Passing Comments

Only A Number

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Indian cinema has long been notorious for its ridiculous gender gap. That fifty plus heroes are paired with heroines who are half their age (or less) even in this day and age is not something that is surprising anymore – in fact, it’s convention. The situation is just as bleak in the west, with Hollywood also afflicted by similar gender parity in both casting and in pay. It’s as if every female actress in the world comes with some kind of expiry date, after which they’re exiled to smaller, less significant roles. While films still have a long way to go, it’s heartening to note that television, or at least recent television has created a space for older female actors. More and more shows with strong women leads who don’t necessarily fit into the cookie-cutter versions of female TV characters (young, beautiful and full of first world problems) have been cropping up the past year.

Take the case of Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ll admit that despite being a huge fan, I was relieved to see the end of Sex And The City. It was painful to watch her as Carrie in the last few seasons, for she had obviously aged but was still being written like a twenty-year-old. In her newest show Divorce, however, she takes on the role of a woman struggling through a dysfunctional, middle-aged marriage. The show works because of its painful honesty, an honesty that wouldn’t have been possible without the caliber of an actress like Sarah Jessica Parker, who doesn’t just play Frances, but becomes her.

Winona Ryder, one of the eighties’ most iconic actresses, made a splash on the smaller screen by wresting all attention in Stranger Things. Her performance as the distraught small town who must make sense of the bizarre happenings that shroud her son’s disappearance made the show for me. Interestingly enough, the other character who stands apart among the varied and diverse cast of the show, is twelve-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. Brown blew me away as ‘Eleven’, a child on whom unspeakable experiments have been conducted on, and is additional proof that when it comes to being a lead, age and gender are mere constructs.

Grace and Frankie rounds off the list of my favourite shows with unconventional and (much) older female leads. This heartwarming comedy about two seventy-year-olds trying to reclaim whatever is left of their lives after their husbands declare their love for each other, resonated with me in ways I never expected it to. Given how sixty plus actresses are usually relegated to two minute roles of crazy grandmother, it’s brilliant to see 78-year-old Jane Fonda and 77-year-old Lily Tomlin light up the screen the way that they do, and have always done.

There are a few more shows that I can list with older and nuanced female leads. There’s How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis as a powerful lawyer with a turbulent life, and although I’ve stopped watching Empire, there’s really no doubt in my (or anyone else’s) mind that the life of the show is Taraji P Henson in her role as Cookie Lyon. Veep is another example of a series whose success has hinged entirely on Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ comic talent and timing.

Shows which are brave enough to go all out on a female lead are few, but it is heartening to note that there is a palpable change taking place across the film and television fraternity. One can only hope that more shows with older female leads make it to screen, after all, actresses, like fine wine, only get better as they age.

The 10 Best Shows of 2016

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

There was an avalanche of new content that stormed our television screens during 2016, but some shows stood much taller than the rest. Here are the 10 best shows of 2016, in no particular order –

the crown on netflixThe Crown: The Crown traces the life and times of a young Queen Elizabeth as she struggles to balance the monumental responsibility that has been thrust on her, with her once ‘regular’ life. Claire Foy is stunning in her portrayal as a young woman with an immense burden on her shoulders. The show is visually arresting, tightly scripted and is proof that story-telling is, and always will be superior to big budget special effects. {Netflix}

Westworld: What happens when robots created solely for the purpose of human pleasure discover consciousness? Worse, what happens when they realize the magnitude of the abuse that they’ve been put through? A mind-bending storyline with equally confounding twists and a cast that reads like an honour roll, no show this year is capable of making you stay up at night the way Westworld is. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things: The eighties are back with this eerie sci-fi mystery that plays like a Stephen King novel brought to life. Stranger Things boasts of not only Winona Ryder (who is flawless as a distraught small town mother trying to make sense of aliens in her backyard), but also the most lovable 10 year olds in recent television history. {Netflix}

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The Night Of: Dark and gripping, The Night Of is, to borrow from the show itself, a subtle beast. Naz Khan, every bit a good Muslim boy, finds himself accused of a gory murder, and it doesn’t help that he has no recollection of events. Riz Ahmed, John Turturro and Bill Camp are fantastic in this courtroom drama that makes no mince of discussing racial prejudice and Islamophobia in the backdrop of the American justice system. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The Night Manager: John Le Carre’s riveting espionage novel is brought to life by this lavish BBC production which has some sublime acting performances. Hugh Laurie doesn’t just play, but transforms into Richard ‘The Worst Man In The World’ Roper, a billionaire weapons dealer, and Olivia Colman is brilliant as Angela Burke, the very pregnant and very determined British enforcement agent who’s out to catch him. As for Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager may as well be the show which cements his place as the next James Bond. {Amazon Prime Video}

Game of Thrones (Season 6): The sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered this year, with each episode having a bigger revelation than the next. With resurrections, family reunions and sweet revenge, the sixth season was probably the fastest moving in terms of storyline after the first, and the final episodes of the season, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘Winds of Winter’ were television masterpieces. If you’d abandoned the show a few seasons ago, now is the time to catch up. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The People vs OJ Simpson – American Crime Story: The miniseries that swept the Emmy’s this year, People vs OJ Simpson resurrects the real courtroom drama of the infamous murder trial that shook ‘90s America. The screenplay is such that it’ll have you on the edge of your seat, even though the events that transpired are now history. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Black Mirror: Black Mirror is a compilation of 6 episodes, each narrating a different (horror) story detailing our relationships, and growing reliance on technology. Whether it’s the story of killer robotic bees or a future where your worth is measured in ‘likes’, Black Mirror will have you looking at your phones very differently. {Netflix}

Better Call Saul (Season 2): Better Call Saul might only be two seasons old, but the spin-off has already outdone its much celebrated original, Breaking Bad. The series about a small time lawyer’s path to becoming an ace con-man has excellent story-telling, sharp dialogue, terrific acting, and is one of the best shows on TV right now. {Colors Infinity}

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The Americans (Season 4): The thriller series about two Russian spies living average American lives during the peak of the Cold War only got better this year. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give extraordinary performances, yet again, as the show dives even deeper into the complex themes of identity, patriotism and family, with a few wigs thrown in. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

 

You can read the round up of my favourites from 2015, here.

Season Finale

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Chennai and the month of December, it would seem, just can’t seem to get along. As if the Chief Minister’s death the previous week wasn’t difficult enough, the city was hit with a storm the likes of which it hasn’t witnessed in decades. Truth be told, when news of the cyclone Vardah and its intensity were first announced the weekend before the storm hit, I was only amused. Plenty of cyclone warnings have been issued to the city over the years, and most of them have ended up travelling north and dissipating, while the rest of us enjoyed a holiday at its expense. Needless to say, my amusement quickly became mortification as the cyclone began to, quite literally, bang on our doors.

My household was, rather, is among the many neighbourhoods that has been left powerless in the wake of the storm, and mobile network connectivity is still only patchy at best. So what does a television addict watch when power and internet, the two pillars of modern TV, are decimated?

cyclone vardah
The view from our house.

I watched nature, in all her fury, bring a city down to its knees. I was one of the many fools in the city who insisted on going up to the terrace to ‘experience’ the storm for myself, and I will confess that it is by sheer luck that I am sitting here, typing this, instead of being admitted in the hospital for injuries inflicted by vagrant flying branches. I’d seen plenty of storms and cyclones on well, television, but to actually be in the middle of one, even if it was only for three odd minutes, rattled me to the bone.

Once the storm had settled, I watched the broken stumps and branches of trees which had long been part of the scenery of my childhood, cleared from the roads on which they had fallen. I watched the city bleed in shades of green and brown.

2016, in television terms, has had more twists, turns and deaths than the most gruesome and shocking of shows, and has made us hold our collective breaths in anticipation of what’s next. When December arrived, I had wholeheartedly believed that we’d come to the end of a very difficult year, but I was wrong. This month with its deaths, storms and the inhuman siege of Aleppo in Syria already has the world reeling. I can only hope that the season finale of 2016 is one that is placid and peaceful, for I doubt that the world can watch any more.

Of News and Newsrooms

It’s been a difficult week for those in Tamil Nadu, and more so, in Chennai – the state’s Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa (fondly referred to as Amma), who assumed office after winning a historic re-election only this May, passed away after being hospitalized in the city for two months. She had succumbed to complications following a cardiac arrest.
News of the cardiac arrest came on Sunday evening, sparking endless rumours on Whatsapp and other social media channels. Despite the rumour-mongers’ (and my) best efforts, it was announced that Monday was to be a normal working day.

It was around 3 PM when more news reports started pouring in of her critical state, and we were asked to leave office. We were to hope for recovery, but we were also to be safe. The entire time on the tense ride back home, I followed the tickers of the Tamil news channels. After all, the regional news channels of today are far more savvy than their counterparts of a decade ago. Even if they continue to have their political biases (but then again, which channel doesn’t?) they are equipped with the latest technologies, articulate newsreaders and smart reporters, all of which make for reliable programming.

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Or so I believed.

A few hours later, when I was back in the safety of my house and family, a lone Tamil news channel came out with the stunning news that the CM had passed. It didn’t take long for a few other channels to follow, channels which I had always pegged to be trustworthy, unbiased and dependable. Naturally, I, like the other thousands of people who agitated in front of the hospital and put out eulogies on social media, believed it to be true.

Only, half hour later, we were told by the hospital that she was very much alive. The news channels immediately pretended like nothing even happened, the crowds calmed, social media outraged, and an entire city hung on to hope for an unlikely miracle. She passed away six hours later, but the question still remained – How do you declare the end of a life, a very important life, with the confidence, but without the official word the way these channels did?

Aaron Sorkin, the famed writer behind The West Wing, is also the creator of The Newsroom, a short-lived, but immensely watchable show about the happenings in well, a newsroom. There is a particular episode where the events that play out on screen are uncannily similar to the happenings of last Monday. A congresswoman is shot in the head, and one news channel declares her dead. It isn’t long before the others follow suit based on this one channel’s declaration, and without any real official confirmation. The protagonist, Will McAvoy, (who is essentially a Caucasian Arnab Goswami played by Jeff Daniels) and his team come under intense pressure from their management to follow suit, ‘stay current’, and report that she’s dead. They refuse to. “It’s a person” says one of the producers, Don (Thomas Sadoski). “A hospital declares her dead, not the news”. As it turns out, the Congresswoman survives surgery and lives to tell the tale.

Over the years, I’ve believed less and less in every news channel’s claim that they aim to report only the truth. It’s usually part-truth, part-perspective, and part-masala, which, as I’ve conditioned myself to believe, is alright if it’s inconsequential. On Monday, it was not. Those news channels’ words carried the weight of what could’ve potentially been statewide violence. Their handling of the incident raises a hundred questions, but more importantly, provides the confirmation that it isn’t, and has never been, the truth that news channels of today pursue. It’s TRPs.

The Great Escape

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The American elections are on Monday, and from what I read in the newspapers, it seems like Donald Trump has a legitimate chance at becoming President of the United States of America, and perhaps the most important leader in the free world. As if that’s not depressing enough, NASA has just released a video which shows how the Arctic ice-caps are on the verge of disappearing altogether, putting a greater question mark over life as we know it. During times like these, you can’t help but wish you were in a different planet altogether. While that’s an impossible task (at least at the moment), I can give you the next best thing: Immersive, critically acclaimed television shows that will pull you into another world, even if it is only for a weekend.

Game of Thrones – The most obvious choice if you’re looking to spend the weekend doing nothing but staying glued to your screen. Game of Thrones, apart from being one of the most talked about shows in the world, is an engrossing fantasy series that takes place in the medieval world of Westeros. If you like the ideas of becoming familiar with evil queens, men who rise from the dead, and giant fire breathing CGI dragons, this is the show for you. {Game of Thrones is available to stream on HotStar, and the sixth season is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

jon snow, jon snow gifs

Westworld – If you’re more of a forward looking person, then you should try Westworld, which is based in the future. Westworld is about a futuristic theme park that is inhabited by very realistic robots. Inspired by the novel written by Michael Crichton and directed by Jonathan Nolan, Westworld’s premise lies in the very uncomfortable thought of artificial intelligence becoming so human-like, that they begin threatening our very existence. The visuals are stunning, and the show is technically brilliant, but the real success of the show are the questions of morality that form its core.
{Westworld is available to stream on HotStar, and the sixth season is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things – Stranger Things, technically, doesn’t take place in another world – the story is based in a sleepy, small American town in the ‘80s. The story revolves around four children whose friend suddenly goes missing after a night of board games. The more they try to investigate into the disappearance, the more they realize that something mysterious and terrifying is taking place in their town. Stranger Things is a must watch if you enjoy Stephen King novels or are generally nostalgic about the good old days when kids had to ride their cycles everywhere and played board games instead of playstations.
{Stranger Things is presently streaming on Netflix}

WinonaRyder-StrangerThings

The Americans – The Americans is another show that takes on the 80s, albeit in a completely different light, for its focus is on the Cold War between Russia and America. The show traces the life and times of Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings who are a wholesome suburban couple by day, but Russian KGB agents by night. It’s incredibly fascinating to watch, and that isn’t just because of the wigs, elaborate disguises and 80s spy equipment. The Americans is one of those rare shows which will twist perspectives, make you root for the apparent bad guys, and question your own moral compass.
{The Americans is presently telecast on Star World HD}

Of Awards and Underdogs

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The 68th Emmy Awards came to a close the previous Sunday night (Monday morning, for you and me), pulling the curtains down on an another year of television based glitz, glamour and predictability. While most of the awards went to the same people and shows it usually did (Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked up her fifth straight Emmy), there were a few notable moments from the Awards ceremony.

Rami Malek took home the Emmy in the Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series category for Mr.Robot, in a ‘surprise’ win that felt obligatory. There’s no denying that Malek was excellent in his performance as the neurotic hacker, Elliot, but it felt unfair to me because some of the other actors in his category (and by some, I mean Matthew Rhys) had given better performances over a longer span of time. Mr. Robot’s second season is already far less impressive than the first, so although the Emmys took the apparently unconventional route with this winner, it didn’t come across as deserving. The Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series was also a surprise, albeit more meritorious – Tatiana Maslany, after three years of being snubbed, took home the award for playing multiple characters in Orphan Black.

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Aziz Ansari also took home an Emmy, although it wasn’t in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series category. Instead, Ansari, along with Alan Yang, won the award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for Master of None. While Ansari didn’t get to talk much (the orchestra began playing before he could even finish his thank-yous), Yang made a comment in his speech about how there are 17 million Asian Americans in the United States, and about the same number of Italian Americans. He went on to say that the Italians have The Sopranos, The Godfather, Rocky and Goodfellas, whereas the Asians have Long Duk Dong (an Asian exchange student in the 1984 film Sixteen Candles, known for his bizarre behavior and over the top clumsiness). Yang also asked Asian American parents to get their kids “cameras instead of violins”. Yang’s speech was definitely one of the more dramatic ones that the evening saw, but it comes at an important time, after all, it has taken till 2016 for Asians and South Asians to be portrayed with nuance and depth, and not as inhuman parents constantly preoccupied with their children’s grades or bumbling owners of grocery shops.

The final hour of the Emmy’s was as predictable as the final hour of most masala movies – surprise winners notwithstanding, everyone knew who the winner was even before their names were announced. People vs OJ Simpson, which was nominated in a whopping 22 categories, took home the Outstanding Limited Series award. The Outstanding Drama Series went to Game of Thrones. Veep won Outstanding Comedy Series for the second year in a row. Now, People vs OJ Simpson, Veep, and Game of Thrones, are without doubt, studies in television excellence which deserved to win – but why does disappointment linger? Maybe it’s because from time to time, we want a David toppling a Goliath. Maybe it’s because we watch far too much television, for if we didn’t, we would know that underdogs hijacking spotlights doesn’t really happen in the real world.

Hits and Myths-es

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

About a year ago, I had ranted in this very space about the lack of creativity when it came to mythology and epic based serials on mainstream regional television. It was around that time that Star’s production of Mahabharata, with its opulent sets and six pack flaunting Pandavas had had audiences glued to the television sets again, after all, the lure of a good story, no matter how many it has been retold, is undeniable. The show finally came to an end last year (after a Kurukshetra battle sequence that probably lasted longer than the original battle as described in the epic), but I suppose the over-the-roof ratings and popularity of the show made it clear to the producers that the mythology genre is one that would never get old in our country, thus giving birth to Seedhayin Raman (Siya Ke Raam in Hindi, Janaki Ramudu in Telugu and Seethayanam in Malayalam).

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Seedhayin Raman seeks to narrate the story of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. I know of many books that have given a new lease of life to epics by narrating the story from the view point of a character who is usually sidelined in conventional retellings. Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee’s excellent novel, The Palace of Illusions, for example, is the story of The Mahabharata as narrated by Draupadi. Randamoozham (Bhima is the title of its English translation) by MT Vasudevan Nair is another classic novel that brings to life The Mahabharata through the eyes of Bhima. Naturally, the idea that a television show, and a prime time television show at that, would be attempting to a showcase a different idea of a beloved epic was something that I found intriguing, and that was enough for me to sit with the show and see what the fuss was about.

Visually, the show is stunning. The sets are lavish, the makeup and costumes are beautiful, and the actors are very good-looking. The writers, though, have taken creative liberties with the story. Ram and Sita, according to Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana, are said to have met for the first time at her Swayamvaram (the ancient Indian practice where the princess chooses her husband among an assembly of potential suitors), but in the serial, they have a run-in much before. There are other changes in the story as well, but they’re minor, and it’s obvious that they’ve been made for the sole purpose of creating more dramatic television.

The Ramayana is very different from the Mahabharata – the former doesn’t possess the multitudes of characters or complexities that the latter does, but it does have its own intricacies. Seedhayin Raman’s treatment of those intricacies, however, are not well done. The story of the Vaanara brothers, Sugriva and Vaali, for instance, is one of the few grey areas in an epic that is mostly black and white. Although Rama sides with Sugriva, both the monkey kings had virtues as well as flaws, but Seedhayin Raman insists on showing Sugriva to be an incorruptible, virtuous king, and Vaali as a power-hungry villain who deserves to die. Seedhayin Raman might be creative in its setting and clever in its style, but without the nuance – without the grey, there’s no colour in its story.

My wait for an original, bold, televised take on Indian mythology continues.

{Seedhayin Raman is currently telecast on Star Vijay, and is also available on HotStar}

Good Things, Small Packages

{First published in The Hindu Metroplus}

My love for the miniseries format is one that has been well documented in this space. I cannot get enough of them, and it isn’t just the low commitment that it requires which draws me, again and again, back to them. A well made mini-series is the perfect hybrid of film, and serial episodes. It combines the well defined storyline of a movie with the steady, more fulfilling pace of storytelling that multiple episodes allow. The slow burn of the miniseries allows characters to shine and for the audience to develop a greater understanding of, and attachment with them, making the format perfect for novel adaptations. Olive Kitteridge, the Emmy award winning miniseries about a cynical American schoolteacher, was based on the novel by Elizabeth Strout. The recently released and phenomenally successful miniseries, The Night Manager, was adapted from the novel of the same name that was written by the master of espionage, John Le Carre. Both Olive Kitteridge and The Night Manager, with their intense screenplay and masterful acting performances, were an accomplishment in televised storytelling.

Another miniseries that I couldn’t stop raving about, was Wolf Hall. Wolf Hall was also named after the novel (by Hilary Mantel) whose story it took on, but the story was essentially a dramatised version of actual events which took place in the 16th Century, known as “The King’s Great Matter”, which today stands immortalised by the Traitor’s Gate in the Tower of London. People vs OJ Simpson: An American Crime Story, is another miniseries which took on a real life incident: the much publicised trial of OJ Simpson, a sports superstar and actor, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and a restaurant waiter, Ron Goldman.

All these series had actors of immense calibre put together on the same screen, for the miniseries format allows them to explore stronger, deeper characters with more nuance, and directors to take on stories that are more complex and can’t possibly contained in a time frame of a few hours. People vs OJ Simpson: An American Crime Story managed to lure in the likes of John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr., and David Schwimmer. The Night Manager had Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston’s portrayal of the spy, Jonathan Pine was so successful that it sparked rumours across the United Kingdom of him being cast as the next James Bond. Wolf Hall had Mark Rylance, (who went on to star in Spielberg’s celebrated film, Bridge of Spies, and win an Academy award for it) and Damian Lewis. The more recently released thriller miniseries about an immigrant who is jailed for the murder of a girl in New York City, “The Night Of” was written by Steve Zaillan, who has worked on movies like The Schindler’s List, and Gangs of New York, among others.

For all their merits and the hype surrounding them through all these years – Meryl Streep and Al Pacino made a miniseries way back in 2003 called Angels in America for HBO – the miniseries is only now finding its way into Indian Television. If you don’t have the time for a full fledged television series and all its characters, I recommend you embrace the miniseries with both your arms (and your legs). It’s the best way to experience not only modern television, but the power that a good story can have over you.

{People vs OJ Simpson, The Night Of are available on HotStar. Angels in America premieres today, August 6th on Star World Premiere HD}

Back To The Future

{First published in The Hindu Metroplus}

My sister and I grew up with the television in the most literal way – as toddlers, neither of us would accommodate meal times unless it involved very specific television. In my case, it was cartoons, and in her case, it was MTV. Today, my nieces and nephews eat while fiddling about with their parents’ tablets and phones, but what they watch hasn’t particularly changed, for it is still loud music and talking animals. A pink cartoon pig called Peppa that speaks in a British accent, particularly, has most of my little cousins in raptures. Peppa Pig is originally a television show,but now, thanks to how tech-savvy its audience is, has a slew of apps which ensure that kids always have access to Peppa whenever they want to (and to help parents have less troublesome meal times).

The fact that you don’t actually need a television to watch television programmes is something about modern television that never ceases to amaze me. Gone are the days I had to time tuition classes to ensure that I didn’t miss watching reruns of Full House. Gone are also the days when my family and I sat together and watched television. Does anyone even do that these days? Watching television with friends and family seems to be an event reserved for major sporting tournaments. Most of the television I watch and discover are from and through the two streaming services I’ve subscribed to – Netflix and HotStar. I watch YouTube for updates on films and song releases, like most of my generation. Does this mean we’re all headed to a future where we’re going to become lonely zombies who are plugged into their own little technology bubbles?

Perhaps not. My parents, who grew up in the seventies and the eighties, have often told us stories of getting together at the house of the one neighbour in the street who owned a television, to watch Oliyum Oliyum on weekends for that was what anyone spoke about in school the next day. Television back then, they said, was as special watching films in the theatre, if not more. Today though, we (my parents included), are all plugged into our own devices, but interestingly, we’ve never stopped discussing the shows that we see. If you’ve ever watched a live-stream on your computer of an important sporting event while being plugged into Twitter, you’d know that the experience is the virtual equivalent of viewing it with a massive crowd. Accenture confirmed this when they conducted a survey a year or so ago where their researchers discovered that consumers are switching to watching television on computers and mobile devices: about 62% of TV viewers concurrently use a laptop to watch television, and 41%, phones.

Given the popularity of mobile devices though, it’s no surprise that programme creators ensure that their shows are also streamed online, apart from being telecast, and that almost every news channel telecasts their programmes on their websites as well. It’s also no surprise that television makers are pulling all stops to make the device more relevant to the viewer of today – television sets now come equipped with internet connectivity, bluetooth, and streaming capabilities.

Despite the increasing usage of mobile devices to watch programmes, I don’t believe that the television will go defunct any time soon, in fact, the TV set looks to become an entire ecosystem by itself. You’ll probably be able to share content, and your opinions, with whoever you want to, with just your remote control. Television programming might become more interactive than ever, with the audience playing the most important role in not only shaping the content, but creating it as well. We’ve already seen news channels inviting citizen journalists, so the day where audience members become either part of the cast or the production of television shows, doesn’t look too far away. The future of television, in many ways, is in our hands.

Playing The Numbers Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

As I write this, the previous government has been voted back in to power in Tamil Nadu with a result that was last seen in 1984, during the time of M.G.Ramachandran, who, to date, is held as the greatest Chief Minister the state has ever seen. Once the victory and lead was sealed, the national news channels, who had spent the morning poring over multiple analyses, voter mindsets and trends as numbers danced on the screen, switched to telecasting scenes of victory and the jubilance which had pervaded the air around the winning candidate’s office. Reporters bravely stood in the midst of party workers who were working up a frenzy dancing, and shoving sweets in each others mouths. The scenes being played in the regional television channels though, are a little different.

For the last fifteen odd years, the morning of the day the state election results are declared in Tamil Nadu sees a flurry of activity across all its regional television channels. It didn’t matter that their regular programming was general entertainment or films, for on the day of the results, each channel considered itself to be the foremost authority on the numbers that would determine the future of Tamil Nadu’s government. They have experts, hosts, scrolling numbers and expensive productions. They are also the products of political parties, which is why when counting begins, the hosts and political experts on the show talk with great gusto. However, by the time counting stabilises and a winner emerges, in what feels like a twisted reality show, hardly two channels continue their telecast of the election results.

In the year 2006, when the DMK and its allies won in Tamil Nadu, Sun TV (DMK sided) pressed on about the ‘fair verdict’ and the ‘victory of the masses’ while Jaya TV (affiliated to the AIADMK) if my memory serves me right, had shifted to black and white MGR films. Similarly, in the year 2011, the AIADMK was voted into power with a sweeping majority, winning 203 out of 234 seats. As the results were brought into light, Jaya TV declared victory a good one hour before official results were announced, and instead of discussing vote numbers, began a fresh conversation about the greatness of the new Chief Minister, and the good that she was going to do to the state. Sun TV and Kalaignar TV on the other hand, switched from election result analysis to award show reruns. This convenient switch in programming during results day is now a common joke, to the point where people now predict it the moment a slightest trend or lead shows up.

This year though, apart from the fact that the people didn’t bring in the ‘other’ Dravidian party the way they had been all these years, the channels belonging to the losing parties didn’t back down and change programming. Some channels showed delayed numbers which were favourable to the party it was aligned with, some others took the numbers out but persevered with their opinions. Some even started putting out the correct numbers and admitted failure (albeit after crying foul play), which was radical considering the denial we were used to. That television channels continued with election broadcast, I suppose is a good sign, a sign of fledgling maturity that is beginning to show in people, perhaps. I must admit though, it also felt a little odd – after all, what is results day on Tamil television without a disconnected programme showing you how to make the perfect paruppu vadai? I was thinking about this out loud when the internet pointed me to a channel which is the namesake of a certain actor turned politician, whose party had a terrible run this year. This channel, after insisting that no party had won any seats, shifted to a show which detailed the most authentic way to cook brinjals. All was well with the world again.