The Big Love

In this ‘special’ episode, Vikram Chandra asks if India is in agony or ecstasy? After the show I knew where I stood.

WrittenBy:Sunayana Singh
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It takes some amount of effort to win the battle of the remote, so once I had it firmly in my control, NDTV 24X7’s The Big Fight was my choice of the evening. Yes, you’re not perfect either. But this was a special episode on India@65 – Cynical Or Hopeful, to discuss if the national mood is too negative?

It kind of succeeded there. I had a bad feeling from the beginning. The nature of the debate was so vague, just about anyone could’ve said anything. And they did. And considering there were not four, not five, not six but NINE guests on the show, there was a hell of a lot of talking. And the following is what really pisses me off about the show: 7 guests standing, STANDING, (like they’re on trial) and two via link. Every time I watch The Big Fight I find it a downright travesty that the seven panelists (some of them getting on in age) have to stand in a semi-circle around Lord Vikram Chandra (VC) who sits comfortably on his chair! Bad manners. I was feeling tired just looking at them.  Arnab would never do that. Arnab would stand. And Arnab would fight. Something – the once upon a time cutie pie, now slightly-chubby with bags under his eyes – Vikram can’t possibly do.

So the whole debate from the beginning was a bit strange. Is national mood too negative? Probably not, but now that you’re harping on it…

The bands at the bottom of the screen kept up the negativity.

Band: Is the national mood in sync with reality? The question is VC, is your mood in sync with reality?

So The Big Fight panelists were the following. Some very affable chap from the RSS – Ram Madhav. Trust Vik to find a nice, most non-controversial RSS guy who won’t pick a fight, and come across as very reasonable. Next was some Tehseen Poonawala – hospitality and fitness entrepreneur (who is the latest flavour of the month on every TV panel), Harsh Mandar (the voice of the marginalised), Morad Ali Khan – the shooter (voice of sportspersons), Mridula Mukherjee – Professor of Modern History from JNU (voice of guess who?), Jaideep Sahni – via link, screenwriter (voice of Bollywood), and Prashant Bhushan – via link (voice of IAC) and my favourite, Suhel Seth – Managing Parnter Counselage (the loudest voice). Oh, and there was the Chairman of Shell, Vikram Mehta. And maybe I missed someone but that’s really not my problem. If you put so many people in one place, hardly any one will have a chance to really get their point across. Or be noticed. Meanwhile the bands continued to change.

Band: Despite problems will India thrive? It might, but your show won’t. At least not with such vague topics.

The first rule in starting an intelligent fight on a show is probably not to have  so many people on your panel. And even if you do, try and pick some volatile beings who can have a charged debate. Instead, Suhel Seth (god bless him for making it a bit interesting) hit the nail right on the head when he said the media plays a big role in perpetuating the negative mood by constantly harping on bad news.

Vik Chandra took it very personally (as he should have). And quickly dismissed Suhel. Unfortunately for him, his “fight” went nowhere. Everyone was pretty much positive about the future.

Band: Is India the country for the future? (What does that even mean?)

Then Suhel was back: NDTV should move away from the negativity and start happy hour on TV. Take the lead.

Then you had the same people repeating similar stuff.

RSS: People are speaking up. Taking things into their hands. People are standing up to black money and corruption. The elite are negative. Middle class is positive. Let us see the stories of success. I am confident this churning will lead to a better future in the country.

Poonawala: Says for once he agrees with RSS (We care less about whom he agrees with and more about what he’s even doing on this panel.) People from US want to come back here.

Jaideep Sahni – Finally his turn! Must’ve been asleep. Film industry is being positive but not reflective of the whole country. Is there a churning? Yes. Only positive films tend to get made. They do what the audiences tell them to do. So the film world wildly celebrates all the positive things. 

Mridula: (In response to Suhel’s comment on the poor not caring about democracy). That the poor do not care about democracy is rice bowl theory. They have the same needs. In fact they have a greater stake. Look at it from the perspective of how far we’ve come vis-a-vis other democracies. Atta girl. We need to be confident in our successes.

Harsh: Yamuna Pushta dwellers were celebrating Independence Day beautifully. Secular democracy. So upper middle classes are more pessimistic. Everybody seems to agree on that.

Uh oh! Too much agreeing happening on this show.

The lone voice of dissent was Prashant Bhushan: Anti-corruption movement has had large-scale involvement by youngsters. Macro picture shows great levels of destitution. 2 lakh farmer suicides never happened before. 78% people living on less than 20 rupees. We have more malnourished kids than sub Saharan Africa. Sit and see what’s going on. Failure of governance.

Then the debate went onto a bizarre tangent. VC brings up India’s Olympic medals and how some are calling six medals a failure. Finally the shooter speaks. Hallelujah! And he goes onto the problem of India being unhygienic! Vikram Chandra disagrees about hygiene standards.

Band: Is national mood too negative? (It is now!! My husband has mounted an offensive to snatch the remote).

VC tries again to support his BS argument. “Are we being negative about the medals?” Shooter says we have to be negative. Till you desire for more you won’t get more. Good point. Now this “fight” is really going nowhere.

Band: Despite problems will India thrive? (Please stop.)

Break – Thank the lord. I can now see something about the airhostess who killed herself. Much more interesting. Did someone say something about us being negative?

Break over: Only 2 minutes though.

We go to the Audience.

Everyone thinks India is going to be a better place: Only one odd probably-planted girl doesn’t seem to think so and she gets to talk. But she’s in a minority.

Harsh Mandar: If there were a different group of kids, say Dalits, the mood would still be positive but tinged with suffering. These kids will have a better India if they care about the other India. He’s right. This audience looks like it’s been airlifted from a well to do North Campus Delhi college.

By now VC has realized his “fight” has slowly died a painfully prolonged and boring death. Much to his chagrin, almost everyone is thinking “positive”. Must be so annoying when they don’t follow the script!

VC: Are the panelists surprised with reaction of students? They are not. I am not.

Band: Send comments to /vikram (now you’re talking).

Suhel takes a final shot: The media is responsible so I hope you can sleep well tonight thinking that you were partly responsible for this negativity. Call this programme the big love instead of the big fight. He was reminded by VC that he himself had suggested the name.

VC then ends with the face saving line, “Consensus is rare on big fight. For once we all agree”. We also should agree to junk this show or at least this format where there are nine people who get in two or three lines at the most. Hardly a setup for a fight or a reasonable debate of any kind. Just a mish-mash with few members in the audience who seem like they’ve been told to take the opposing line. Alternatively, they could name the show The Big Yawn so people know what they’re getting into.

What makes it worse is when you compare The Big Fight to its predecessor, the original The Big Fight which used to be hosted by Rajdeep Sardesai -which was shelved for a while when Rajdeep moved onto greener pastures.

Rajdeep’s The Big Fight used to have 3 panelists. Of whom, two had opposing views and the third was an expert on the topic being discussed. The panelists were never just random people unlike VC’s version – where whoever seems to be free that evening is called on the panel. It was a proper informed debate and every panelist got enough time to make her/his point, and then counter the counterpoint. In VC’s show, every panelist barely got a few lines in before it was the next one’s turn – after all, there were nine of them!

Rajdeep’s panels always included only those who were either part of the issue being discussed, or were involved in the issue in some manner. When they had The Big Fight on sting operations, it featured Shakti Kapoor. The Telgi scam one featured Chaggan Bhujbal. Not some random fitness entrepreneur who happens to be doing the rounds of TV panels.

The show had a clear structure. “First Punch’’ in which the facts were discussed. The second round – “Counter Punch” in which the panelists put across their points of view. There was even a section where public opinion and comments were taken, called – “Ring Side” in which people were allowed to ask questions which the panelists then had to answer and respond to. Sometimes the show would even feature a public poll.

Rajdeep used to not only have his facts in place but also voiced them without hesitation. And was more than happy to encourage his panelists to have a go at each other. But then those were the good old days. Now we have to make do with good boy VC and his super-boring super-populated debate show.

Anyway, enough of VC’s big yawn. I give the remote to my husband, and even agree to watch cricket. (An old recorded match).

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