Satire Shot

How Indian television’s scariest people celebrate Halloween

Vampires and zombies are passé. There are scarier beings among us.

Welcome to Indian Television’s House of Horrors. Prepare yourself for a night of abject terror. Unlike other Halloween-themed amusement parks, we don’t have to rely on clowns or zombies or vampires to scare the bejeezus out of you. We have managed to gather the scariest people on Indian television for your entertainment. Enter at your own risk!

Don’t miss our popular attractions. In the awkwardly named India Today Scare Room, you can play Patriotic Improv with Gaurav Sawant. You give him names of things that you like to do, and he in turn will tell you how a disgrace like you is hurting the Indian soldier. Don’t be alarmed by the flak jacket. That’s just a thing he started wearing a few weeks ago even though the only danger he will ever face is Rajdeep Sardesai cornering him in the washroom to talk about Kishore Kumar for half an hour. No one says anything to Sawant about it because he loves to play dress up and comes to the office in different costumes all the time. Someday he pretends to be a soldier, someday a cowboy. One time he even dressed up as a journalist but we haven’t seen him don that disguise for a while now.

In the NDTV Horror Hall of Fame, the self-proclaimed august news organisation celebrates a made-up capitalist holiday whose only purpose is to get the masses to buy more things. As soon as you enter this hall, their anchor Ravish Kumar dims the lights and you’re suddenly transported into the middle of a We the People episode. Afterwards, Dorab Sopariwala takes you to a tour of his home, which is a tiny cottage under the huge table NDTV uses during Election Day broadcasts. In the finale, you get to moderate an hour-long debate between Sambit Patra, Sanjay Jha and Ashutosh.

Of course, the biggest show is at the main auditorium and is hosted by Times Now. They took it over before anyone even came in and claimed they had a right to, because they have 2565% higher ratings than any other channel. Even though the Times Now representative manning the ticket counter yells at everyone passing by without a ticket, accusing them of being anti-national, not everyone is welcome inside the hallowed auditorium. You can’t enter if you are Arundhati Roy or if you’re a student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, or if you’ve ever received a Sahitya Akademi award, or if you aren’t excited about a nuclear war, or if you’ve ever had a thought that does not align with the opinions of Arnab Goswami. Those lucky enough to be allowed entry have to leave the following things outside: working brain cells, sense of shame, every shred of self-awareness, humanity, commitment to ethical behaviour, and blood pressure medicine. Then, they have to sign a standard disclaimer indemnifying Times Now and Bennett Coleman & Co. Limited of any physical, moral or psychological problems that may arise from attendance of the event.

The first attraction at the News 18 Fiesta Room is a mock interview with Bhupendra Chaubey in which he asks you uncomfortable and probing questions about your sex life in a sanctimonious and judgemental tone while he takes copious notes of your answers. Then, as you feel an urgent need to take a shower, you’re accosted by Zakka Jacob who only lets you go once you agree to buy a Reliance Jio 4G connection. The pièce de résistance is an hour-long speech by Swapan Dasgupta, in which he forcefully expounds about how Narendra Modi would have got more things done in the last two and a half years if only he hadn’t have to face all those distractions that are part and parcel of his job.

You may want to skip the dilapidated News X stall, though. They blew their entire budget on the neon X that adorns the entrance of the stall. Their only attraction is Rahul Shivshankar and Ashoke Pandit falsely accusing all the visitors to their booth of being under investigation by the Intelligence Bureau for connections to international jihadist groups.

Patriotic shtick 

Over the last couple of weeks, our news channels have been going after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. But it’s not because they think what the MNS is doing is wrong. It’s more like professional jealously. They’re angry at the MNS for stealing the self-righteous patriot shtick they have got going these days. They’re mad that someone else used faux patriotism and the visage of dead soldiers for their advantage.

Gee, you dedicate a large part of your programming to unnecessarily whipping up people’s sentiments, constantly encouraging them to be angry with people who don’t agree with your conveniently adopted opinions and then you are shocked – shocked! – that someone else took advantage of that? Okay, then.

A political party metaphorically kidnapped a producer’s movie and the chief minister brokered a meeting between the kidnappers and the producers to work out the ransom amount that would have to be paid. This was a failure of so many of our institutions. The media for creating an environment the MNS could take advantage of. The police for failing to protect theatres and moviegoers. The various organisations that joined the boycott for not standing up to the bullies. And the state government, for reducing the writ of the state from a mere bystander to a ransom facilitator.

Which is why those who tell us that we shouldn’t question our institutions need a civics lesson. All our institutions are run by humans and humans are not infallible. Not even the ones who claim to be appointed by god. If you’ve ever had to deal with a local, state or central government entity, you would know how far away from infallible they are.

So yes, there shouldn’t be a blind trust of any institution. No one should get a free pass – not even the army. There is a reason there is civilian oversight of the armed forces. We have a parliament, not a military junta. We’re a constitutional republic, not a tinpot military dictatorship. There are some people who don’t like that. We need to protect our democracy from such pseudo-nationalists.

Snake-oil salesman

Pseudo-nationalists are the sort of people whose love for their country only exists to serve their nefarious purpose. Their patriotism seems to wake up the minute they start losing an argument. Because their love is superficial, they tend to over-compensate by pretending that the object of their fake affection is perfect and should not be subject to any criticism at all.

So all those people who want to shut down any sort of dissent, you’re only fooling yourself. You’re not patriotic. You’re like a child in old-time movies selling newspapers with sensational headlines. Extry, extry! You don’t care about the country. You only care about making money. You don’t care about our soldiers. If you did, then you wouldn’t be trying to create a situation that would risk many of their lives.

Yes, you can have your high ratings. You can emotionally manipulate the thousands of people who share your sense of emasculation. You can sit behind a camera and pretend to be brave. You can wear camouflage jackets and play dress-up all you want, but you’ll remain nothing more than a snake-oil salesman who specialises in selling empty boxes of phoney patriotism.

We already have an example of a country that doesn’t question its army in our neighbourhood. A country that exists to serve the army, instead of the other way around. A country where the army chief has more power than its elected representatives. We’re far away from ending up like it, but that is the path this cosmetic hero worship will leads us to.

I guess what they say is true. You do turn into the very people you hate.

Who’d a thunk it?

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.