2015 in Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Empire – Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}

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  • Better Call Saul – Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Wolf Hall – Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics – that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.

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  • Game of Thrones – Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}

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  • Daredevil – While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.

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  • Master of None – If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing.

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  • Quantico – This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}

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  • The Affair – One often talks about “mindless television” – The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}

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  • Mr. Robot – A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Modern Family – It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

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In A Flash

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Barry Allen is just your average physics nerd who works in the forensics department of the police station. He is struck by lightning in a freak accident, put in a coma for nine months, and wakes up to find that the lightning has bestowed him with super speed and a new set of abs. He also learns that it isn’t just him who was on the receiving end of the lightning, and that there are other “meta-humans” in the city who have great powers, but not necessary good intentions. Barry, although initially doubtful about his abilities, with the help of the scientists who restored him from the coma (and were also the cause of the freak accident), brings down a meta-human who has the power to control the weather. While most superhero shows would take half a season to reach this point of the story, The Flash wraps it up in the very first episode.

The show moves at the same breakneck speed that the fastest man on earth does. Barry takes down evil meta-humans with the help of his team, comprising Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the genius who revives Barry from his coma, and whose failed machine was the reason behind the lightning in the first place, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), in-house computer whiz and the inventor of all of The Flash’s cool weapons and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), the moody but brilliant genetic scientist. The show for most part follows a “villain of the week” format while character development is relegated to the background, keeping the show light, and more importantly, easy to catch up on.

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Grant Gustin, former Glee star, is entirely believable as The Flash, and the fact that he plays an adorable 20 something who uses his super speed to sneak in an extra hour of sleep in the morning, makes him a refreshing change from the usually brooding, pensive brand of superhero which we are so used to today. The show’s creators throw plenty of unexpected jokes throughout the show, and even play on pop culture by bringing together the Prison Break brothers (Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell) as the deadly co-villains Captain Cold and Heat Wave. The Arrow, a vigilante hero and a friend of Barry’s (who has his own show as well) also makes frequent appearances, making both shows more cohesive with the comic books they were inspired by.

While there is plenty to like and enjoy about The Flash, it isn’t particularly perfect. The complete lack of chemistry between Barry and the supposed love of his life, Iris West (Candice Patton). Iris is the daughter of Joe West (Jesse Martin), a policeman who takes Barry in and raises him after his mother is murdered under mysterious circumstances. Iris and Barry are raised together, best of friends, and practically siblings. Barry pines for Iris as she dates Joe’s handsome young partner Eddie Thawne (the excellent Rick Costnett). While television can make us buy anything these days, the Iris-Barry-Eddie love triangle feels forced, and their time together on screen feels like time wasted.

Overall though, The Flash is something a lot of superhero franchises aren’t – fun. While it isn’t a show that is going to lend itself to serious cultural commentary, it is definitely one that does justice to the league it belongs to.

{The second season of The Flash is presently running on Colors Infinity}

Television and Tragedy

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The past few weeks have been hard on Chennai, with floods ravaging the city, and stripping its citizens of possessions, homes, and livelihoods. While a part of the blame with respect to the massive amount of damage that the flood has caused, no doubt, belongs to poor urban planning, these were no ordinary rains. It was bizarre, freak weather, the kind that appears once in a hundred years, and it took mainstream news channels a good couple of days to realise that these floods were a far greater disaster than Aamir Khan’s comments on intolerance.

Rajdeep Sardesai, the (very) popular news anchor and consulting editor with the India Today group was the first to speak up about the national media’s indifference towards not only the floods in Chennai, but also the fact that events in and around the national capital get far more coverage than what happens in South India. “I just feel, at the moment, that the focus of news channels must be on Chennai, to try and help people”, he concluded.

Around the same time that Sardesai had released the video, the national media channels came in droves. I had been among those who were irked that the city was being ignored, but I suppose one must be careful for what they wish for. When I started watching the coverage (I was among the lucky few who had power for a good part of the rains), my exasperation only increased. It appeared as if every news channel was competing against each other for the most tasteless coverage of the calamity. Microphones were shoved into the faces of families which were only now trying to come to terms with the colossal damage that the rains had done to their lives. “What have you lost?” asked reporters briskly, and pressed for specifics as the camera panned to the family’s apparent anguish.

Every channel had its own tragedy: If it wasn’t a household which had lost everything in the face of their daughter’s wedding, it was an orphanage that was stranded with no access to food or water. Some channels took the trouble of creating video montage sequences of the flooding, punctuated with shots of people in grief, set to sad, funereal music, which they played every five minutes. Chennai, they declared, was devastated, and there is nothing but trauma here.

Although there is no doubt with regard to the vast desolation and suffering that the rains have caused to the city, I found it surprising that no channel, in its initial coverage of the rains, was particularly interested in covering the resilience and uprising of the people of Chennai, and the way social media was used to mobilise help and resources across various areas. People opened up their homes to complete strangers who were stranded in the area, and a staggering number of people stepped out of their houses, braving the storm to help in rescue and volunteering operations.

News Channels have a special place in Indian television – after all, it’s never just news. Every news channel has come to believe that it is the emancipator of the people, with hosts who are convinced that they’re human courthouses which have the authority to question, and pass judgement on the nation’s Executive. While Arnab Goswami striking terror in the hearts of politicians isn’t a bad thing for our country, the way both natural catastrophes and man made attacks are reported on screen, has to change. It is imperative that reporters learn to be sensitive when interviewing and talking to victims, and understand that empathy is far more important than TRPs.

The Snow On the Wall

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It would seem that George RR Martin, the writer behind the epic books and TV series, Game of Thrones, has a rather curious penchant for killing his characters, more specifically, the good, the brave and the honest characters. Martin, who confesses to have been “killing characters his entire career”, has talked about how he wants his audience to be “afraid to turn the page” when his character is in danger. When you watch the first season of Game of Thrones (based on the book, A Song of Fire and Ice), the narration begins with Eddard Stark, an honourable lord who we are led to believe is one of the key protagonists in the series. He faces death, but given his importance in the scheme of things, you think that there’s really no way that they could kill him, after all, where would the story go without him? The executioner brings his sword to his neck, and you still think, no, a miracle will happen – maybe the evil people will change their minds! Maybe he’ll escape from his shackles and put up a fight! Maybe the executioner is his man! But none of that happens, and Eddard Stark dies a painful death, and it is that death which not only sets the coldblooded tone of the show, but also tells you that Martin was very serious about what he had said about making his audience fear for their favourite characters.

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Game of Thrones, for those who are still unaware, is the television event of this decade. An epic medieval fantasy which has reduced fully grown adults into discussing dragons and dwarves, Game of Thrones cannot be compared to any other show on television right now. Five seasons have passed thus far, and the sixth is due around April next year. The sixth season is the most awaited season yet, simply because no one has any idea of what is about to happen. The past five seasons have followed the books, but the sixth and seventh books are yet to be completed by Martin, which means that no one, apart from the show’s creators, really know what is about to happen next.

The fifth season ended with the death of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow. Characters dying in the show is now routine, and many of my own favourites (Oberyn Martell in particular) have all died gruesome, bloody deaths. Every time Martin killed someone I was rooting for, I remember telling myself that the time has come for me to give up on the show and stop watching it altogether, but the very next week I’ve found myself glued to the screen again.

Now Snow, who had become the audience favourite over the years because of his upright, brave, and stoic character (and also because almost every other character in the show worth rooting for, was brutally killed through the course of the five seasons), was stabbed in the back by his own men. Since there’s really no knowing what happens next, fans quickly recovered from the shock and horror to theorise about a possible resurrection, and a hundred other ways through which Snow could possibly defy death. After six months of heavy speculation, fans rejoiced last week as HBO released the poster for the sixth season, featuring Snow, alive, albeit with a bit of blood on his face. Is he going to be resurrected by the Red Priestess, Melisandre? Or is his Dragon blood going to pull him through? Apart from Snow’s “resurrection”, there is still mystery surrounding the other characters in the series as well. Whatever happened to Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy when they jumped off the castle wall? Did Stannis really die? Is Arya going to be blind forever?
Knowing the show, I would take the worst case scenario for every character, but Jon Snow’s rebirth has given me something that I never thought I would ever associate with Game of Thrones – Hope.

{Game of Thrones presently airs on HBO}

Master of Some

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I’ve never been impressed by Aziz Ansari’s stand up comedy routines – I watched a few before I began to watch his new show, Master of None, and it was underwhelming. My immediate reaction was that I knew stand up comedians from Chennai who could do better, which, if you know stand up comedy scene in Chennai, isn’t the greatest of compliments. However, I proceeded to watch Master of None anyway because I knew that he had written the show, and was playing a character of Tamil descent, and if there’s one thing I like more than supporting talent who I share roots with, it’s nitpicking.

Master of None lies in uncharted territory which feels familiar. Aziz Ansari plays Dev Shah, a first generation immigrant Indian, who is trying to make it as an actor in New York City. The show deals with Dev’s various life experiences which fall under a broader topic. The episode “Indians on TV”, for example isn’t just about a casting problem that Dev faces, but is also about the rampant stereotyping of Indians as cab drivers, 7-11 owners, philosophical middle aged men or IT guys. Other episodes deal with feminism, old people, parents, and so on.

Every time Dev faces a problem, or comes across something he feels strongly about, he talks it out, and it is conversation that forms the solid foundation of Master of None. Whether he’s talking about feminism with his girlfriend Rachel (Noel Wells), or about what it takes to get a hot ticket date with his group of best friends Brian (Kelvin Yu), Denise (Lena Waithe), and Arnold (Eric Wareheim), or even if he’s talking about what it means to be an immigrant in the United States with his parents, Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari) and Nisha (Fatima Ansari), it is the conversation which guides the direction of the episode. All the characters, for whatever limited time they appear on screen have very vibrant, distinct, and real personalities, which shines through the dialogue, and makes for very fun viewing.

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Currently, Master of None is soaring high up on the television rankings in the US, and for good reason, but I have a bone to pick with the show, and it is with Ansari’s own character – Dev Shah. I’ll even forgive the terrible pronunciation of his own name (he calls himself “Dev”, as in development), but what I can’t wrap my head around is that for a character who identifies himself as Tamil, and whose parents are from Thirunelveli (spelled Thiranalveli in the show, another problem I had), why would he choose a last name like Shah? A Shah is as authentic to Thirunelveli as Jalebi is. For someone who not only had an entire episode dedicated to Indian stereotypes, but is also Tamil, the poor research was just glaring. It is also to be noted that Ansari’s own parents play his parents on the show which I found incredibly sweet on his part, but I have to say this – they’re terrible actors. The rest of the cast though, especially Lena Waithe as Denise, are excellent. The chemistry between Dev, and Rachel is also something that should be written about – their moments together play like parts of a romantic comedy that you’d actually be interested in watching. There are also some great special appearances in the show, with the likes of Claire Danes and Colin Salmon joining the cast.

Over all, Master of None is something I haven’t ever seen before. It’s fresh, it’s funny, it’s relevant, and it proves that Aziz Ansari is in fact, a Jack of All.

{Season 1 of Master of None is currently streaming on Netflix}

Sense and Censurability

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I hardly watch television shows on television these days – blame it on the internet, but it just doesn’t make sense to follow a show on television when you’re as impatient as I am. It so happened that sometime during the last week, I was watching a rerun of The New Girl on TV, when I noticed that the subtitles for the show had censored the word “period”. My sister was quick to inform me that when she had been watching a film recently, the channel had censored the word “menopause”. Since when have normal bodily functions been offensive?

Channels have been censoring their content for a while now – cuss and swear words get starred en masse, or replaced without any regard to context (for example, one channel substitutes for the word “shit”, is jerk, resulting in subtitles to the tune of “that piece of jerk”).

The subtitle censoring is barely the tip of the iceberg, though – I have also noticed cleavage (both on people as well as statues) being blurred, which is hilarious because the big blurry patches on screen only draws more attention to the area. Entire scenes of episodes have been taken down for want of apparent decency, which makes me wonder if anyone would be able to even follow shows like Game of Thrones if they were to watch it on Indian television.

The censoring across channels is inconsistent as well, which is probably because each channel has its own team which takes care of cuts, and decides what is offensive, what isn’t, and what could be potentially substituted for all that is offensive. If you are going to censor killing in a show about a serial killer, what is left for the viewer at the other end? More importantly, what is left of the show?

While rampant cuts are being made on international television shows in order to ensure that the channel doesn’t get banned off air (a valid concern, definitely), regional television continues to churn out content which is high in cliche, chauvinism, values which date back to the stone age, and hypocrisy. Pick out any regional drama today, there is sure to be at least one or more evil mothers-in-law, or abusive husbands, or rich women who are diabolic because they have no hobbies.

While I don’t expect regional television content to become hip and urban overnight, it really is disconcerting to see that regulators think it’s perfectly alright to broadcast a scene where a woman gets slapped by her husband (to “set her right”) or decides to stay with her horrendously abusive in-laws because that is a married woman’s place, and the family’s honour is more vital than her own sanity or self respect.

For the longest time, I had been of the opinion that censoring was reserved for all things “western”, but that changed a couple of weeks ago, when I was watching the last hour or so of the Kamal Hassan hit film, Nayakan on TV – there had been scenes cut from the film, more specifically, scenes that involved caste. This incident confirmed that we were indeed, a nation of professional offence takers. After all, Nayakan, has been telecast, repeatedly, in its full glory for the last twenty years or so. Where is this sudden conscience coming from?

Stephen Fry once famously claimed that people who took offence, or said “I am offended by that” were just whining, and that the phrase had no purpose. He also noted that there was only one appropriate response to people who used that phrase. Unfortunately, it has been censored.

Lies & Prejudice

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

A few weeks ago, I had been talking a friend, Nandita, when the topic of this column came up. You should watch The Affair, she told me. It’s the only show I watch, and I love it. Now Nandita, is someone who works close to 14 hours a day and has a really active preschooler at home as well, so if she was making time for a show, I knew that it was going to be a good one.

The Affair, as the name suggests deals with the murky aftermath of an extramarital affair between a teacher (and writer), and a diner waitress. Noah Halloway (Dominic West), to the rest of the world, has a perfect life – he has been married for the last twenty years to his college sweetheart, Helen, has four children and lives in a beautiful mansion in an upmarket area in New York City (so what if it’s been paid for by his wealthy father-in-law?). Unfortunately, Noah is unhappy. Something about his life feels incomplete, and fate introduces him to Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson), a beautiful waitress with a mysterious past. What happens next, of course, is all too predictable.
What isn’t predictable, is the way the story has been translated on screen.

The story shifts between the past and the present. In the Emmy Award winning first season, the past storyline was about how Noah and Alison met, and how the affair sparked off, and the present, showed an ongoing police investigation for a crime which we don’t know the details of yet, and a crime for which Noah is a prime suspect. The season ends with Noah’s arrest, and the second season (which is presently on air) picks up from where the first left off. We see the Halloway couple going through divorce proceedings in the past, as well as Noah’s trial in the present. All evidence for the crime, a hit-and-run murder, points to Noah, while he claims to be innocent.

What makes the screenplay really interesting, enigmatic even, is the fact that each episode, has “parts”, where events unfold from one character’s perspective, complete with their own memory biases. It’s what they remember from that day, and those events. As a viewer, you really have no idea of what is true, and what is not, because there is no objectivity anywhere. In the parts where it’s Noah’s recollection of events, Alison seems cold while he comes across as a struggling writer, dripping with love, who’s trying to get his life together. In Alison’s, he’s mostly a selfish idiot. Similarly, Helen comes across as an Upper East side brat from Noah’s perspective, but when the story takes a different turn when you see hers.

There is bias everywhere, and the characters are much more than what meets the eye – one minute you think you’ve figured them out, and the next, you’re proven wrong about them. It’s completely engrossing, and at times, consuming. The Affair is one show you’re going to want to be in a relationship with.

{Season 2 of The Affair is presently being telecast on FX India}

On Air With AIB

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

In the year 2013, Cyrus Broacha, one time MTV video jockey and presently, host of the satire news show, The Week That Wasn’t, took on the topic of our current Chief Minister. The episode revolved around her barring Sri Lankan cricketers from playing in the IPL matches in Chennai, and given that it was a news satire show, many jokes were made and it was an entertaining episode overall. Unfortunately for the show’s writers, and for Cyrus, the CM wasn’t amused, and soon enough, they found themselves facing a lawsuit for Criminal Defamation Charges from the Tamil Nadu State Government.
The show’s writers and Cyrus apologised profusely, of course and the case disappeared, but this isn’t the first time that legal action is being taken against remarks that have been made on television. We are a nation that thrives on outrage, to the point where I can actually picture outraging being introduced as an elective in colleges, or as a professional course. While we enjoy laughing at other’s, we seem incapable of laughing at ourselves.
In the other end of the world, John Oliver hosts a show called The Last Week Tonight on HBO, which is now popular all around the world for the carefully researched, (mostly) political insights that he delivers with razor sharp humour. Oliver leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of the perfect political joke – anything and everything that can be made fun of, is, and no politician or any important figure for that matter, is too big to mess with. Every time I watch that show I wonder, when will India get the John Oliver that it deserves? After all, the politics in our country has enough and more material for satire (if not actually resembling satire), but every time I do, I remember television hosts and writers being sued for their opinions, and consequently I get my answer.
If you’ve also been having the same question as I’ve been the last couple of years, then I am here to tell you that all hope is not lost! All India Bakchod, the stand up comedy outfit which was started by four of India’s leading comedians – Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya (who was incidentally, one of the writers on that The Week That Wasn’t episode), have come out with On Air With AIB, a comedy meets news show which airs in two languages, Hindi and English, and over two mediums – online, and on air. The first episode titled “Why Be Good” released this Thursday.
Running for about twenty five minutes, “Why Be Good”, doused in the clever humour that AIB famous for, discusses the difficulties of being a whistleblower in India, and reveals the shocking safety measures and complete lack of witness protection in our country. A second watch (yes, I watched it twice) reveals the careful research that has gone in to presenting the programme. As corny as this sounds, the episode made me think almost as hard as it made me laugh. There were also a few extra segments, like “International News”, which talked about Benjamin Netanyahu’s comment on how it was a Palestine leader, Al-Husseini who was responsible for the sparking the idea of the Holocaust to Hitler, after which the German Chancellor Angela Merkel released a statement saying that Germany accepted this crime against humanity as their very own. “Germany, just reminded a Jew to be sensitive about the holocaust!” quips Rohan Joshi as the audience bursts into laughter.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and I cannot wait for the next nine episodes of this season to come out. Is On Air With AIB, India’s answer to The Last Week Tonight? I can’t say, but it sure as hell is a good start.

{On Air With AIB is presently telecast on Star World. Alternatively, you can watch it online on HotStar}

Well Trained

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

There’s a scene in the second episode of Quantico where the recruits at the FBI Training Academy are made to solve a crime scene, a crime scene which was dummy to begin with, and it is Priyanka Chopra’s character, Alex Parrish, who isn’t just the first among her peers, but the first in the history of the Academy to solve it. If someone were to have narrated this scene to me, I’d have rolled my eyes and made a mental note to never watch this show, but when I saw it unfold on the screen, I bought it. In fact, I bought all of it, and I am here to finally come out and say that Quantico is well worth your time.

I had watched the first eight minutes of the show when it leaked online, and yes, I found it entertaining but I still had many apprehensions – with the hype around the show, it seemed like it would be one that was poised to become the television event that I would love to hate. I’d already had half a column written in my head which had the words “wasted potential”, and “Priyanka Chopra should have stayed in Bollywood”, but now, 4 episodes into the show, I’ll eat my words. Quantico is tremendously entertaining, and Priyanka Chopra is not merely good, but entirely believable as Alex Parrish, the intelligent, bold, and tough FBI Agent who is wrongly accused of being a terrorist.

The screenplay of Quantico is fast and furious – it shifts back and forth from the past, where Alex Parrish is training in the Academy and the present, where she is accused of being the prime suspect in the bombing of New York’s Grand Central Station, and transition is seamless. Alex gets to know that it is one of her classmates from the Academy, who is responsible for the bombing and is framing her for the it, and must find out who it is before it’s too late. Could it be Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Brady), the pageant queen who nurses a secret vengeance? Or is it Simon Asher (Tate Ellington), the Jewish guy with a murky past?

Every character has a back story that deserves it’s own television show (the Nimah Amin story, in particular), and the writing is such that it’s impossible to judge any of them as “good” or “bad” upon first glance. There are also lots of little surprises about the characters which keep popping up during the course of the show, surprises which really pull you into watching, and ensure that you’ll be waiting for the next episode.

Finally, I feel like I have to talk about Priyanka Chopra’s accent in the show, despite the fact that there’s an entire library of material on the topic. It is not American, yes, but so what? The show has an explanation for it, even – After a traumatising incident which happens in the family (her father is shot dead), Alex is sent to India for ten years to finish her schooling, out of which her mother only knows where she had been for nine. And just like that, her accent becomes a part of the story. Truth be told, I’ve heard far worse accents from family and friends who have spent brief time in the US – drawls that suddenly appear like colourful underwear in a hastily packed suitcase, so Priyanka’s is really not bad.

There is still some room for improvement in the show – some of the dialogues are really cheesy, and the show does get over the top from time to time, but it’s an action soap opera, so that’s expected. What was unexpected for me, though, was how much I enjoyed watching Priyanka Chopra play Alex Parrish. I suppose it’s time now we stop focussing on her accent, and instead start writing about how she’s well on her way to becoming a legitimate star on American Television.

{Quantico is presently running on Star World}

Epic Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I’m not one to call anything a phenomenon very lightly, least of all, something on airs on screen, but the Mahabharata, is a legitimate television phenomenon. I have been watching the story unfold on television for as long as I can remember watching television. The version which I can remember most clearly, and the one that has left maximum impact on me is BR Chopra’s version of the epic. Yes, the sets were gaudy, the effects, comical, and the acting got a little too dramatic at times, but the writing and the way the episodes were paced ensured that the series was ahead of its time. There was no compromise with regard to story in the Mahabharata of the nineties, for no relationship or character from the original epic was left behind. One would think that taking on all the subplots would make the series translate unfavourably for television, but the writers managed to juggle them all on screen with consummate ease. BR Chopra’s Mahabharata, revolutionised Indian television of the nineties. I have heard many stories of empty streets during the telecast, and about folks with television sets “hosting” people and children from their neighbourhood to watch the show together.

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The second version I remember, was animated – it was called “Pandavas”, and it aired on a channel called Splash, one of the few exclusive to children channels back in the nineties, and by god it was awful. It was 3D animation, and the technology was new at that time, but the execution was just terrible (even by the standards that were prevalent at that time). I must confess though – I didn’t miss a single episode. Two new versions of the Mahabharata has been airing over the last couple of years – one produced by Sun Networks, and the other by Star. I prefer Star’s version – it has with better special effects and modern casting (the hairy paunched Pandavas have been traded in for ones that have flat, muscular abs). Both productions, however, have got people hooked on to their television sets again, and that just proves that the draw of a good story, no matter how many times it has been retold, is undeniable.

Given the wealth of stories we are blessed with in our country, though, I’m disappointed that Indian television isn’t experimenting enough with the “epic” genre of television. When you think about it, the Mahabharata has enough cloak-and-dagger activities, evil lords, kingdoms, creatures and dysfunctional relationships to make Game of Thrones look like an amateur western spin off, and remember that this is a story that has been handed down from a thousand years ago! I would love to see a bold, raw version of it, a version which doesn’t pander to family audiences (and a version, I’m sure, which will never see the light of day).

Apart from experimenting, there is also a great lack of variety in this genre. I’ve seen bits and pieces of series that have covered Hanuman, Shiva, the Ramayana, and I can also vaguely remember one that focused on Krishna. This is again, disappointing, because we are country of stories! There is plenty of material, hundreds and thousands of myths and legends, warriors and princesses, that are waiting to be showcased. Why, for example, isn’t anyone doing a Karna series? Or an “Adventures of Lava and Kusha”? Why isn’t anyone exploring a Vaanara based story line from the Ramayana? And why, oh why isn’t anyone coming up with an original mythological hero or heroine? Because that, would be epic.