Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sorry Oprah...but we just didn't get it!

Don't you love the Asya imagery? It is an NGO started by Ambika Nehru, a classmate of my son Aditya.... I'll be right there....
Have written about the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games... shall post it here on Tuesday.
Have spent a wonderfully relaxed weekend with family and friends. Tomorrow starts on a hectic note. The rest of the week is insane. So... what else is new?
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This appeared in Asian Age on Saturday....

Sorry Oprah…. but we just didn’t ‘Get It!”

Let me borrow Oprah Winfrey’s favourite phrase on her India show - “ I get it”! I totally do. Get India, that is. It’s Oprah, who clearly didn’t ‘get it’ at all, and mistook India – India, not areas of Mumbai - for a New York ghetto. Someone forgot to show her a map. And poor Oprah was confused. Let’s put it down to jet lag. Or to tunnel vision. After all, the iconic Oprah has spent the longest time looking through a lens in an American studio, talking to a semi-hysterical mid-Western audience of the converted, and getting Tom Cruise to jump up and down on a couch, while she got all teary ( she gets teary even if a kitten crosses a street).That’s Oprah. And that is also the remarkable part about her undeniable success. Let’s hand it to her - Oprah, at one time the richest and most powerful woman on earth, got to that enviable position by touching a chord in the hearts of millions. Nobody else in the history of television has ever managed to reach that height. Oprah was a one-woman conglomerate, who shrewdly leveraged her unique status into a multi-million dollar business that grew and grew and grew – not unlike her own size, which she also used to her advantage when it suited her. It is only now, in more recent times, that the Big ‘O’ has lost her edge… lost her groove… and nowhere was that more in evidence than when she climbed into gaudy desi designer gear and filmed her Next Chapter in India.

Have we over reacted to her show? Well… that depends. Most of the Indians who live in America, have been pretty sensible about their responses. They have dismissed the show saying it had zero impact, considering the profile of Oprah’s viewers, who in all probability switched off after a few minutes and went back to grill their burgers in the backyard. Oprah is no Amanpour. Her shallow take on world affairs is not taken seriously by anybody, least of all, policy makers. Ever since Oprah started to lose her star value ( ask around in Chicago and they’ll tell you exactly what’s up for sale from Oprah’s stable), her credibility has taken a serious beating. The Oprah era is officially over in America. Desperately in need of re-inventing herself, Oprah perhaps decided it was time to venture out of the cosy, controlled confines of her studio and into the big, bad world outside. The third world. She’s only one decade too late getting here. Huge mistake? It would appear so, judging by the sloppiness of the India show. Here was a terrific opportunity to anchor a really well researched and balanced programme that would do justice to her own image – forget for now, India’s image. Instead, Oprah blew it. There is really no justification for not doing ones homework. Here’s one of modern day television’s most-acknowledged mega stars with all the resources at her command. And what does she do with them? She shows up with her motley crew, hires a few local jokers, gets invited to homes – from a humble kholi in a Mumbai slum, to a palace in Jaipur, and then goes ahead with a narrative that is hopelessly riddled with clichés and stereotypes . Oprahji… we expected better.

It’s important to state here that India does not need an Oprah to sell itself to the world. So, we needn’t froth at the mouth and tear her to pieces for ‘demeaning’ Indian and Indians (sorry, Honey. But you ain’t that important).As for that much quoted Oprah-ism (“Do Indians still eat with their hands?”),why take offence?Of course, we eat with our hands. Do others use their feet? The annoyance ought to be directed at ourselves for our own ridiculous behavior. Sure, Oprah enjoys a formidable reputation and is an international personality. But, she was not treated like another tv professional, looking to can a commercial, entertaining show out of India ( poor Tim Sebastian – is nobody organizing a palace party for him?), but a visiting head of state. I doubt even a Michelle Obama would have generated such an OTT reaction. Oprah’s every step was breathlessly covered by our fawning mediawallas – from those hideous sarees and tunics she wore, to her every ‘Naam-aastey’. Was that Oprah’s fault? Of course, she played up her celebrity status to the hilt – which person wouldn’t? And just for the record, she didn’t exactly barge into people’s homes – no, not even the Kholiwalla’s. But there is no denying her crass and insensitive conduct as a guest, particularly with the Hegde family in the slum. Then again, it was left to Aanchal, the 12-year-old daughter of the Hegde family to show up Oprah’s abominable manners, as the little girl clarified her family’s position with disarming grace and dignity. It was Oprah who should have been red-faced at the end of this segment, and not the Hegdes.

Who can resist the temptation to exoticise India? Certainly not our Oprah. She went all out – camels, bullocks, cows, elephants, snakes and of course, the Taj Mahal. Which other country can boast of as many amazing photo-ops? Such contradictions? Such stunning contrasts? Why shouldn’t Oprah go the whole hog? The widows at Vrindavan… the silver thalis at a wealthy home, Bollywood stars and billionaires, Rolls Royces and horse carriages with a shower of petals?And to cap it all, an instant lesson in spirituality from Pop Guru Deepak Chopra, who assures Oprah that India’s Muslims are indeed ‘one of us’. No kidding, Sir! And that life is all about ‘living in the moment’ (Hello, Osho!). And so it went, with Oprah closing her eyes ( fake lashes in place), breathing deeply and declaring, “I get it!”

Pity, Indians didn’t.

14 comments:

Aashi said...

Awesome! Simply awesome.

NAT said...

In Italy during the early 60s, they made my eldest sister cry when she showed them our Family photos and house. They said that it was fake, that we Indians go naked, do not have proper homes, animals on the road etc. etc.
My Dad used to wear a tie even to go to the fish market, so you can imagine when we used to take the Family photographs.
When I began traveling to the Far East, Australia, NZ. I would take on these ass.....and eventually get them to see it my way. On board they would get me my coffee and be servile.
It is a pity that our leaders used to go about with a begging bowl, showing pictures of the likes of Dharavi (those days Dahravi was not heard of)only to pocket the cash for themselves and give a bad name to the Country.
Agree we (the Country)used to take milk ghee and other products as dole from the US of A. But we were never like the way that we were portrayed abroad.
Like in one of your blogs you mentioned these slum people having full length size plazma/LCD/LED TVs. I have seen DVDs and the latest sound systems, fridges and what most of us have in our homes.
Have taken a Canadian when he came down to India to some of these places, as he did not believe me when I told him when we met in Canada. I had told him that most of these people are very rich, but prefer to live in such conditions, as they do not want to shell out taxes. Some who are given homes, sell them and return to the slums.
Mera Bharat Mahan.
Cheers!

Tsomo85 said...

Today Laxmi Narayan Mittal said "not interest in investing in India." :( In times like this Bhutan was so right when they said: "NO TO THE TOURIST." Honestly, ever since we are kid, we always knew that hippies are good for nothing & same goes to any other cheap tourist, stars that goes to 3rd world countries. Be it Thailand or India. I guess to restrict it or not is up to the nation. What miss O openly said must be in the minds of many other foreigners so, ya life goes on. Too late now. I hardly watched any of her tv show & was amazed the way she was welcome in India earlier, hahaha but sadly it ended up something else & now the Bachhans have annoying friend who disgraced their nation. LOL

Vivek Agarwal said...

I think the points made in the post are very valid, especially about Oprah not being that influential and people not taking her seriously. Her approach and the kind of things that were said go to demonstrate without doubt that she was after some quick fix publicity

I really wish she had done better, I had so much respect for her as a professional before this very very sad incident

Shobhaa-ji, your thoughts and articulation of the subject are as ever, beautifully put and to the point.

Faisal Afzal said...

Brilliantly executed , pun intended

Prasanta said...

I also have "proud privilege"to watch the program.The first half consists of a crude,clumsy and ignorant work done by Oprah and second part is her interview with Deepak Chopra,who is almost a non entity in India.Oprah's interview was pre decided and she did her job,in the way that the west will like to see.She seemed to be completely confused what she was doing.Dr Deepak Chopra went to USA when Vietnam war was going on and their country badly needed doctors.He started a concept of "Mind and Body" which as a doctor I feel is totally unscientific.It was based on spirituality, which was sold off by Dr Chopra to crazy higher society of America, that includes Hollywood stars and the Beatles.Such kind of work have been done earlier by our spiritual gurus.One thing our government should do is to ban slum tourism.

Somy said...

Shobha , I really like ur honesty and very right-on yet true interpretations of ur thoughts ...I do really like ur posts ... someone so brave...

Coming to Oprah, I felt the show was too vintage and stereotypical ...May be she came with a fixed mindset with Slumdog Millionaire in mind and did the same ....

It was expected of her as We dont find her show any different from a very average show ....

Sind hi King said...

Met the most famous woman in the world at a smashing dinner party last night. Oprah Winfrey is all that she's cracked up to be - warm, engaging, human, witty.... AND a thorough professional. She is never off the job, even when she is being charming and sociable. Her mind is switched on even in her sleep - I'm sure. When she speaks to you, she is speaking to YOU! HER ATTENTION DOES NOT WAVER FOR A MICRO-SECOND.SHE IS ALL YOURS! Apart from the media frenzy that blocked the road leading up to the spectacular Godrej Villa, where India's supreme hostess Parmeshwar Godrej presided over a gathering of the mightiest and glitziest ( movie stars, tycoons) it was the near hysterical reaction of jaded, seasoned socialites falling over themselves, tripping over flowing gowns and sky high heels to pay homage to the empress of talk shows, that came as a bit of a shock. Did I have my 'Oprah moment'? Helllll, ya! Am I telling? Naaah.It was way too personal. Way too special.

Sind hi King said...

Met the most famous woman in the world at a smashing dinner party last night. Oprah Winfrey is all that she's cracked up to be - warm, engaging, human, witty.... AND a thorough professional. She is never off the job, even when she is being charming and sociable. Her mind is switched on even in her sleep - I'm sure. When she speaks to you, she is speaking to YOU! HER ATTENTION DOES NOT WAVER FOR A MICRO-SECOND.SHE IS ALL YOURS! Apart from the media frenzy that blocked the road leading up to the spectacular Godrej Villa, where India's supreme hostess Parmeshwar Godrej presided over a gathering of the mightiest and glitziest ( movie stars, tycoons) it was the near hysterical reaction of jaded, seasoned socialites falling over themselves, tripping over flowing gowns and sky high heels to pay homage to the empress of talk shows, that came as a bit of a shock. Did I have my 'Oprah moment'? Helllll, ya! Am I telling? Naaah.It was way too personal. Way too special.

Sind hi King said...

so when oprah visited you were so gung ho and gushing endlessly about her.

and now just to stay relevant shobha, your tearing her down by calling her a failed oops fading talk show host!

shame on you! you just love bitching about celebs when they have negative public perception, like in the case of SRK or Oprah.

But you would not dare name the actress who was Kakaji's girlfriend because you want to lick her ass.

muthu said...

hahaha....

well put. The ending was good. "I get it"

Jyostna said...

I haven't watched Oprah's show. But there was a BBC show (India on Four Wheels)broadcasted last year which was in my opinion by far the best coverage about India's heritage, economical differences, and indeed very honestly filmed. I don't think Oprah's shows intend that much honesty...they are viewership based n mostly intended to please American audience., so obviously stereotypical.

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