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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