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Caught in the Baffling Array of Choices!

by Sudha Chandrasekaran

I, for sure, am quite confused about having 150 channels to select from which my service providers gives me , as to whether to consider it as a profitable deal or whether to reverse the clock to our granular black and white TV sets of 1970s when all that was telecast was DD1 and DD2. These 150 channels that are provided include over 80 or even more channels in languages with which we are not at all that conversant- may be Punjabi or Urdu or Oriya or Russian or Japanese… which are Greek and Latin to me. Getting back to Doordarshan, DD1 dealt with mainly currents affairs and news. The news focused mainly on agriculture, whereas current affairs was one in which were seen a foursome discussing, yes your guess is correct, agricultural numbers. Riveting matters, if that’s your cup of tea. At times, just for variety sake and drive away monotony of the same subject, the same four people would discuss numbers concerned with industrial production, which at times would become quite exciting. Particularly that topic about how India could turn self-sufficient in steel and iron at the current rate of output, thus preventing the necessity for imports and the subsequent saving of valuable foreign exchange. The panelists held the discussions animatedly and we, the viewers were part of their exuberance. After all it is not an everyday occurrence that the prospect of import replacement through zest of domestic production came to delight us.

As though all this was not entertainment enough, DD2 was set afloat with the intention of providing the viewers with light entertainment, which generally was in the form of Chitrahaar, a 30-minute filmy song programme of Hindi songs of yester years, probably from the 50s and the 60s. Then we were treated to KrishiDarshan, a programme mainly dedicated to farmers and their social and cultural milieu, mixed with film songs, mainly of the patriotic type, featuring Sunil Dutt or Manoj Kumar. They were seen humming a popular agrarian song with patriotic fervour, whilst ploughing the field. ‘Mere desh ki dharti’ was one of the most popular songs sung in euphonious voice of Mahendra Kapoor. In the background, a bevy of rustic belles well spruced up in a uniquely filmy fashion swayed rhythmically to the number; and to the swinging of wheat and rice fields. Many a time we could see Saira Banu or Mumtaz decked up as tantalizing ‘village beauties’, with Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle joining the playback group to the wonderful duet.

Weekends always meant double dhamaka! It was one feature film each, on DD2, every Saturday and Sunday. Every nook and corner of India came to a standstill during the evenings on weekends. All the streets were deserted, with almost all families glued to their TV sets. It was similar to what happened when Mahabharat was telecast a couple of decades later. Actors like Rajendran Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor held sway, entertaining us with ‘Sooraj’, ‘Ram aur Shyam’, ‘’ and ‘Mera Naam Joker’ and similar hits of yesteryears. Sunday afternoon movies that were screened were regional feature films which were invariably award winning ones that were mostly slow motion in nature which would put you to sleep given the timing of the programme which was post prandial. The hardly readable and fast moving subtitles did little to increase our understanding of the movie, if at all we were awake and watching the movie, as they were far beyond our comprehension. This I am mentioning with due apologies to film makers like Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and their genre.

Coming back to the current times, holding my Tata Sky remote in my hand, I keep switching from Ajay Devgan to Shah Rukh to Rajinikanth to Vijaykanth to Aamir Khan, to KamalHaasan to Vidhya Balan to Jyotika to Rajdeep Sardesai to Nidhi Razdan, think better of it and switch to the much silent WION; all within a few minutes. Then again we have several exclusive news channels like CNN, BBC etc. Again what if there is no live match-tennis, Premier League football, international cricket or Premier League football on offer? Well I switch over to Netflix or Amazon prime where, once again, I am flooded with a plethora of serials, live music shows, movies in several languages, documentaries…..The list is endless. Some of the long playing serials possess the infinite merit of keeping me going for weeks together with a fairly decent theme. Even Netflix has a wide choice and it may be a coin toss which decides our pick of the movie or serial.

What about sports channels? We notice several sponsored kabaddi on some of the sports channels, with well-known celebrities cheering their teams. There is however no reliable
source of information on how many viewers are there for this uniquely Indian contact sport. Of course, Kabaddi is not my cup of tea. Well, I am not being too aristocratic when I say this. I am unable to contend with (pun intended) several youngsters pushing each other in order to prevent the opponent from crossing a demarcated line. Here is a quick word on rugby, a minor sport in India. In my very humble view, it’s a ludicrous game where we see the team moving forward towards the goal of the opposite team, all the while throwing the ball backwards to your own team mate. I would rather say nothing about kicking the ball whenever it catches the player’s fancy. What I mean by ‘ball’, loosely translates to the description of a strange object that is oval in shape and jiggles whenever you try and kick it. I would also reserve my comments about the continuous falling of players one over the other during the scrum. It’s hardly a surprise that almost every gigantic rugby player appears as though he just ran into a brick wall.

Then again we have yet another spread of basket of channels that include categories of science, animal and nature. Several of these are splendidly captured in the lens and are remarkably captivating. But then again, where do we find time between Arnab Goswami’s highly spirited debates and Virat Kohli’s heroics? To say nothing of the Prime Minister’s achievements shown in some channels and his failures highlighted in others and periodic tete a tete, between celebrities including sportspersons, politicians, actors…. If for some esoteric reason, I switch to one of the animal channels, it is mostly that of a lion and his mate being intimate with each other. It is indeed a natural act but telecasting it every now and then, we are not spared of the X-rated action.
Traversing from this to the more sublime ones, there is no dearth of religious channels on offer, encompassing almost each and every religion. We see Pujaris, Pastors and Priests of almost every description occupy slots in a number of channels where bhajans, lectures, and live telecast as well of famous rituals are made available to the devotees. Added to all these are the fitness and yoga channels, by watching and following which you are promised of a clean body and a pure thinking mind. But, we have no viewership numbers to ascertain the number of people watching these preachy programmes, but it is rather comforting to know that they are there for viewing.

Finally, I would like to mention here that watching television is more taxing these days than in bygone years. I know of guys who are sports enthusiasts who would like to watch an India-England ODI and a Wimbledon match, which are being telecast at the same time. They record Wimbledon and watch the cricket live with bowls of popcorn in front of them. Woe betides anyone who spills the news that Nadal beat Federer and is the Wimbledon champion in the final. There will be frenzied chaos all around. Yes, that game had been reserved, post facto, for enjoyment during the wee hours of morning, before the arrival of the newspaper boy and definitely could spoil the fun of the final set.

It is said that multiple choice is a great blessing. This may be true with regard to exams wherein there will be a selection from five alternative answers and we need to ‘tick the box.’ But when we have to select a channel for viewing in our idiot box, I would like to get into a time machine and travel back to the 1960s and 1970s. Shammi Kapoor/Sharmila Tagore starrer ‘Kashmir ki Kali’ would be a good one to start with. Alternatively, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in ‘Sound of Music’ will score equally well.

Well, after completing the final draft of this article, I walked across to one of the newly opened tea bars to unwind. To my humble request of ‘please give me a hot cup of tea’, the waiter returned with ‘large, medium or small, black or lemon or green, with or without milk, no sugar or less sugar…..’ at which point I just thanked him and left the bar. Walked across the road to the conventional Annapoorna where, without taking a seat I just had a delicious cup of hot Darjeeling tea for Rs.15/- with no questions asked. I walked out in ten minutes fully contented and energetic with my savings of Rs.50!

It is again the media hype which is misleading the people. Finally I would say that the enormity of choice in today’s home entertainment is more of a curate’s egg which is good only partially.

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