The headline is not clickbait. Ok, maybe a little bit. But what I’m about to tell you is not made up. Zee News did the impossible and got Bhagwan Shri Ram himself to moderate a debate on the eve of Diwali. That too in his birthplace of Ayodhya.
What was the topic of the debate? Shri Ram’s home, the controversial Mandir with a capital ‘M’, of course.
Let me describe the setting of this grand event first. Because “feels” is important here. We open with a bunch of musicians singing “Ab ki Diwali Shri Ram waali” – this Diwali is going to be Ram’s Diwali – the backdrop is a nicely decorated temple plastered with cutouts of Ram, and there is a crowd clapping wildly in tune. Enter the star of the show.
With him are Sita, Laxman and Hanuman.
As chants of “Jai Shri Ram” from the crowd die down, Ram asks innocently, “Where are we?”
“Brother, this is our Ayodhya,” Laxman responds.
“What? What did you say?” exclaims a clearly perplexed Ram. “This is our Ayodhya?”
Ram looks around and asks, “Laxman, why is Ayodhya so decorated today?”
“You and Sita mata have returned to your birthplace after 14 years of vanvaas,” responds a humble but delirious Laxman. “To express their happiness, the people here have decorated Ayodhya. There’re lamps everywhere.”
Ram nods. “To the whole kingdom, to the whole country, I wish everyone a very happy festival of lights.”
This is where Hanuman reveals his first purpose of attending this grand event. He starts chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.
I say first purpose because there is another messed up second purpose which I shall reveal later.
The music resumes and sweeping shots are shown of Ayodhya in all its glory, adorned with lakhs of teeming lamps. This sequence goes on for quite a bit, and includes Ram singing a song. Then, suddenly, the purpose of the debate is revealed in the most fascinating manner.
“Laxman,” says Ram, looking around confused, “I can’t see my home anywhere…in this Ayodhya. Where is my castle? Where’s my home?”
Sad music plays in the background.
“Laxman, why don’t you speak?” asks Ram.
Cue sad Laxman.
“I think, Laxman won’t be able to give you the answer to this question, my Lord,” says a voice. “You left in the tretayug, but today it’s kalyug.”
At this point, a person dressed in an orange kurta appears on the stage. One might assume he’s going to anchor the debate with the four legendary characters just chilling in the sidelines, being amused, Hanuman fulfilling his purpose in life by galvanizing the audience to chant every now and then.
But, nope. Boy, did Zee News spring a surprise!
The orange man introduces the panellists. More like, he names Shoib Jamai (a Muslim scholar), Vivek Virat (someone whose introduction is simply, “He worships you, Lord Ram”), and the others whose bio is basically, “Yeah, so these two also live here in Ayodhya and worship you, O Lord Ram!”
Mr Orange then leaves the floor, casually walking away. Before leaving, he insists that the panellists answer Ram’s questions themselves. Yes, just like that, Ram is the moderator, the anchor, the instigator in chief, and the most important person on TV. Surprise!
First, Jamai speaks. “O Lord Ram, your home is in our hearts. It’s in the hearts of all Indian Muslims. The whole of India is yours. But, prabhu Shri Ram, I want to say one thing with utter sadness: where were you?”
You can hear the audience rumbling in the background, probably surprised he didn’t produce an excel sheet on his phone and read out data before commencing whataboutery.
“Where were you? We were searching for you when the ‘incident’ happened 27 years ago, which broke India’s communal harmony. Had you been around, it might not have happened.”
Jamai goes on to request Ram to give a message of peace and harmony to everyone.
Now, it’s Virat’s turn. “Lord Ram, you are in our bones and every bit of my body…You had gone to kill one Ravana. But after you left, many more Ravans took birth here. They made us hate each other and did not even let us build your home. Now that you’re back, hopefully all Ravans will be eradicated like insects, and Ram’s rule will be established in the world.”
He declares this in chaste Hindi, using keet patang instead of keede makode, but we get the point. Meanwhile, the cameraman decides to reveal the second purpose of Hanuman’s presence in the programme.
Yes. He’s pressing Ram’s feet while this whole drama is unfolding. And, mind you, they show this shot multiple times during the show.
Just think about this scene for a second. This whole Zee News debate is clearly a staged “show” where people are reading out scripts, audience is being told to cheer, and such. So, someone from the production team probably had to go up to the actor playing Hanuman and tell him, “Dude, you have to keep massaging Ram’s feet, Ok?” And then, the person had to go to a cameraperson and say, “You have to zoom in on Hanuman massaging Ram’s feet, Ok?”
The poor chap playing Hanuman must have been like:
Moving on, the other panellists echo Virat’s sentiments. Probably that’s why they weren’t introduced by their names. You see, echo chambers have no names. One says the temple will be built in Ayodhya soon, another repeats it. The third one, too. Oh and they also thank Ram profusely for being amongst mere mortals on this TV show.
Ram, asking important questions
It is Ram’s turn to respond. He turns in godly fashion (read: slowly) to Jamai and says, “You asked where was I?” Clearly signalling that whataboutery works in a debate.
“Well, when selfishness comes to any mind, God goes away. Then you said many Ravans have been born? No. Ravan was a thought. I presumed Ravan is gone but now that I’m listening to you, I realize that Ravan is still here.”
Then, he turns slowly to the other panellists and adds, “You said, Ram Mandir will be built soon. I didn’t give you these thoughts. I didn’t teach you this. I taught Hanuman to do his duty, so why have you stopped doing your duty?”
“One thing I want to say to you,” says Ram. “That you aren’t giving me a single reason to do something, but many reasons to not do something. Here, you are just making accusations and counteraccusations. But my question is still the same: where is my home?”
Alright. This is where I had to pause and take a deep breath.
An actor playing Ram is asking why his temple is not built yet. The lone Muslim panellist, who oh-so-nicely says multiple times that Ram is everywhere and the whole country belongs to Ram, is being asked a counter-question in response, “Where is my home?”
Not just that, Jamai says at one point when asked this very question: “Ram cannot be imprisoned in four walls. We need to learn from the thoughts of Ram, learn from his life and imbibe the message of harmony within us…If all Indians accept your teachings, we will really become a Ram Rajya.”
To this, Virat asks the moderator, “Lord Ram, we have all said you are everywhere but I want to know from you, where do you wish to reside?”
He is clearly trying to bait Ram into saying he wants to like in a grand Mandir in Ayodhya, but our Ram is an adept moderator. Meaning, he can answer questions without really answering them.
He smiles at Virat and says godly-ly, “You said I’m in every bit and everywhere, I’m in every mind…but the mind is restless. I don’t want to stay in the mind, I want to reside in the soul.”
Cue bhakti music sequence for entry into a commercial break.
After coming back from the long commercial break, probably after the viewer has switched channels out of frustration, Sita gets some shots.
“Seete,” says Ram softly.
“Ji Prabhu,” responds Sita.
“Did you see how much love there is in Ayodhya? I have never done any discrimination…Maulana ji,” continues Ram, effortlessly moving on from Sita because, well, patriarchy. “What am I seeing here today. What is this discrimination everywhere? Who is doing this Hindu-Muslim? I don’t understand, you tell me.”
Jamai responds, “I imagine a Ram Rajya where everyone is free to express their faith…I imagine a Ram Rajya where every young person has a job, when they complete their education, they don’t have to feel helpless. I want a Ram Rajya where every woman can be free and safe.”
A no-name Hindu panellist cuts in, seemingly disturbed by this Muslim fellow who is stealing his lines. “Maulana sahab, I wish your thoughts were accepted by every Muslim in India,” he says. “Today we are in a situation where there is selfishness, there is an attempt to divide. If there were more people like you, why would we have to go to court for the Ram Mandir?”
No answer comes because the show cuts to passionate audience members dying to ask questions to Ram.
One asks, “Lord Ram, when it comes to your Mandir, people say something here and something else in court. My request to you is, please give some good sense to these people because they really require it.”
Where is the question here, you ask?
Well, there isn’t one because these are clearly devotees who have internalised the fact that it’s Ram who is on stage, not an actor prancing around and pretending to be godlike. Perhaps that is the reason why Zee News spent so much money creating this grand setting, hiring musicians, getting flashy costumes, and having a million Ram cutouts. They did it to drill it into the live audience that this is not a debate but a bhakti seminar sponsored by Dilbag Paan Masala, Amul innerwear, and Whirlpool.
Ram has one more gem to share with us: “Your Ramzan has Rum in it. It has Ram in it. Ram ki jaan, Ramzan. This is love.”
Ok. It is more of a WhatsApp message. This Ram uses WhatsApp and is amused by peace inducing puns, deal with it.
To which one panellist’s response is, “How have the people who believe in Islam got the wrong education? Their Islam teaches them to kill and murder. They have killed Kashmiri pandits in Kashmir. They issue fatwas…They violate the modesty of women. What is this education?”
Jamai throws it right back at him, saying the people who believe in the teachings of Ram are doing the same thing. “What kind of education have they got?” he asked, “We live in kalyug, there are people on both sides who are like this and don’t follow the teachings of harmony given to us by Allah and Ram.”
God-level moderating skills
The debate hots up. One broken-record panellist asks again why there are so many difficulties in building the Mandir. It gets so heated that Ram himself has to get up and say, “Shaant, shaant.” Quiet, please. Quite a display of his expert moderating skills.
“Whatever you command,” responds the rowdy no-name panellist, shutting up and actually looking apologetic. News anchors really need to learn some skills from the god they so passionately defend. All of them need to be shown this “debate”.
Towards the end, Ram gives another opportunity for Sita to shine. He insists she ask a question. Sita asks, “Why are women being tortured everywhere? It didn’t happen during out time! In our tretayug, we used to get equal rights! My name is put before Ram’s. They chant ‘Siya Ram Chandra’. But why don’t you follow this today?”
Hindu no-name responds, “Sita ji, this is because of contaminated mindsets. Our society is responsible, our people are responsible, education is responsible. Education which is supposed to be used for progress has become a business.”
“Take your example,” he continues confidently, getting personal. “I would say Ravan was good. He wouldn’t touch you without taking permission. Even demons had more civility than human beings. May Ram give good sense to everyone.”
The final comment comes from the moderator, Ram himself, of course. He says in his godly fashion, “I just want one thing from all of you. Keep the lamp of love burning within the temple of your minds.”
Jai Shri Ram, screams the public, hailing the greatest debate moderator of all time. All hail the Lord!
Then, there is music, followed by 15 minutes of advertisements. Of course.
Honestly speaking, if I were a devout thinking Hindu, I would be incredibly pissed off at this drama put on by Zee News, mocking our deities, and how. But then if I were a devout non-thinking Hindu who just wants to be entertained by news channels on Diwali night, I would be consuming this content, along with all the glorious Pan Masala and underwear ads that come with it.
Good show, Zee News. Way to do communal propaganda by having an actor dressed up as a deity looking for his contested home: “Mera ghar kahan hai?” What a clever way to brazenly violate the News Broadcasting Standards Authority’s guidelines that strictly prohibit TV news channels from speculating on the impending Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute. In my book, this is an insidious way to show your majoritarian bias and sell it as a “news debate”.
Good show, indeed.