Saturday, April 28, 2007

Of Lizard Men and Soap Queens

In my single-minded, ceaseless pursuit of the Booker Prize, I’m always looking for something to write about in these musings. It isn’t easy…I live a mundane life with little contact with people other than my wife and son. I live with my in-laws, in a part of Shillong notoriously called the “Wild West”, a misnomer if ever there was one!

My wife and her family are ardent fans of Indian television. My own experience of Indian TV were vague recollections of a single Doordarshan channel in the late 80’s where one had no choice but to catch the occasional Chitrahaar and Mr. Yogi, in between educational programs by IGNOU hosted by half dead professors, which were irrelevant to anyone including it’s own students. And thanks to that, I was able to bypass TV to play outdoors instead, thus having what could be considered a healthy childhood. Now, at the ripe old age of 27, and because of my wife and in-laws' TV habits, I’ve finally started watching Indian TV…

I was not brought up in Shillong, but I did make a conscious effort to avoid Hindi commercial movies and TV. I just could not stomach some of the concepts that were dished out to us…heros who would beat up a hundred bad guys, then dance like idiots around trees in the very next scene, besides the blatant sexist depiction of women in these movies made me sick. But it was the ground breaking movie Mein Hoon Na that changed my life forever. The year was 2004 and I had just graduated and got a job with the Taj Group of hotels in Bangalore. As a team building exercise, we went out for a movie, the above mentioned. I was not thrilled, but needed the job, and so tagged along. Mein Hoon Na was the first Hindi movie I was seeing in about 10 years, and I was prepared for what I thought would be the usual fare. But Indian cinema had changed in the 10 years I was away, and as the first scene rolled out, I saw slick terrorists creating havoc till Shah Rukh Khan came to the rescue, crawling upside down on the roof!! As he flew, yes flew, from one bad guy to another, I felt my head spin, I lost control of all my motor functions and my mouth went dry. I could not run and I could not cry for help. During the next three and a half hours, I felt my mental abilities slowly but surely come on par with that of a dead door nail. At the end of the movie, I was bathed in sweat and foaming at the mouth. I left the job soon after and till today, when I enter a room, I look up fearfully at the roof expecting to see Shah Rukh Khan crawling upside down on it.

And so it was with some trepidation that I prepared myself for my next tryst with Indian TV. Having been suitably rehabilitated through large doses of Comedy Central’s South Park and The Daily Show, I felt I could look Ekta Kapoor square in the eye and say, ‘bring it on!’. Alas, it was not to be! You see, Ekta Kapoor is one smart cookie…unlike her movie producing counterparts whose audience primarily comprises of village idiots, she’s aiming for the urban elite. Instead of the full frontal assault on the brain that commercial Hindi movies accords to its viewers, immediately rendering them as smart as George Bush on a particularly bad day, Ekta Kapoor in her soaps uses a more subtle approach. The lack of a storyline is offset by panning cameras accompanied by brain numbing background scores, which I am convinced contain subliminal messages urging us to do anything and everything that Ekta Kapoor says! The woman is a genius… and I must admit that I’m hooked. Can Bani save Mr. Walia from her evil sister? How can Saloni and her family escape from her husband’s first wife’s clutches? Will the camera pan to Preeti from the right or from the left? Oh! The agony of it all!

As I wait breathless for the next installment of Saas Bahu, I lay shamed that I am no better than those I used to poke fun at…and serve this warning to the unsuspecting, no matter who you are, where you are, beware! Ekta’s looking to get you!