Almost Famous

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.

Well almost.

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.

29 thoughts on “Almost Famous

  1. is this sreya the one living in jodhpur park? i remember someone mostly by that name did a TV18 interview of our rock band once.. in southern avenue.. in our practice pad.. and made us all band members look at a india map as if we were on some india tour.. when the fact of the matter remained that we never even set foot out of cal!!

    bole na.. “no business like show business”… u never really know what to expect

    btw.. who were the other 2??? 😀

  2. I know why that fellow omitted your scenes from actual screening. Just after your shooting was over, a few yards down the banks of the jhil, around the corner he met up with another man who, in all probability, might have had excelled you in being more philistine. The name of the man was Parnab Mukherjee. On being asked the same question about the bengali books, Parnab, oozing overflowing confidence and comand, said about a book whose name was Shyambazar theke Dunlop-er dike. The interviewer, in an attempt to hide the embarrasment resulting from his ignorance of the said book, quickly replied that this was indeed a bengali masterpiece. Parnab, with all his affected seriousness, dragged on as the camera was closing in on him.

    “But unfortunately Hemingway could not complete this last piece of work before his death by suicide. I am trying to recover the whole work to present it to the posterity.”

    The interviewer almost passed out as Parnab strode forward. Who knows maybe there was another camera waiting nearby to capture moments of a polymath like him.

    12:03 AM

  3. Yes Joy, the person who gave me Sreya’s phone number was YOU.

    @Akash…:-)….once again Arnab loses out to Parnab…goddamm…I need a P.

  4. Why this bout of self pity my freind..btw that this is probably the first time you have displayed the (larger) neurotic side of you in your blogs.Interesting what burnt fingers can do to you…though being that it is NDTV..(all-bong-show,still I think), with a little bit luck rake-up-controversy type blogging, who knows, you might still have a shot..!

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  6. @Srin 🙂

    @Bubbled—-Ultimately our true personality does come out…and no this is not the first time…a few months ago Telegraph came out with a list of Bengali bloggers and my name , as usual, was not on the list. I had written a post wallowing in self pity then.

    However this post is not that neuroctic…come on…more gentle humor on the part of an old man..

    Did I just call myself old?

    Forget that…

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  8. @joy and greatbong:
    “We also realized why our friend who supplied us with Sreya’s number gave us this “opportunity” rather than taking it himself.”

    “Yes Joy, the person who gave me Sreya’s phone number was YOU.”

    Joy may be repenting for raising the question in the first place. However, the whole thing contributes vastly to readers’ delight. Just great.

    @bubble: Hello dear, I can’t help pitying you for being deprived of the delights of the post.
    It did not ring in me that the author lamented his ‘misfortune’ anywhere. Anyway, I don’t blame anyone for lacking literary sophistication.

  9. @Akash :
    See the last few lines of his blog as well as his own admission to self pity in his response to my comment,completely unnecessary considering his fine and unmatched literary skills,even my lack of literary sophistication and your pompous self admission of literary prowess wont change that. You clearly have much more to learn from GreatBong than just art of fine writing !

    @Arnab: When was the last time I was this nice to you,glad to know ur fans love u, you dont *need* to be on TV!;)). Heck, the more intellectually challenged variety of your fans, are actually defensive about you! Way to go pal!

  10. Peace peace….Akash…Bubbles having known me for almost 3 years has always said that I have this tendency to fly into bouts of self-pity (according to Bubbles)..[I of course claim I am genuinely hard done by] —so she may have extrapolated a bit from her interpretation of me to make an assessment of this post.

    And yes Joy’s comment gives an extra funny twist to the whole thing.

    And Bubbles…as I said there was no self pity here…just an attempt to talk about a funny incident from my rather colorful past.

    And both of you have fine literary taste—after all you are both reading my blog arent you ?


  11. Arnab,

    Bubbly will surely agree with me that you have so much underestimated us. (There is always so much in a name and I am always tempted to distort them, yuck! a literary boor. Bubbly is dreadfully correct with the selection of words such as “pompous”, “self admission”, “intellectually challenged” etc.– intrinsic traits of the said “variety”) This is just two Indians arguing, two argumentative Indians. Ain’t we?
    Oh. Arnab. It is my greatest accomplishment that I discovered you on the Net. Now I realize how intellectual darkness I was in before that. You are the messiah, like a beaming tower, so high, higher even visible by the most benighted soul like me. Yet your modesty sounds like a myth.

    Back to Bubbly. One thing that I forgot in the earlier comment that you have a terribly valid point in

    “with a little bit luck rake-up-controversy type blogging, who knows, you might still have a shot..”
    Ain’t I right? My earnest peace move.

  12. Dear Akash,

    My modesty is a myth.


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  14. You just prove me correct, when you say “My modesty is a myth”,

  15. Akash…it was sarcasm…god whats wrong with all of you.

  16. Are not you being quite modest when you say
    “My modesty is a myth”. I think I got you right.

  17. Well maybe a few extra words are in order. Nothing worse like misunderstanding. Yes, Arnab I perfectly understood the underlying sarcasm. But my point was when somebody says “My modesty is a myth” about himself what he means, in simple terms, is “My modesty is
    not real”. Is that right? BY ADMITTING SO he is again being sooooooooooooo modest– exactly my opinion about you
    that your modesty has reached a mythical proportion.

  18. — is a myth–>Means — does not exist.

    — is mythical–>Means—is legendary.

    What I do not understand is when this became about my modesty or lack of it.

  19. TV ain’t all it cracked out to be 😛
    I had a weird experience trying out Malayalam on TV… DISASTER less said, the better

  20. @Shrutz…looking fwd to hearing about it…

  21. Oh so much for just a few moments of fame on the “idiot box”! I of course belong to another category…being shown and not seeing it myself! Yes, I was one among a few ((Sabyasachi Mitter and gang) in some Youth programme debate on DD which was sscheduled for telecasto n Christmas day. The day came and went…the programme wasn’t telecast. So tired of waiting, I just gave up the narcissist idea of watching and admiring myself. Until suddenly on a usual February evening (the next year) Ma came back from school muttering scathing critiques from her erstwhile colleagues. “you were looking so haggard!” Why did you wear that green dupatta with Yellow Punjabi ( hellooo Ma…mix and match era)when you were going onscreen”…etc etc etc…Thank God I wasn’t watching it with my parents in the drawing room…wonder what would’ve flown at me.
    Though of course, now I regret, not having watched my only TV appearance!

  22. @Priya: Likewise I am thankful none of my friends ever saw that episode of “Toofan Mail”….

  23. YOURFAN writes:
    @GB: Hilarious again. My one day escape from daily grind is being satisfactorily utilized so far. I disagree with you (for all the detractors of your blog who think me to be you in disguise, see I am disagreeing with GB). You wrote: “ ‘Besides Satyajit Ray and Narayan Gangopadhyay nothing else really’. Now both these two authors are primarily considered to be authors of childrens’ books”. I still enjoy these writers and guess what, so do my parents.

    Just a question. Is this Akash the same one who sends offensive/abusive remarks now? If so, even way back then he was obnoxious but at least did not use filthy offensive languages. So your “association”(if I may use the word for not being able to find the correct word) with Akash goes a long way!!!!!!

    One day when you and your blog will be world famous student/researchers will study each commenter’s comments on your different articles and will write about their attitude, change of view(if any) etc and I think that will be a good reading too.

  24. @yourfan: Yes of course. I still enjoy them too. But its not what Pankaj Saha would consider “intellectual” reading. Yes this is the same Akash. And he was obnoxious even then—-and unfortunately it does go back a long way.

    There will be an alien takeover and humans will mutate into fire-breathing ants before I become famous.

  25. Priya for records I still have the recorded version of that devate on Youth Time. Just in case you ever wanted to see how your green and yellow looked! In fact my collection of close to 18 hours of DD programs we did between 1988-1995 would capture a lot of funny moments from a whole lot of people from Calcutta from those days. Memories yes… now even better entertainment than the Hreat Indian Laughter Challenge!!

  26. ‘I would make my leap into public consciousness as the red-shirted cultural apostate’

    ‘he motivated himself to study for GRE by watching it’

    ‘I don’t know who was being humiliated more—Baba Sehgal or the three of us.’


  27. This is one of the best blogs i have read so far.. Kudos!!!

  28. Nice post Arnab. Now that you mention it, I remember that red shirt. Its been a while I visited your blog. Its always a refreshing read.

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