How to Turn Tricks On TV

Been invited on a TV panel and don’t know what to say? Here are some tried and tested methods.

TV Panelists

Invited on a panel? Going for a TV debate? No time to prepare? Don’t have much to say because you’re not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree (or brightest colour this Holi)? No matter. Read this on your way to the studio and you’ll be fine. Here are six easy-to-use tricks for TV debates.

1. The – Let’s State The Obvious And Pretend That’s What the Debate Is About

This is the most often used device. Its brilliance is its simplicity. This you have to master or you don’t deserve to be on any panel – TV or otherwise. Here’s how it works. If the debate is about a specific policy, action or law in a broader context (which everything always is), just start debating the broader context and stating the obvious as if that’s what the debate is about. Don’t debate the specific matter, policy, law or detail at hand. Most anchors won’t catch on and since they pretty much paraphrase one panelist’s point and ask another to react (except Arnab whose panelists are an audience to fill the screen in little boxes who he can scold from time to time). Often, the audience too will see you as reasonable and wise. Because, after all, how can you argue against someone saying, “We should all be good people and work towards a corruption-free India and inclusive society” or something equally obvious?

Example: If the debate is about enacting a law that makes it mandatory for journalists to have a minimum qualification to raise the quality of journalism, pretend the debate is about how educated journalists are better than illiterate ones. More-informed people add more value to news than less-informed people. People who can read the alphabet are better-equipped to write an essay etc.

Below the King of Stating The Obvious (and sometimes the bizarre), Justice Katju, demonstrates the ploy. Also demonstrated by Derek O’Brien who lately is the most frequent user of it, thanks to the kind of positions he has to defend, courtesy Didi. When asked on a specific aspect of the anti-rape law he says that “rape is abhorrent and must be punished…” etc. Wow! Imagine that.

2. The – Could You Repeat the Question Please?

Actually, don’t bother. I’ll just say what I have to whether it has anything to do with the question you asked or not. This one is a classic. It doesn’t look quite as elegant as the other tricks. The viewer usually can see that the panelist is “obfuscating the issue” in panelist jargon or “talking shit” in regular speak. But hell, it’s better than sitting there saying “Duh!” Or “Damn! How do I defend this crap?” like Nirmala Sitharaman trying to explain the BJP’s position on the anti-rape law. Always helps if you start with – “Before I answer your question I would like to make some points …” and then go on to say anything. Anything. No matter whether it has anything to do with the issue at hand. Look earnest and convinced and keep talking, pretending you’re going to get to the point eventually – like that uncle we all have who tells you a story that begins with the promise that it has a valuable life lesson but doesn’t ever get to any point. He’s just lonely and wants to talk. This is like that. Your speaking time will be over as you meander through subjects and issues. Other panelists will get impatient and cut in. Pretend to be outraged that you haven’t been allowed to say what you wanted, but inwardly you’re smiling your inner smile and saying, “Hah! Suckers! I never had anything to say anyway”.

Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Narvekar demonstrate this trick by going on and on and not answering the question while pretending they might get to the point at some time in the distant future if they are allowed to speak forever.

3. The – Tautology Trick or Paryayvachi Prakriya

Say the same thing in many ways. Use thesaurus-like options. Give alternatives of past/present/future, past participle etc. Basically take 25,000 words to say something that can be said in 8, like – “You really think I can defend that position” but that sounds defensive and guilty. Also there is at least 20 minutes of airtime to fill so go on to say something like, “While I suspect, expect, imagine, infer, deduce, have a hunch (in the sense of suspect, not that there is anything wrong with my posture) but I conjecture and construe that it may be wrong, incorrect, erroneous, inaccurate, objectionable or even libelous as the case may be or may not be or can be depending on how the situation develops, may develop, has already developed or may not at all develop in the stated direction”. BEEP! Time’s up. Chill.

Congratulations. You’ve used the most words ever to say nothing.

Watch the trick demonstrated by the master of the manoeuvre, Abhishek Manu Singhvi to who I dedicate the song – You say it best when you say nothing at all.

4. The “List”

This is a really smart one. The best. It works more often than not. Its effectiveness is entirely to do with the conviction of delivery. Also, you have to be perceived to be a smart person with informed opinions. If you’re already perceived to be a bit of an ass or a dullard, then don’t try this. It will backfire, big time. We take no responsibility for the feedback that may follow. When used well, the audience doesn’t realise they’ve been had and your opposition gets on the back-foot, intimidated.

How it works is that you’re in a sticky situation with questions and attacks coming at you, which you don’t have a covincing response to. Start your answer with unusual enthusiasm and a “On this there are 2 or 3 main points I’d like to make”. Or alternatively, “Ye dekhiye is mein do baatein hain”. This gives the impression that the speaker has thought through his or her position on this, and a very organised mind is going to demolish the opposition point-by-point. Whereas, in reality you’re just making it up as you go along. Allow me to demonstrate.

Question: Do you think the Lokpal bill should have an investigating agency that reports to it rather than the government?

Answer (sit up, shuffle in your seat and lean forward as if you’ve been waiting to say this all your life): That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked me this. There are three aspects to this.

  1. Is there corruption in India and to what extent has it spread in the system?
  2. Have present laws and legislations been able to tackle this effectively?
  3. Is there any evidence to suggest that tougher laws of say attaching properties or fast track courts deter one from being corrupt?

So you see, you could go on and on. But you haven’t said whether you think the investigating agency should report to the Lokpal or the government. You’ve merely stated general corruption-related stuff which one hears every day, but wait! You’ve done it as a list. Neat, huh? Way cooler than essay-form.

Watch the trick demonstrated by masters of it – Suhel Seth and my good friend Arvind Kejriwal (although the latter does it for a good cause).

5. The – Pick the Loony as Prime Adversary

This is easily the laziest and least ingenious trick. What you have to do is to ignore any good, intelligent argument made by co-panelists in the studio (or via satellite) and pick a weak argument made by a loony fringe element (or mainstream element) anytime anywhere on the planet (in a studio or elsewhere). Then proceed to demolish that loony argument, not the good one being made in the studio just then. It’s a foolish way to debate, but anchors and audiences love it. So, for example, if you are on a debate with a Shashi Tharoor or Chidambaram who’ve made a fairly decent argument, ignore that and pick what Sanjay Jha, Digvijay Singh or Justice Katju may have said somewhere else. Similarly, if you’re arguing with Nirmala Sitharaman or Rajnath Singh on a panel and they’ve put forth a levelheaded point, ignore it and pull in a Praveen Togadia or Nitin Gadkari quote and start demolishing that argument. You will notice I have taken an example from both big players so I appear balanced and fair, which one has to bend over backwards to do these days. I have not taken an example from the Commies because lately they don’t participate in debates with opposition parties. Only with each other, which I’m assuming they do at their Politburo meetings.

For this trick if you can’t think of a bad or foolish argument made by a real spokesperson or party member, you can even pick a tweet by the lunatic online brigade to set up as the prime adversary. It’s like picking the weakling water-boy from a lineup of wrestlers and saying “Yup Him! I’ll fight him”, even though he wasn’t on the roster.

Not just panelists, even journalists do this. Re-tweet some fool’s abuse and show how you’re making more compelling arguments, which brings me to the next trick.

6. The – I Got an Ouch

This is an extension of Trick Number 4 (Pick the Loony Fringe as Prime Adversary). This is when you take the above trick to an extreme and play victim. I’ll explain. Any of you who have kids or have friends who have kids, know that between the ages of 2 and 3 years, toddlers use the “I got an ouch” device to get attention. They’ll interrupt a conversation pointing to a non-existent scratch saying, “Mommy/Daddy I got an ouch”. You’re supposed to say “AWWW!”, make a big deal of nothing, offer sympathy, kiss the “Ouch” better and get on with the conversation of who’s sleeping with whom. The toddler is satisfied. It was never a big deal anyway. It was childish self-indulgence.

The danger of using this trick is that it can make you look terrible if you belong to any one or all of the following groups – socially privileged, politically empowered or more importantly, adult. Used well, this can make you look pretty victim-like, evoking the “Awww! Poor baby. Bo-hoo for you”. But it can also make you look like a bully who when confronted with another ill-mannered bully becomes a whiner and people are more likely to react with a “Sheesh! Boo fuckin Hoo. Stop whining”. Earlier, this was restricted to Twitter, now it’s used in panel discussions.

Used most often by “Young turks” in Parliament who whine each time they address the public. Poor babies. Be gentle on them in future, you hear?   Demonstrated below by RPN Singh, Harsimrat Badal, Manish Tewari and Aditya Thackeray at the India Today Conclave, and at The Big Tent India by Omar Abdullah who may be the biggest crybaby Indian politics has ever seen.


Can’t really describe it. You have to see it. No matter who says what, just shake your head and say “AHAHAHA”, laugh, giggle, be cute and cheeky. Don’t try this unless you are the maven herself. Watch the manoeuvre demonstrated by the only one who can pull it off.

Contact Abhinandan


Videos By: Damini Ralleigh, Satyen Rao & Rahul Awasthi

Image By:  Swarnabha Banerjee

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  • muthukumar chandrasekharan

    Hilarious, shrewd and perspicacious. Very well presented. Kudos to Abhinandan

  • roflmao…..great article.couldn’t have put it in better words.


    Brilliant!!you have my sympathies for having to watch so much of the crap..i just save myself the trouble and head over to news laundry..

  • Julia

    This article is really amusing! The “AHAHAHA” video cracked me up!

  • John LeGrasse

    May I add a few more? I’ll do that anyway, okay? Thanks.

    1. This is a complete no-brainer and the golden rule of TV Debating: if you’re from the Congress, say 2002, 2002, 2002, 2002,ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba… as many times as you can till your lungs are hollow; likewise, if you’re from the BJP just go on saying 1984, 1984, 1984, 1984..lalalalalalalalalala…; then beam triumphantly and look around for applause. You’ve done your job, you bloody wizard of Indian history, how did you remember?!

    2. If you’re Mani Shankar Aiyar, down 8 patiala-pegs and start calling your opponent “monkey”, “donkey”, “zebra”, “snake”, ” “vampire squid”, “cookiecutter shark”, etc., till someone finally interrupts you; then look furious, and say to hell with your show and toss out the mic.

    3. If you’re Shaina NC, make sure you’re pitted against Tully Shankar Aiyyar, who will shadow-box someone who is not on the show to pulp with his legendary beer muscles, while you giggle your way to debating glory.

    4. If you’re Vinod Sharma, think of that Sunny Leone video you were watching last night, yes, that one only, you naughty boy… now, play it in your head right through the debate…you may get shellacked in the debate, but once the debate is over, you know who is the daddy, don’t you 🙂 Righto, then!

    • Brilliant, mate!
      4 was absolutely brilliant. He looks and acts like the shakti kapoor of news tv discussions


  • i slept while reading the article , so long .!!sara meaning hi dilute ho gaya , try to keep it short ..!!

  • Mahi

    you forgot one more thing: sermonizing and patronizing. There is a fellow called dushyant dave……man

  • chintan

    Good job, was really funny.

  • MB

    To add another from my side.. Blame the other party, because sometime in the last 65 years they did something wrong or did not do anything. Let me explain
    So if someone brings up 2002, dont answer just say 1984.
    If there is a scam, say there was one a zillion years ago when the other party was in power.
    If a new law has to be passed, and the ruling party does not want to. Just say opposition didnt do it in their time why should give a shit. Opposition has no words now.
    If you do want to pass a law, say the opposition had a similar proposition at their time that they could not complete. And opposition will say we did not want to complete.
    If someone did something that he should not have. Eg. said something outrageous, or went with goons to shake down a place. Just say we condemn any violence and don’t single out this incidence.

  • Good analysis. Thanks.

  • Anand

    Well put. Few anchors try their best to not allow panelists to get away with BS. Karan Thapar and Ravish Kumar are among them. I try to stay away from others because their discussion do not shine any new light on the matter.

  • Trisha Ray

    Brilliant. I managed to keep my cool till The Tautology Trick. Encore!

  • shree

    “although the latter does it for a good cause” – Oh Shekri, you the sons of mao/lenin cannot hide your comradery even in a suggestive communication…grow up…

  • manu

    How does using synonyms constitue tautology .

  • good one

  • Jesse James

    Part of the journalistic diligence is to get names right at least … i think its “Rahul Narvekar” NOT “Rahul Navlekar”.

    • Rajyasree

      Thank for pointing that out. We’ve corrected it.

  • Tabish

    Well observed. Though wouldn’t believe the list is so less! 😀

    Here is one I observed today while watching one debate on youtube :

    If the whole nation is outrageous on “some heinous” act or crime and all the panelist members and the angry anchor ( to be more specific Mr Arnab ) are throwing questions around “why it happened”, “what is govt doing”, “it happened last time, and happened again. what did you do to make sure it’s not repeated again”, “what did you/your party etc actually wanted/intended to do” etc, just throw, “I condemn the incident Or I apologies for any hurt it may have caused though that wasn’t my intentions Or an enquiry has been set up and stringent actions would be taken against those found guilty”.. and Bingo, you have won the battle. There is nothing left to discuss/debate and if same questions are rephrased, you just have to repeat what you just said by rephrasing it!

  • dillyya

    Humorous article. Too bad he’s a sympathesir ofnthe Naxalite escapist that is Kejriwal.

  • K_P

    good post


    “Watch the trick demonstrated by masters of it – Suhel Seth and my good friend Arvind Kejriwal (although the latter does it for a good cause).”

    In hindsight your “good friend” wasn’t in it for a “good cause” was he??
    and great that he fell flat on his face. 🙂