When news anchors become the news…
We start thinking of them as our best friends. That’s the power of television. More than most characters in even the most popular of soap operas, it is news anchors who crawl into our lives and stay there. We believe them, trust them, fall in love with them. They are the people who tell us what to think, what to do, what to feel. That is, if they are good at their jobs. And you don’t get to anchor news or interview hot shots if you aren’t bloody good at what you do. I was thinking about this in a vague, distracted sort of way when I watched Barkha Dutt interviewing Digvijay Singh recently. No matter what she asked him, the man would giggle away, laugh uproariously, and generally carry on like a smitten schoolboy. When he wasn’t actively flirting with Barkha on camera , he was ogling her blatantly. Well, Barkha is not known for her bashfulness either. She was making eyes, cracking jokes and flirting right back! Excellent television, if you ask me. Some may call this tactic ‘establishing a rapport with the subject’ ( oh yeah?), but most viewers would describe this as the most public form of courtship – intentional or otherwise.
This is a worldwide phenomenon. Larry King, who recently hung up his colourful suspenders, was another tv personality who went flat out to woo his interviewees. In the bargain, he managed to get the unlikeliest celebs on his show to say the darndest of things. Ditto for Jay Leno , who often blushed and collapsed in a heap of embarrassment ( real or fake) when a particularly fetching female guest came on too strong. Unfortunately in India, most of our top male anchors refuse to do anything more than growl at guests. Sometimes ( but all too rarely) Karan Thapar lets up just a little and cracks a genuine smile and forgets to sneer. But most of the time, his trademark smirk stays fixed. Arnab Goswami remains determinedly stony faced, regardless of who his nightly panelists are. He is focused and forthright, sparing no one. There is no such thing as a ‘charm offensive’ in his book – not even in the larger interests of getting more dope for the all too frequent ‘Breaking News’. There was a time when half the women of this country ( well, those of us who belong to a certain vintage) had a major crush on Prannoy Roy. He made the Budget and Elections analyses super sexy with his suave manner and reassuring air. Never mind that the data and statistical overload went above our heads. We watched a handsome, bearded man reeling off numbers in a bedroom voice … and swooned. There are enough fans of Rajdeep Sardesai out there who will gladly vouch for his sex appeal. He knows exactly how to woo his constituency, adopting the manner of a rogue boy friend and using raw Salman Khan techniques. This alpha male approach obviously has its takers going by his popularity.
In the old Doordarshan days, people of my father’s generation were fida over a news reader called Salma ( the lady who wore a gigantic chrysanthemum or dahlia over one ear). I remember how avidly he used to hang on to every word she uttered, and rave over the way she draped her saree pallav, much to my mother’s annoyance. Salma was very much a fantasy woman for senior citizens . Smita Patil came later and was rapidly snapped up by Bollywood. There is something irresistible and alluring about the men and women we watch nightly in the privacy of our bedrooms. They become such an intrinsic part of our lives, we miss them when they aren’t around. I recall Rajat Sharma telling me candidly that his biggest high was to get recognized at airports and sign autographs. He was being honest. The truth is, we do engage with television anchors in a very intense sort of way. Their livelihood depends on the credibility they establish. And our faith in what they are saying depends on how convincingly they put it across. It is all make believe and word play. Anchors are performers, too. Just like discounted movie stars. Only difference being anchors get to write their own scripts, direct themselves, perform live with no scope for retakes, and keep their fingers crossed they don’t mess up big time in front of gigantic audiences. It’s a tough job. But someone’s got to do it.
I managed to locate Sidharth's website. It is www.sidharth.org.
Look out for his reclining Guru Nanak on a verdant , luminous green field.