acts as though he’s being run over by a three-wheeler driven by Mr Prasad and carrying Ms Chaudhary, only to be spared in the nick of time by shoulder-rocking (Mr Prasad), pallu-rewrapping (Ms Chaudhary) laughter. They make graveyard shift fun, these two. 

The Off-putting Panellist: Mani Shankar Aiyar

Even if one were to nominate other contenders for this most-prized of all categories, Mr Aiyar would probably hear none of it. Short of tripping them on the podium stairs and hurling a flower vase at them – then lampooning their alma mater in no small measure, he would do everything within his powers to run off with the figurine held tight to his chest. I have nothing to say but I’ll say it anyway, said Fellini’s Guido famously, and it seems Mr Aiyar has taken this to heart. He shouts, he sneers, he spews, he derides, he gloats, and yet, he appears every day on every News Channel, talking down at people, correcting their grammar and diction, quoting Eliot, Shakespeare, and himself. It must be a well-fed goat that went into making Mr Aiyar’s drum considering that he’s been beating it since airwaves were invented. There’s only one man in India who can set Mr Aiyar on the righteous path, but he has his own worries presently. That man is Ram Jethmalani.

This, then, sadly, brings to a close our own awards “nite”, with just enough time to refer to the small matter of one Mr. Suhel Seth. We had no intention of honouring him with an award this year – A.

B: But he barged in unannounced, deposited a velvet bandhgala, and scooted off with a totally unrelated figurine reposing on the committee desk. In our defence, we couldn’t recognise him as he wasn’t wearing his trademark salt n’ pepper wig.

Image By – Swarnabha Banerjee

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More from Anand Ranganathan


  • Manish

    Awesome!!

  • Babu

    Amazzzzing!! I’m crying tears of laughter!!! Thanks thanks newslaundry for this…..I used to get really frustrated and angry watching these mugs on tv every night, ESP nArayanswamy and aiyar, but now every time I will look at them I’ll remember this article and laugh my heart out….this is a great favour I tell you. And singhvi IS gollum, there’s no doubt!!! Made my day and now I am ready for these panellists in the evening. Kudos!

  • debasish

    Anand,you are just fab.hope to read more from you more often.

  • Ashok Jahnavi Prasad

    As usual Anand is an unputdownable read! My felicitations on this excellent satire! Mani Shankar Aiyar would find it a revelation that there are a few others in India who might have studied at Cambridge! His is a very poor attempt to imitate Aristophanes .Even Denis Healey was far more subtle in his vituperative efforts. The sad truth is that he persists being resolutely obnoxious as he knows that his Dulcine and her progeny none of whom could ever dream of obtaining a ‘Cambridge degree’ by fair means need him to punctuate and vocabularify their scripts for the speeches they deliver. That is what probably explains why he was not disciplined when about 15 years ago he used an unforgivable expletive for widowed Sheila Dixit-in fact it was Dixit I believe who was instructed not to pursue the matter! The one occasion it backfired was when he deliberately tried to provoke Amar Singh (a person I do not admire) using expletives which surely would shame Cantabrians-Amar Singh belted him black and blue in full public view at Satish Gujral’s party! Aiyar is a disgrace and I fully agree that an obnoxious windbag like him should not be a regular feature on TV! For exactly the opposite reasons I find BSP spokesperson Bhadoria offputting. And how can one forget Kancha Iliah , another conceited insufferable who believes that if all 100% jobs in all the government sectors were reserved for Dalits for the next 50 years Friday morning on the 14th December,and every temple in India demolished,everything would be hunky dory! Even Kancha is a regular on channels .I have often wondered if he has found free time from his ill-informed vituperative solutions to read up Franz Fanon who clearly knew more about institutionalized discrimination that the academic Kancha pretends to be. I also wonder if the news channels have never heard of Narendra Jadhav ,a wonderfully learned man in the Ambedkar mould whose credentials as a Dalit overcoming injustice are far better than Kancha’s! Jadhav suffered far more indignities than Kancha and made it .He has the grace to openly admit that he would not allow his daughter to avail of reservation benefits although she is entitled to it as he does not believe it would be just! The truth is that the choice of ‘experts’ by the channels is not dictated by erudition but by political expediency. I have myself written to several channels on several occasions when the so-called experts have come up with absurd solutions but none has even acknowledged thus far. Kudos to Anand for this timely piece!

    • Srikanth

      Dr. Jahnavi, while the qualities you list for Mr. Aiyar and the other panelists don’t qualify them as experts, the only reason they are on panels is because they make for good television. With certain channels having gone down the Fox-hole and limiting their news coverage till 6 pm , it appears that the shriller the voices and nastier the slug-fest, the higher the ratings. More civil television can occasionally be found on News X or DD but then again channels like them do not get coverage even on sites like this!

      I must also admit that while you are one of the few people who can afford to be intellectually arrogant, you do risk being guilty of the snobbishness you charge Mr. Aiyar with when you say that “none of (the Gandhi clan) could ever dream of obtaining a ‘Cambridge degree’ by fair means.” If you find Rahul’s degree to be suspect, surely the institution is also at fault?

      • Shridhar Sharma

        Mr.Srikanth ,as far as I know Rahul was a collossal failure academically and had it not been for the privileges that were conferred on him resulting from accident of birth,he certainly would not have been seen anywhere near Cambridge ,Oxford or the obscure Rollin College he supposedly attended. I am certain Dr.Prasad’s allusion was to this aspect of unfairness rather than the substance of Rahul’s credentials. As far as we know Rahul spent less than a year as a matriculated student at Cambridge and obtained MPhil which as we all know is a qualification obtained by submitting a dissertation rather than a hard earned Tripos that Anand Ranganathan obtained( and Aiyar as well). MPhil as anyone who has studied at Cambridge would know ( was there myself) is regarded an escape route for those not good enough for a Tripos or a doctorate. The pass rate is phenomenal. And let us not forget that Rahul’s mother for years did not find it necessary to challenge the popular canard propagated by her sycophants that she was a student at Cambridge! That came to light much later. But her sycophants get defensive when challenged. I am tempted to recall Dr.Prasad’s description of her party members as Indira/Rajiv/Sonia worshippers in one article. There is a vast difference between admiration and worship that I guess even Tripos holders like Aiyar have forgotten and which his fellow Stephanian/Cantabrian (and I presume another Iyer) viz Anand is so ready to identify. Ironical that two people with such similar backgrounds could be so different in their orientation>

      • Ashok Jahnavi Prasad

        Thanks for your comments! At the outset let me apologize if my comments smacked of ‘intellectual arrogance’ or ‘snobbishness’ because that certainly was not the intent ; perhaps the flaw rested with my less than suave expression . I must also add that I do not believe any human being can afford to be arrogant over another and firmly believe that arrogance is perhaps one of the most unfortunate human failings. I made a reference to the fair means not to question the validity of the MPhil qualification you presumably refer to-would be foolish to do so after the Vice Chancellor has verified it. I think those who have been familiar with the Cambridge/Oxford ethos would recognize the context.There is a tendency there among the scholarship holders -at least was there when I studied- to regard the fee paying students as interlopers who were there not because of their proven merit but by their parental wealth/influence. Inevitably there are those who do emerge from the exalted backgrounds but still demonstrate merit by successfully competing and obtaining scholarships but from what I know Rahul was not one of those . You may yet argue that Rahul cannot be faulted for being born where he was ,but he certainly can be faulted for not demonstrating convincingly except to his worshippers that he was worthy of the head start that was extended to him the fruits of which he continues to enjoy. And I must also add that some readers would recall the regard in which I hold Aiyar’s brother Swaminathan.My apologies once again for the misunderstanding-a little better elaboration on my part could have avoided that!

  • Mukesh

    nice one. I have been watching Mr Aiyer lately & he seems to be talking more gas and less substance.

  • Roark

    superbly fantastic….satire at its best….kudos to such an extraordinarily written piece….just perfect !!!

  • Ashok Jahnavi Prasad

    I forgot to mention Anand that I might have added a few more regular jokers as possible nominees-Rahul Narvekar is imposssibly weasly and has no commitment to the statute he claims to practice. And Digvijay Singh-another regular;the less said the better.

  • Komal

    Amazing!! Had a great time reading it.

  • chinu

    saar venkiah naidu is disturbed that narayanaswamy has got the vote. what nothing for the managing edit of the paper
    that carries a dated claim to be courageous!

  • Vinod

    Oh thank you. Thank you!

  • rishabh

    Well written, but surely such a prestigious awards ceremony should be more bipartisan in nature! Like the rest of the media, you too seem to be in the Congress’ pocket while doling out these awards!

    While Mr. Aiyar is obnoxious, I don’t remember him correcting grammar and diction – that is more the preserve of Suhel Seth. Suhel loves interrupting people but when interrupted asks them which school they went to and why have have such poor manners! He also laughs at grammatical errors and enjoys correcting silly mistakes. It would perhaps be best to leave the award on stage and let the two of them sort out who gets it.

    • srinivasan

      both of them are ‘performing fleas’ of the hurtful kind!

  • ramesh

    Anand, while you might be right about a lot of these people, was there no one else from the BJP suitable for you awards? The only one you mention is written about rather charitably. Mr. Jethmalani is in many ways worse than Aiyar – he is more boorish, louder, called one tv anchor a “chit of a girl” and walked out of an interview with another. While he might be an equal candidate for the prize, it really is strange that you find his path to be a “righteous” one!

  • Troll0007

    When Mani Shankar Aiyar’s drum breaks it would sound more like Narayanaswamy (the incurable phatta dhol).

  • Anurag

    How can u miss my favorite Swapan Dasgupta :)?

  • http://twitter.com/aam_dude funmohan singh

    it was hilarious. minute observations.comment ko comment ki tarah le ,article na likhe

  • Ishita

    I loved your article! But, please don’t slot Ravi Shankar and Renuka in the same category! More like, pallu rewrappping derisive laughter.
    Ravi Shankar is such a cool guy and always has great arguments; as for Renuka, her only counter to arguments is ridiculing the other panellist.

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