'So we had Akshay Kumar dressed up like Robert Vadra on his offday, and trying to not look fan-struck...'
Saisuresh Sivaswamy resumes his must-read column.
For at least two TV networks what was bigger news was the conversation (calling it an interview would be an insult to a fine subset of journalism) between Bollywood star Akshay Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, but not over the standard of questions themselves ('I am told you sleep for only three-and-a-half hours, a healthy person needs 6-7 hours of sleep, why don't you sleep more?'), but the Opposition's criticism of the same, or the potential impact of the interview (rofl).
Designed on the lines of fireside chats, this conversation was meant to be cosy, informal and informative. So we had Akshay Kumar dressed up like Robert Vadra on his offday, and trying to not look fan-struck as he asked the prime minister his dil ki baat.
Navika Kumar was, as always, apoplectic that anyone could question or criticise the Great Leader's initiative, specifically badgering a Congress person as to why they were objecting to it, and not asking any probing questions about how the dialogue-baazi came about, why a fan boy like Akshay Kumar was chosen to ask the questions, etc, while the other defender of the faith, Republic TV, had its usual slanging match with both sides breaching the decibel level and neither emerging victorious. Nor the viewer any wiser.
Given the extremes between blanking out the conversation as a non-starter (wrong) and projecting it as a marketing coup (wrong again), Zee News took the safest way out. They faithfully telecast the entire Akshay Kumar-Narendra Modi Q&A, but that was strictly for the faithful.
The haters gonna hate, hate
Sometimes we need a study merely to confirm what one already knows to be true, even self-evident, what is already as clear as daylight.
That's how it was with NDTV's hate speech tracker on Wednesday, which Nidhi Razdan sombrely announced showed a 4X increase in the ongoing election campaign.
No surprises there, really. Certainly not also in the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party was the top offender when it came to hate speech -- unless you are both blind and deaf or are living under a rock.
Nor was there any surprise over the BJP's star campaigner, the grossly misnamed Yogi, being the chart topper as far hate speech goes.
I mean, the UP chief minister is part of the new breed of leadership the party with a difference has been assiduously promoting to take over from the present generation as and when, and rare is the day when he has not made the nation let out a collection wince with his utterances.
Can you imagine a political landscape where the top leadership of the country is of the calibre of Amit Anilchandra Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Pragya, etc!
Do the BJP, and its controllers in Nagpur the RSS, realise the potential damage they are causing to the country they claim to love by the low level of leadership they are unleashing on India -- and all for what, winning 2019? Even at the cost of losing India?
When Varanasi spoke
Meanwhile, it needed Bhupendra Chaubey on CNN-News18 to remind the viewers that there was an election happening outside, and despite what it may seem like at the halfway mark, it has not yet been called.
On Wednesday night he was at Varanasi's Assi Ghat, ahead of the prime minister filing his nomination papers from the holy city, to quiz the populace on if the city has been developed/changed in the last five years that it had Modi as its member of Parliament.
You don't need to assemble people on Assi Ghat to find the answer to that one. A simple walk-through across the city's less developed areas -- and not the high-profile ones like the Kashi Vishwanath corridor -- will tell you the answer but, then, that may not make for great TV.
But the problem with great TV's tactic of having a band of people -- each professing different thoughts and beliefs -- is that it may not give you the coherent, clear-cut reply that you seek and may often descend into mud-slinging or chaos (like on 'Super Prime Time'), but also you may get some unexpected response.
No doubt, Assi Ghat and its environs are a transformed lot, so you cannot blame Chaubey for getting carried away and comparing it to Mumbai's Marine Drive for scenic beauty. When he asked those on his show if it were indeed so, a young girl readily jumped in with her agreement.
'I know Mumbai's Marine Drive, and yes, they are similar, in that both are smelly!'
And Chaubey quickly decided to move on.
Amit Shah ka aankda
While Akshay Kumar's dialogue with Modi garnered all the attention yesterday, another one, between Arnab Goswami and BJP President Amit Anilchandra Shah, didn't seem to have got any traction, maybe because it was telecast at 10 pm.
Arnab, when he wants to, can be a bulldog on camera, the nation already knows it, as does a certain Rahul Gandhi, but most times he lets the other guy, the quiet one, talk.
The Hulk is for special occasions, like when questioning Opposition leaders.
So this was an easy chat, with Amit Shah answering all the questions posed by 'Arnab babu' with candour and readiness, explaining the need to make nationalism the centrepoint of his party's election campaign.
Will the ploy work? Is there a sense of denial on this only in urban centres, far away from ground zero? For many, this report from Pasighat, 'a town on India's eastern tip along the banks of the meandering Siang river, bordered by the Abor hills of the Himalayan ranges,' can come as an eye-opener.
The Indian Express's Abhishek Saha finds (external link) in the border town that 'There is an overwhelming support base for Modiji. People here speak Hindi and watch a lot of Hindi news channels. Arunachalis are patriotic and we understand how Modiji is talking about national interest', so maybe the BJP is on to something.
The most interesting point in Arnab's interview with Shah was about how the combined vote of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party outstripped the BJP's vote share by at least 10% in many seats, and how the BJP plans to overcome this handicap.
Shah spoke of the years of mutual acrimony between the two parties and their cadres, and how it will come in the way of vote transfers, and spoke of a 'contradiction vote' of 15% in both the parties.
It is this vote that will refuse to be transferred to the foe-turned-friends, and which will come to the aid of the BJP, ensuring that it maintain its numbers in UP.
And sticking his neck out, he said overall the BJP will increase both its seat share and vote share in these elections, a point Arnab babu said they will discuss once again at 4 pm on May 23.