(I wrote this in 2008 – something went wrong on my maiden TV appearance – nobody ever asked to appear on TV again!)
Here I am waiting for the phone to ring, and heaps of journos wanting soundbites from me on every conceivable subject from the black hole that the Large Hadron Whatever is supposed to be drilling in CERN, to the length of the dresses Bollywood wannabes should be wearing (this one’s easy – the shorter, the better), or the solution to the global financial crisis.
Even better, companies searching for suitable brand ambassadors should be lining up outside my doorstep, bearing diamonds, emeralds, amethysts, topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores, in the shape of multi-crore contracts.
I am told that that’s what happens when you hit the TV screen and friends go into squeals of delight on seeing your mugshot, while others wonder what’s in the mug whose mugshot is on display which inspires such an orgiastic response.
All this is a lead up to telling the world that I hit the TV screens on Sunday night, Oct 26th, 2008, at 8 pm, as a member of the audience in the We the People show on NDTV 24×7. Readers who are interested may want to see this in one of the repeats; I am modest – two or three such discerning readers would suffice.
For the rest, I am in a position to reveal all that goes on behind the scenes. No wardrobe malfunctions, if that’s what you were thinking.
The studio audience is collected roughly one and a half hours before the show starts – they are given large quantities of water, no tea, discouraged from going to the washroom, and periodically fed placatory noises about the delay since either one of the panelists is late, or the anchor is just getting ready, or something equally profound. When, after the long and healthful wait, the final panelist appears, it is de rigeur to applaud him or her sarcastically, though whether the said panelist understands the sarcasm behind the applause is not clear. When the anchor finally appears, it is understood that all snide remarks about the panelists and other audience members must stop, and the serious stuff is about to begin.
The rules of the Guild of TV News Anchors dictates that all the panelists who are politicians should be clubbed together on one side of the stage, and the others (a mixed lot in my show, consisting of two actors, one columnist, one cultural theorist – whatever that is, don’t ask me – and a writer) are thrown in any old how on the other side. It is also a rule that one of the actors whose mother tongue is the same as that of the politicians should be in the centre seat, and while the panelists are waiting for the anchor, this actor must turn his chair so that his broad back is presented to the columnist next to him. This insistence of not recognizing the existence of the columnist is guaranteed to raise the hackles of the columnist, a consummation devoutly to be wished for the success of any show – after all, we daily wage earners of the TV industry go to these shows wanting to see blood on the stage.
In the first act, the anchor asks questions only of the politicians, and when these citizens of our planet have been exposed for being the scorers of brownie points that they are, the anchor is then permitted to turn to the columnist for her comments. She, by the rulebooks of the League of Weekly Column Writers on Issues of Great Political and Social Import, is then permitted to diss the politicians wholesale, and short of calling them MC, BC, and other such colourful epithets, she can act with hauteur, disdain, and in short like a particularly prudish schoolmarm, who has caught her class reading low class porn during a lecture on sex education. One suggestion – in future such shows, a lorgnette should be given to a lady columnist; without such an implement, it is impossible to emulate the reactions of a maharani confronted with the spectacle of the maharaja in the semi-buff trying it on with the daughter of the man who tends the spinach patch in the kitchen garden.
The columnist sets up the scene nicely for the actor on the centre seat to weigh in with his opinion about the comments made by the columnist, with the proviso that his opinions must be completely derogatory, and must reflect his astonishment as to why the columnist has been allowed to walk about freely without adult supervision. The columnist, if a lady, is permitted to shake her finger at the actor, if male, in a manner which threatens dire punishment (six of the best on the part of the anatomy where it hurts the most) including calling of parent to school to make official complaint about errant pupil.
The temperature in the studio having reached boiling point, the anchor is then permitted to call on the second actor, the cultural theorist (I still don’t know what that is), and the writer to put in their two-bits of masala into this stew. Now that the metaphors are nicely mixed, and the stew is on the boil, the anchor is now permitted to announce a break.
During this the first break, the anchor complains to the producer about the air conditioning, the audience is given more water but no tea, and everybody tells the producer that they have questions to ask the panel, and in general to the whole world. Everybody wants to be on TV, right? And many of the questions are probing, on the topic, and pretty close to the bone for any politician to handle.
After the break, there is a change – no doubt as per the rules of the Guild of the anchors. First, the anchor interviews one gentleman in the audience, whose taxi in Mumbai got burnt up during the rioting by Raj Thackeray’s men. Having got the sympathy of the audience clearly identified with the hapless victim, it was the turn of the politicians to support, defend, explain or whatever – which again exposes their inability or lack of intention to do anything much about it. Some more members of the audience are given their fair share of the spotlight – going by some of the questions, perhaps some of the panelists could in future be included on the stage: the audience comes prepared (nobody wants to be shown up as an idiot on the idiot box), they seem more aware of the seriousness of the debate, and certainly show more respect to others than some of the panelists. Maybe we should form a Union of TV News Talk Show Audiences, with its own set of rules and regulations. Any takers?
The audience gets to hog more of the limelight after the second break. Instead of questions, audience members can state their opinions, as long as they are stated politely, take issue head-on with one or more panel members, and generally get higher visibility on the show. That’s where I got my 15 milliseconds of decent exposure, which led to squeals of delight from family and friends.
At the end of about an hour, the anchor ends the show with a flourish, the panelists and finally the audience files out. Outside the studio, a fight breaks out between two panel members – I am not sure whether this is as per the rules of the Association of TV News Talk Show Panel Members. If yes, the rules should be modified to permit direct verbal assaults and fisticuffs on the stage itself – between the stage and the audience seats, there’s a clear twenty square meters of space which could have been utilized for this very purpose. TV News talk show producers, please take note.
When the wholesome entertainment has finally come to an end, the audience rushes for their mobile phones to tell everybody in their contact books to come and see them on TV the next evening, without fail. After which, they, like me, sit waiting patiently for the phone to ring with offers. This week, being Diwali, is a washout – the phones are certain to ring immediately thereafter.
So, dear readers, if you find I am not being able to file in my periodic reports on the state of the universe on this blog, it’s not because I am doing penal labour at Tihar or Arthur Road Jail, but I am too busy fulfilling my obligations under the various lucrative contracts I will have signed in the very near future. I wonder how much is this behind-the-scenes expose worth?
Perhaps I should contact the William Morris Agency – after being sacked by Aravind Adiga, they should have a lot of spare capacity.