In my last column, I had written about how in her excitement and exuberance Barkha Dutt gave the go-by to TV etiquette and took a call on air from Varun Gandhi. While I still think that that is unacceptable behaviour, I have been made aware of something more incredible that happened two days later.
It was Monday, May 18. The markets were scheduled to open for the first time after the thumping Congress win and the market-endearing trouncing of the Left. I flick to CNBC on the odd occasion I want to check out corporate India’s endorsement (or otherwise) of national events. Just before the market opened, I caught one market expert make what I thought was a very smart comment to Udayan Mukherjee: “You’re not going to see Prakash Karat on the screen. That in itself is worth 500 points,” he said.
I enjoyed the dig but surfed away. Now here’s where I don’t know whether I should consider myself fortunate or unfortunate, because just a bit later when the action began, I am told, it wasn’t just the markets that went berserk. The Sensex opened with a thump. More than 2000 points in a matter of 13 seconds! Stunning, extraordinary, unprecedented. To use TV journalism’s most overused phrase, for the leading business news channel of the country, it just doesn’t get bigger than this! But when this “bigger-than-the-biggest” moment actually arrives ever so often, TV has a big problem. It just doesn’t know how to impress this upon us, the dumb viewers.
So, the anchors first raise the pitch and start working the froth (so much that all of us can have a bubble bath everyday). Then they flap their hands in uncontrolled excitement and start to swing and sway in whatever position they are, standing or seated. By now they are talking so fast and furious that they hit us like a tidal wave, and in turn get so breathless that you realise something really big must be up.
But on that manic Monday, this familiar drill was passé for Udayan, the channel’s best known face. Goaded by his fellow-anchor Mitali Mukherjee, he came up with something original. He grabbed his laptop from the desk, planted a kiss on it and then hugged it in total glee with Mitali in open-mouthed admiration! As I said, I don’t know if I was fortunate or otherwise, but I missed this momentous event of news television. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not been directed by a friend to a blog (ravivooda.blogspot.com). Since you might have difficulty in believing, too, I am borrowing his two pictures (thanks Ravi).
I have never seen such delirious behaviour by an anchor before. In all these years, we have not seen even a broker at the BSE, who may have made a killing, yank his computer off its perch in celebration. Who was Udayan so excited for? The markets? The country? His company? The viewers? Or himself? This is galling, especially because he is not just an anchor. He is CNBC’s showstopper. If this is how well he can contain his excitement, imagine the innovations the rest of his team can come up with each time a pebble drops on Dalal Street.
Of course, I do wonder if the problem is with me or with Udayan. Maybe it is becoming acceptable behaviour for anchors to wear their emotions on their sleeve. But if the latter be true, will Udayan and his colleagues smash a laptop each time the Sensex dives? Or, would the emotions not be more genuine if stock brokers replaced anchors for the duration of the market?
Thankfully, Udayan’s antics didn’t go unnoticed. In an editorial the next day, the Indian Express commented on “… the scenes of unbridled delight available to those unfortunates who happened to have their televisions tuned to CNBC TV18 on Monday morning”. (That solves my dilemma, I was fortunate!)
Apparently, Udayan matched his actions with words. The Express editorial continues: “The dawn of a new golden age, we were told in breathless tones of excitement. Photos of the PM and Rahul Gandhi should solemnly be hung wherever stockbrokers meet, it was suggested (emphasis mine). That last might not have been completely serious, but after one of the anchors making the suggestion kissed his laptop in happiness, it is hard to be sure”.
I was going to say that in political journalism terms this is quite like Barkha or Rajdeep hugging the leader of a victorious party, but by evening I learned that as a simile even that had become passé. On counting day, an excited Rajdeep had indeed, while congratulating Congressman Prithviraj Chavan on air, opened his arms out in a satellite hug for Chavan! We have already discussed Barkha’s “Hi-Varun-I’m-on-air” episode. That makes it three top guns pushing the envelope in three days. Are we seeing a pattern here? Are we rewriting the rules for acceptable behaviour on air?
Thankfully, there is no reason to expect national elections for another five years, but I hope Udayan has been ticked off by his bosses at TV18. Because the markets will shoot up many times more, and by New Year Udayan runs the risk of becoming a serial kisser. A kind of Emran Hashmi of business news with Sensex as his Mallika Sherawat!
Well done NewsX, or should I say, well planned…
I had talked about how no channel had the grace to admit that they had goofed up on the exit poll numbers. Jehangir Pocha of NewsX called me to say his channel had indeed matched the exit poll figures of all channels with the actual tally. Not only did they admit they got it wrong, but a competitor, NDTV, was the better of the lot. As far as I know, this is first on Indian news TV and is commendable. There is, however, a small problem. The story was scripted but never aired, though it was meant to be. I have seen the script and have no reason to believe that that is not the case (it happens all the time). NewsX deserves appreciation for merely entertaining the thought of squaring up with its viewers. And for giving me something good to write about news television, even if in passing.
(Venkat, as the author is known, thinks there’s nothing wrong in going wrong and everything to gain by squaring up with viewers. The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not necessarily those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)