Indian television

Channel surfing: I tried to take a break from the news and ran into Pahlaj Nihalani

Seeking a respite from the headlines? Non-news programming can be equally confounding.

Let’s face it, sometimes the news gets too overwhelming, too OTT, too loud, too much. It’s probably true what they say about appointment viewing going down. We’re all so much happier “snacking” on the news in more palatable chunks online. The likes and shares are a barometer of public appetite, though you might be forgiven for thinking more of us are invested in fashion faux pas, the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Kim Kardashian’s latest disrobing, or the listicles that abound.

Or we’re just suckers for clickbait.

In any event, sometimes news fatigue does set in. It’s so much easier to look away from apoplectic anchors and multiple heads bobbing on the screens, soothe your soul and calm your fraying nerves with the fiction on offer. The thought is that you’ll catch up on everything online anyway or understand things better and more in depth the following morning with your regular newspaper. (Once interest in newspapers also fades, one is in dangerous territory.)

So what’s on, you wonder? Full-on blasts from the past are my go-to. I have watched one of my all-time favourite movies, Stardust, instead of the news at least three times, marvelling each time at the creepiness that Michelle Pfeiffer brings to the role. And how delightful is Robert de Niro as the campy pirate Captain Shakespeare? Not to mention the utterly delectable Charlie Cox playing Tristan and Claire Danes as Yvaine. Like anything Neil Gaiman-based, this one’s a magical ride, and guaranteed to take your attention away from the gloom and doom (and noise) that prevails in the real world. I have to say, I’m also a sucker for My Cousin Vinny, and can watch some of those scenes with Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci innumerable times.

But it’s not as though watching TV – even if you record it and skip the pesky ads – is entirely stress- free. In fact, it can be downright confounding if you’re watching the shows you enjoy, and want to watch regularly. Forget Game Of Thrones, which is probably near-impossible to understand with half its dialogue cut and its scenes (nudity and violence) censored. I am routinely surprised to find random names and words bleeped out of even regular TV shows, such as Jimmy Fallon, Steve Colbert and some of Jimmy Kimmel. In one show, the name of an American politician on Kimmel was bleeped out. I couldn’t even deduce who it was! It makes zero sense to me.

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East India Comedy’s comedy spot on censorship on Indian TV.

Is this some sort of paranoia that’s crept in?

Possibly not, as a friend at Star once told me about the sheer volume of complaints that comes in to the channel based on objectionable language to content. Clearly some of you out there prefer the nanny state approach to adult TV consumption.

Here’s hoping the fall-out of the Udta Punjab controversy, which has equal parts elevated and lowered the discourse on censorship (elevating it to the judicial level and lowering it given the basis of objections from the censor board), has some sort of positive ripple effect or at least triggers more conversations on censorship. The Bombay High Court’s observations that the Central Board of Film Certification need not be overly critical are more than welcome. And let’s hear it for the phrase it used “Let the public decide”.

I don’t understand why we can’t have a system whereby adults watch uncensored programmes on channels that they pay to subscribe to. Monitor the children watching, by all means, parents! But what’s the deal with monitoring adults? Who said we need uber-adult supervision? What’s the corrupting effect that bad language might have on the average denizen of Delhi, I ask? (For one, it’s hilarious to think that anyone can teach Delhiites better gaalis than we already have.)

But sure, I only mean loosen the shackles within reason, if that makes you comfortable – this isn’t a call to anarchy!

In the meantime, I’m going back to my tried and tested staple diet of 20-odd years ago, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Though it’s highly unlikely that on the 200th viewing of the 300th re-run, or whatever it is, that there’s an episode I will have missed, some of that light-hearted humour still gets me. Every time. Switch on, switch off, laugh, repeat.

Amrita Tripathi is an author and recovering news junkie. She has previously worked for CNN-IBN and The Indian Express. At times, she may have a glancing familiarity or more with the news players mentioned.

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