The article has been co-authored by Anand Ranganathan and Rajyasree Sen
This was one evening when Arnab Goswami had his thunder stolen by two anchors who, in their defence, have never laid claim to be the nation’s favourite voice. The first looks so harried at times that one feels she can’t possibly lay claim to anything other than her taxi bills. The other is so busy battling her trolls that she looks stressed all through her programme – in anticipation of the online battles she must fight out as she finishes anchoring.
We’ll move chronologically. At 9 pm, the nation witnessed what it has longed to witness for years: a debate on a news channel that entertains the viewer to such stomach-bloating fulsomeness, that one bemoans the passing of time.
Yes, we are indeed talking of Ms Sonia Singh’s anchoring – or anchorage, as the case most decidedly was – of four exquisite specimens of the human race. Propriety demands that we introduce them one by one, as though they are about to enter some boxing ring, for in truth that is exactly what they entered last night.
The issue to be debated was the court-order banning 73 websites that allegedly carried statements defamatory towards IIPM, run by Professor Arindam Chaudhuri, author of Count your chickens before they hatch and Discover the diamond in you. Readers are advised to read these fine books in that order, as, from personal experience, unhatched chicken counting is way easier than discovering a diamond lodged somewhere in the innards – the best one can hope is a paltry kidney stone or two.
Accompanying Prof Arindam in this enlightening debate were three men who we’ve seen countless times before: Mr Soli Sorabjee, the legal-eagle; Prof Yogendra Yadav, the bearded oracle; and Mr Suhel Seth, the bon-vivant. Trying to keep a tight leash on the proceedings was Ms Sonia Singh, editorial director of NDTV.
Without wishing to be cruel (and defamatory), Sonia to English comprehension is what Mulayam Singh Yadav is to its Hindi counterpart. At the end of the rubbing down one feels like an unsuspecting geologist at a recently discovered oil-well: what is a trickle one moment turns all of a sudden into a torrent, only to be sucked by the powers of vacuum back to a trickle again, not long before yet another torrent-attack. At times the torrent is so powerful that one wishes one was Bertie Wooster, the Wodehousian character who, in trying to avoid one of his formidable aunts turns around so fast he collides with himself entering the hall.
Mr Sorabjee, on the other hand, has no such problems. He has aged well – we have been privy to the entire painful process. As to what he was doing on the debate, no one, least of all Mr Sorabjee, had a clue. That, however, didn’t seem to bother him as he munched an elaichi to pulp in full public view, waiting to be consulted on a truly perplexing and confounding question of law.
Yogendra Yadav was the other professor on the panel, and one whose professorship is as different in its tone and intellect from Prof Chaudhuri’s as a Dada Kondke film is from Bela Tarr’s. Prof Yadav speaks so slowly and so eloquently, and so slowly again, that his mere presence is an anachronism of sorts in the current magma of TV debates. On more than one occasion Prof Arindam could be seen whistling to himself, filing his fingernails, correcting his ponytail, brushing dust off his velvet jacket, steaming his designer glasses, narrating poetry to himself, calculating how many millions he made last week…all well within the time it took for Prof Yadav’s utterances to rebound around the studio walls and settle back down again.
About Suhel we shall not say much, especially because whatever possible was there to say about him has been said already; er, except to say that he is a sight for tired eyes, a beacon for wayward travellers, a drink for exhausted souls, a massive pound of flesh for ITC.
The gong struck and the debate duly started.
Now Arindam looks to be a reasonable man, albeit one with a well-oiled ponytail, but what is astonishing is the smooth as Italian marble texture of his facial skin, as though his barber – at gun-point – has been made to rub a hunk of fitkari till it diminishes to the size of a goat-dropping. They can play billiards on that surface, the only hitch being the shards of lip cuts the players would have to negotiate every time they pocket a white. All of which tells you something about the perils of unbridled capitalism: that you may have a custom-coloured Bentley, preach simultaneously from 29 full-to-capacity motivational speech stadiums, run a full-fledged daily called IIPM Times, but you’ll never earn enough to buy that trusted lip balm – always in the wife’s handbag, but where was she?!
But nothing prepared us for the verbal and visual gems which would follow. Suhel referred to Sorabjee as “uncle” and imparted PR wisdom to Arindam. Arindam told Yogendra Yadav that UGC was full of frauds and it looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel at one point – whose blood vessel one couldn’t guess. Suhel, meanwhile, kept smiling at someone who was off-camera. And Yogendra – when he got a chance to speak – explained in a mellifluous voice that UGC is not full of frauds and is indeed a worthy organisation. Soli told Arindam repeatedly that if he has a grouse he should go to court. To which the very deferential Arindam said, “Sir – that’s exactly what I have done!” And through it all Sonia nodded her head vigorously. Suhel did steal the show by advising Arindam to wear his “ponytail with pride”.
And just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get better on news television, come 10.30 pm and CNN IBN, there was a more harassed and worked up Arindam Chaudhuri in a resplendent new suit to boot. Which was understandable going by the line-up of bêtes noire of Arindam which Sagarika had lined up. The panel to discuss “Is the mass blocking of websites critical of IIPM justified?” included Shivam Vij founder of Kafila, Maheshwar Peri of Careers360 magazine and lawyer Pawan Duggal.
And what followed was better than any reality TV programme this side of the Chambal. A very belligerent Arindam was shouted at by both Shivam and Peri whenever he tried to interrupt them, resulting in the Professor being reduced to nothing more than a petulant angry boy who needed to rush for no. 1, judging by the unreal quantity of water he drank through the moments he was not allowed to shout. To give credit where due, Sagarika played placator, reprimander and moderator to the best of her ability and shushed up Chaudhuri as much and as often as she could. Chaudhuri, meanwhile, displaying excellent composure and an envious way with words, also told her she was talking “bullshit”. At one point, Shivam Vij called Arindam a “big bully” who doesn’t understand defamation. To which Arindam turned apoplectic. Against all odds, Arindam reached over and placed his hand gently over Vij’s hand and called him “my friend”. It was one of the warmest moments of news television in recent times. Vij duly returned the favour by advising the screaming Arindam to “calm down, calm down, drink some water”. After he had calmed down, the good professor scored one of many self-goals by saying, “if anyone is spreading falsehood, I’m going to contest it”. Thank god he hadn’t taken a look at his own ads.
Where Sagarika managed to win out over Sonia was that her panel actually discussed the loophole in the law which allowed people to block any site they wanted to, without allowing the blocked party to present a defence or challenge the decision. The panel discussion ended with Sagarika trying to sum up, while in the background you could hear Vij riling up Chaudhuri by telling him to hang him and Chaudhuri saying “why should I hang you, why, why?” This was reality TV at its best.
Good job ladies. You really gave thorns to competition and made sure we forgot about the voice of the nation. And to borrow a phrase from Arindam, we can only hope that this isn’t “the final act” in the panel discussions in which he features.
Image by: Swarnabha Banerjee