Indian bloggers have at last made it to prime time—-many of the big names were featured recently on NDTV.
Here is Samit Basu on his experience as a TV star.
No this post is not about me going into a long-winded boo-hooo why I never get press coverage. Instead it is going to be about how I almost became Cyrus Broacha.
My first appearance in front of the camera was when I was all of 10 years old—-going to school in Canada, our choir was invited to sing Christmas carols on public TV. My mother put so much vaseline on my cheeks that when the recording was shown on Christmas day, I stood out among the predominantly white crowd—no not because of my singing talents but because my cheeks reflected the studio lights so much that it made me look quite comical.
Well even Amitabh started off small in “Sat Hindustani” and so I too waited patiently for my next big break.
I was in Jadavpur University first year. While walking casually along the banks of the jheel I perused something extraordinary. A” solitary Highland lass” was sitting atop a branch in a tree and signing with a small crowd assembled below. Having nothing better to do I gravitated towards the center of attraction.
On closer inspection I saw that there was “shooting” going on. Pankaj Saha, the man who used to read the letters on “Dorshoker Dorbare” (Viewer’s Forum) and be the Master of Ceremonies for the Bengali new year’ (Noboborsho)’s cultural soiree on DD, was doing a segment for that year’s Noboborsho program. It seems that he was trying something different—-in addition to the usual cornucopia of culture from the cognoscenti , he wanted to have segments where the hoipolloi would also perform.
I watched curiously—an attractive girl from the Arts department sitting on the branch of a tree singing ” Kholo kholo dar rakhiyo na aar” (Open the doors don’t keep me waiting—-Rabindrasangeet) is not a sight you see everyday.
Well it kept on going on and on, takes and retakes….with the urchins who swim in the Jheel taking great fun in splashing about just as the cameras started rolling. During one of these interruptions, tired of watching the same thing over and over again I was going to push off when I heard a super-cultural, Santiniketan-style Bengali accented (which, to borrow a phrase from the Merovingian is like wiping your arse with silk) voice hark out—
“Ei lal shirt…ektoo darao” ( O red-shirted one…halt a bit)
I had a shocking red shirt those days (I also had a red corduroy pair of trousers from my Dad as a hand-me-down—a kind of relic of the flower-power era….) and that day happened to be the day I was wearing it. Evidently, my acute sartorial sense had not escaped the great Pankaj Saha’s practiced eye.
Continuing in his rather irritating accented Bengali he asked me if he could ask me a question. I was already feeling like a celebrity. He asked me ” What kind of Bengali books have you read recently ?”
Now the fact was that I never did read Bengali books. It was not a sign of Westernization or of forgetting my roots—-I just was never into Bengali books—–mainly because I always preferred non-fiction. So very honestly I replied:
“Besides Satyajit Ray and Narayan Gangopadhyay nothing else really.”
Now both these two authors are primarily considered to be authors of childrens’ books—my answer was like if a college kid was asked what English literature he read and he replied—Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew. Kind of the same effect I suppose.
Pankaj Saha’s eyes lit up. He had found his philistine for the day and that too one in a post-box red shirt.
“Marvelous, now could you please say that once again for the camera?”
I knew I was officially going on TV as an object of ridicule. People would sip their early morning tea and say—“Look at today’s culture…..MTV has destroyed the country” and they would be pointing at me. But it was the age when Shahrukh Khan had made his name doing anti-hero roles and I figured that I would make my leap into public consciousness as the red-shirted cultural apostate—-Badnaam hua to kya, naam to hua. (Infamy is a kind of fame)
Several retakes later and after repeating that one line ad infinitum, I was free to leave. The crowd watched my red shirt with barely concealed jealousy.
I felt on top of the world. With fame a few days away, I called up all my relatives—told them to wake up early to catch me on the Noboborsho cultural program.
And then on D-Day—woke up with nervous excitement to see me make a fool of myself on public TV.
But nooooo they did not even show the segment. No Rabindrasangeet on treetop, no red shirt. The bastards had edited the whole bit out.
And then the return calls—we didn’t see you on TV—did we miss it? No you did not miss it—-they just did not show me.
Arghhh………my one shot at TV notoriety snuffed out by the scissors of the editor.
But God gives you a second shot. Always. It came my way when I was in second year. One of my friends told me that a friend of his who works for U18 TV and makes programs for MTV, Sony, Zee were looking for “cool youngsters” for a segment for their hottest new show. He gave me her phone number and I called her (a lady known as Sreya)—-nervously anticipating becoming the next big thing on India’s entertainment landscape.
Groupies…here I come.
Sreya told me to bring two friends and come along to Victoria Memorial at 7:30 in the morning where we were going to do a shoot. I picked two of my best friends (both guys of course)– one of whom , incidentally, considered MTV Grind to be a realistic depiction of everyday life in US (he motivated himself to study for GRE by watching it).
So there we were—3 guys standing in front of Victoria Memorial amidst the statues of old British viceroys—-while their time was over , we felt ours was just beginning.
However there was one thing. We were expecting to walk into a bustle of activity—cameramen, soundmen…………..but there was noone there.
An hour late, a van pulled by and this Sreya lady popped out and told us that there had been a change of plans and we were going to shoot in the studio.
We were taken to an office building near St Xavier’s College—–just a few normal cubicles–some 20 and 30 somethings at work. They looked at us with a look of supreme disinterest and somehow my Spidey sense told me something was not right.
I hazarded a question—” Err emmm where is the studio?”
In a very matter-of-fact way she pointed to the 4 feet by 4 feet miniscule toilet which had a basin and a commode.
“That’s the studio”.
Had she brought us in to clean their toilet? All 3 of us looked at her mouth agape.
She explained kindly—” We are doing pilots for our concept youth program “Toofan Mail” to be marketed to Sony. As part of our concept, we want all 3 of you to do something creative in this bathroom —-the thing being you have to trash Baba Sehgal—-the segment is called “Baba in the Bathroom”.
“Trash?” I whined sheepishly. I actually liked Baba Sehgal.
“Yes…she said anything…here is some spray paint. Do graffiti anywhere……..say whatever you want to about Baba Sehgal. Our cameras will be rolling”
All 3 of us were squeezed into a 4 X 4, stinking, mouldy, toilet ( a very tight fit considering we had sound paraphernalia and lights inside also) ——and given a can of spraypaint each.
I don’t remember much of what I did—-I suppose I spraypainted “Baba Sehgal” on the commode seat, put it down and flushed. I don’t know who was being humiliated more—Baba Sehgal or the three of us.
Then after that three minutes of degradation had passed, they rudely told us to leave—not a cup of tea or even a thank you —they did not even say when it would be telecast. Of course, to be honest, we did not want this to be shown to the public.
As we left, we made a solemn covenant—-the three of us were never to talk about this experience back at college.
A part of us had been flushed down the toilet along with Baba Sehgal and we took the option of silence rather than speaking about the trauma.
We also realized why our friend who supplied us with Sreya’s number gave us this “opportunity” rather than taking it himself.
That was the last time I came in front of the Television camera.
Older and wiser now, I know some things about myself–having come to terms with my limitations.
I wont be able to run the Boston marathon.
I will never be the Prime Minister of India.
I will never score more than 10 runs in a real cricket match.
And I will never ever be able to become a television star.