Advantage Out

Vijay Amritraj’s new show on CNN-IBN manages to bore, despite Sharon Stone’s leg-crossing presence.

ByPriya Kale
Advantage Out
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There are some questions mankind will never find the answers to. How does one squeeze that last bit of ketchup from the bottle? Will Shirish Kunder ever make a movie that doesn’t kill half your brain cells? Why in the world is Vijay Amritraj hosting a talk show featuring yesteryear celebrities?

Dimensions is Amritraj’s latest flirtation with television which airs on CNN-IBN every Saturday. It is meant to be a “first of a kind” show which “unravel(s) the true individual behind all the glitter and charisma” – that is, if the “true individual” is not much more than the Wikipedia entry on him or her. But more griping about that in a bit.

A guest list that boasts Sharon Stone, Pierce Brosnan, Donald Trump and Hugh Heffner among others is impressive on the face of it. One would expect a half-hour of engaging conversation and witty banter. Instead, Dimensions becomes a rocking chair for those in the twilight of their celebrity-hood to sit in and recall fond memories that really don’t mean much to anyone except the speaker himself (or herself). Why CNN-IBN, a news channel, is airing a chat show which has nothing to do with news, economics, politics or even sports (unless you count the Steffi Graf interview) is a mystery.

Successful Indian talk shows have been built on a strong overall aura and the host’s distinctive style. Think of the snazzy Koffee With Karan set with its hampers and rapid fire rounds or the saccharine white sweetness of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal (don’t snigger okay! She was our only answer to Oprah back in the 90s!). Amritraj displays neither the personality nor the panache required to pull off a snappy and entertaining 30-minute programme – a major flaw if you want the viewer to come back for Part Two of the interview the following Saturday.

Veejay, as he is called, meekly gushes through his conversations without challenging the guests or steering the show. Boring, formulaic and predictable, his style seems to have taken inspiration from all the tedious bits of the Wiki format – Early life, career (1980-1990s, 1990-2000s, 2003 – do you even care that I’m yawning right now?) and social causes. Mr Amritraj is so overawed by the glam value of the “icon” in front of him, he forgets that merely getting Pierce Brosnan to parrot what we already know about him does not make for very interesting viewing, which brings me to flaw number two.

Talk shows are essentially meant to bring a celebrity closer to his fan base, for him to tell them “look, I’m just like you. I laugh, I cry and I feel pain. Setbacks hurt me as much as my successes elate me”. By turning it into a vicarious sneak peek into the locker rooms of the rich and famous, Dimensions does nothing to reduce that gap or to tailor it to an Indian audience. Who cares if Julia Taylor was the casting director who chose Sharon Stone as an extra opposite Woody Allen in Stardust Memories? Or what Timothy Dalton’s career would have been like had Martin Campbell directed him in the Bond franchise?

These names don’t mean much to me or the average viewer who would probably be more interested in knowing about how Brosnan dealt with the reportedly crushing blow of his first wife’s death.

It does have its fun moments though. The Donald Trump exhibit was the most entertaining of the lot. How can he be charming, arrogant, boastful and funny all at once AND make Veejay feel like he’s the one being interviewed? Love him or loathe him and his blond beehive, the man knows how to play to his audience, giving more emphasis than required on his Taj Mahal Casino and its “Indian” connection. It was the most multi-faceted conversation of them all. His preference for a hotel over a casino for instance, was an interesting insight into a small bit of Trump’s business decision-making methods.

The last bit of Sharon Stone’s episode on the other hand, was watchable for very different, point-and-laugh type reasons. The first half was unspectacular enough for me to reach for my phone and beat my Brick Breaker high-score (42,000 points, woo hoo!). I expected things to get racier when she started talking about Basic Instinct, but somehow even that turned into a yawn-fest. The host could have jumped in here and asked her about her catfight with the director, Paul Verhoven, over the infamous uncrossing of legs scene but he let it pass. Sigh. KJo would’ve started with that, you know. Anyhow, things got interesting with Stone’s facepalmy statements on her experience of hosting the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and on why she wants to visit India (to see the Ganges because she’s a Buddhist…I’m not even going to try and decipher this one). Here’s a sample:

“People who think at this level, have really umm released a lot of conflict (?!)…Just the moment I met him (Muhammad Yunus), I said, ‘you know, I really would like to hug you. I feel such a sense of affinity for you’… We ended up just hanging out.”

All in all, Dimensions is a disappointment. The guests are meant to be global icons but that’s only if your definition of global is limited to “he who lives in Amreeka”. It has the potential to become dapper and distinctive if only it just grows a spine and gets a massive infusion of snazz and attitude. Vijay Amritraj should get a proper set, mix up his questioning style a bit and heck, even throw in some corny tennis puns or metaphors if that helps, because for now, this match seems like nothing but a washout.

‘Dimensions’ airs on CNN-IBN at 10 PM on Saturdays with a repeat telecast at 7:30 PM on Sundays.

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